Ask a former clerk:

How can I deal with Any Other Business?

"I don’t accept any!"

 How do I arrange the items I decide should be on the agenda?

"I identify the key matters and place them early. Background material is sent round in advance and not repeated in the meeting. I add estimated timings to the agenda and ask someone to be a gentle timekeeper."

How do I initiate an item of business for the agenda? Is it my right to do this?

"It is generally inappropriate for a clerk to initiate an item of business. If I see a need for some business to be brought to the meeting, I discuss it with one or more of the elders who can to discern whether it is appropriate to bring the matter at this time, and who might be asked to do so. There are some matters for which clerks alone have authority to decide, but this shouldn’t be one of them."

How do I avoid an over-long agenda or an overlong meeting?

"I offer draft minutes for straightforward items, asking Friends 'can we take this on draft minute?' If the Meeting goes on beyond the expected time, I ask Friends if they wish to continue or hold over items."

How can I prepare well for the meeting?

"I go through the agenda items making sure that as much as possible information Friends might need is available. If a matter appears to be routine I make sure that I have a draft minute prepared in advance possibly with gaps for, say, names or dates (but am ready to abandon it if it turns out not to be routine). I often find the wording of the draft minute by using the minute agreed the previous time a similar matter was considered."

This is a key part of successful clerking and is crucial to a productive and spirit-led meeting.

The Quaker Business Method is based on the whole meeting collectively agreeing and recording minuted decisions at the time during the meeting, not worked up from notes made afterwards and subject to change. This preparation is a learned skill which develops wonderfully with experience.

Setting a deadline for receiving business

Set a deadline for the meeting or the committee for receiving potential matters for the agenda. This is up to you and your home/work circumstances but probably three or four days before the meeting gives you enough time to prepare. You will need longer for major meetings, up to two weeks. For some trustees meetings two weeks is a legal requirement. Bear in mind that Quakers in Britain do not use any-other-business (AOB), the common catch-all for last-minute matters in non-Quaker meetings. Why? Because preparation is crucial for the QBM approach the clerk should never be bounced into taking an item at the meeting itself if it can be avoided. Clerks who out of kindness agree to take items without warning in the meeting often seem to get into trouble because there may be a lack of necessary facts, or Friends are presenting ambiguous or irrelevant material. So that implies there will be no catch-all miscellaneous category – your preparation work helps to eliminate that.

Collecting and sorting agenda items

Depending on your context you may inherit the makings of an agenda or you might have to start from scratch. If items arrive in your inbox you will have to do some prioritising. We talk about ways to do this later on.

Constructing the agenda

When you have sorted as much as you can, you are left with your final draft agenda but you are not finished yet. It’s your job as clerk(s) to decide on the order. You may have inherited a standard format. This may be working well or it’s been like that for the last seventy years and nobody thought to move things around. It’s up to you as new clerk whether you tinker with the running order to start with or wait for a few meetings before trying reorganising things. Estimate timings and allow for the workings of the Spirit.

Planning your introductions

Next, you should plan your introductions to substantive items. Lack of preparation here can leave both a meeting and its clerk muddled as to why the item is under discussion. Clerks who haven’t had time to really think about this have been known to find themselves disconcertingly at sea, and the meeting feeling unsure how to get things back on track.

Crafting a draft minute

There is an art to constructing a draft minute. Minutes of record usually have pretty routine wording, and this is a reminder to copy and paste where you can from previous meetings. Discursive minutes need more work. A good outline uses three sections: When the meeting does make its mind up you will have your final minute partly ready for use. Be bold in crossing out large chunks that the meeting never said, even if you wish they had. This part of the preparation should be in conjunction with anyone else serving as clerk at the table.  Some clerks consciously pray over their work together at this point.

Types of minute

You will find it easier to work out what the meeting might be expected to achieve by engaging with a business item if you have a handy note to remind you of the sort of minute that could emerge. These are the main ones you’ll need:

Last minute preparations

Last-minute preparations include checking in with duty elders, deciding on seating, reminding those being asked to speak to particular items and telling them where in the agenda these may come. With regard to a seating plan, this really makes a difference as to how a meeting goes. If Friends are seated in a semi-circle, three sides of a square or a horseshoe shape and all facing the table, they will be more able to address the clerk (the better option) rather than across the room to each other (not good). Why? Because the principle underlying our business meetings is that every spoken contribution is ministry deriving from God, and is addressed to the whole meeting through the clerk at the table. The alternative can turn the meeting into a debating chamber, or at best just a series of dialogues between members, with the clerk merely listening in. This is harder to achieve in a small committee meeting seated round a table but the principle still applies. Again, our corporate discipline needs careful nurture!