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."

Preparation for the meeting

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.

As part of your planning you will be considering people’s energy levels. I myself like the concept of ‘stir and settle’. Some matters do not require Friends to comment or discern deeply – people are there to listen attentively but then simply to approve or agree. I call these the ‘settle’ items, ones in which the meeting ideally settles into a calm but alert mode.

However, when things start to become routine or even pedestrian, the calm can descend into passivity, and clerks find themselves turning into quasi-performers. What has happened? Not all Friends remember about listening actively. Some may drift off, unfortunately. So this is where you could try to anticipate this by inserting items that do require comments and other interventions from the meeting, such as asking questions as well as commenting helpfully. This is the ‘stir’ element of the agenda and can lead to more engaged discernment. Other considerations in this part of the agenda planning help to mix things up and avoid the life draining out of the collective spiritual energy. For instance, will you put all the finance matters together, or the membership matters together? Or will you intersperse these amongst what else needs to be taken? Up to you, this is part of your personal style as clerk.

Is the agenda ready now? I don’t think so. This is where we think deeply about how the meeting might turn out in practice.

Visualise the meeting in progress

Try estimating how much time each item might require and jot those timings down. We know that the workings of the Spirit will have an unknowable impact on what takes place in practice, and meetings often surprise themselves as to which items trip by effortlessly and the draft minute is accepted without demur, and which simple-seeming matters take an unexpected turn and the real adventure of a Quaker business meeting is in full swing. We trust that this is the leading of the Spirit as we all seek to listen to where it takes us.
Total up your timings and see if your agenda is now over-long. Can anything be adjusted? It’s worth a try.
If you have an assistant clerk or co-clerk, this is the moment to consult together to shape the agenda as well as you can. For some clerking teams this is carried out in a spirit of worship, but not always – life can get in the way and time and energy constraints take precedence. Let’s hope there remains an element of quiet discernment however routine the process starts to feel.
The above are essential elements of preparation if the QBM is to be adopted whole-heartedly. But you still haven’t finished your preparations. You now have your agenda and have carried out some visualising of how the meeting could turn out in practice if all goes well.