At its heart, Quaker Meeting is an organization in which everyone assumes a portion of the work of sustaining the whole.
For Friends, that’s evolved into what we know as committees, and the system can be beautiful when everything’s running smoothly. The reality, however, sees serious gaps in its operation. (That’s not to say that some committees aren’t doing their jobs, much less doing them well.)
Still, for starters, not everyone accepts an appointment to serve on a committee, especially when it means a commitment to a year (or three) of face-to-face meetings each month. Extenuating circumstances, ranging from work hours and conflicting demands on our time to health issues or, for many, aging itself, are cited. As a result, despite the efforts of Nominating, some committees lack enough workers to carry the load, even if everybody shows up. Or the burden falls on a single Friend or two, which leads to burnout, while others do nothing.
Add to that the need for leadership in each committee – especially a clerk who will assume responsibility for conducting meetings monthly and seeing that Friends do what they’ve promised. When you have as many committees as we do, the list grows short
There’s also an expectation that everyone will attend the Monthly Meeting for Worship for the Conduct of Business, which typically has 15 to 20 present rather than the 50 to 60 in the room just an hour earlier.
The ideal and reality differ.
I’ve long wondered if there might be a better way to get the work of the Meeting accomplished – something more flexible, efficient, and inclusive. More recently, observing how we function, I’ve seen what often happens is that a single individual takes up a concern and runs with it. Sometimes it’s ongoing, like the Light List, newsletter, or Meeting contact list. Other times, it’s a matter of heading up a one-time activity and rallying others to the cause. Think of our recent wedding, the Apple Harvest Day booth, or leaf-raking. Can this point us to alternative structures?
While hearing the caution that the work won’t magically disappear and that
reorganization can be nothing more than shuffling the chairs on the Titanic, I also recognize the importance of getting all the oars in the lifeboat rowing in harmony – away from the ship rather than in circles – something that means getting the right people sitting in the right places.
Over the past few months, after revisiting concerns raised in threshing sessions and our annual State of the Meeting reports, our Ministry and Worship committee has been inviting dialogue to consider a new paradigm of Quaker service within the community. Wherever it leads, the conversations are raising some fresh possibilities for our working together.
We’re not alone here, either. Worcester Friends recently restructured to three committees – Ministry and Teaching, Practical, and Peace and Social Concerns – which meet one Sunday a month before worship, as does their monthly business meeting. And Fresh Pond laid down all of its committees for a year before restructuring.
We have an opportunity to be innovative and bold. Whatever we come up with will attract widespread attention across the Quaker spectrum. Where might the Spirit lead us?
This originally appeared in Dover Friends Meeting’s newsletter as we consider new ways of addressing the needs of our faith community. Unlike many denominations, we Quakers are closely involved in the business of our congregations, or “meetings,” given that name by our recognition of church as the believers or people rather than any organization or building. (And so, the church meets.) The “monthly meeting,” or local congregation, is so named because we gather together to review our common business once a month even though we worship together at least once a week.
In sharing this dialogue, I’m hoping Friends and non-Quakers will perceive ways the discussion might benefit their own circles, religious or otherwise. I certainly welcome insights and suggestions. After all, we’re all in a time of upheaval and the challenges are many. Once again, the world’s being turned upside down.