Quaker business Practice is a model of group decision-making that the Religious Society of Friends has used since the 17th century.
In the Quaker context, it is a religious practice that involves all of the members of the body to listen together for God’s direction. The central question for Quakers practice group discernment is: Where is God leading our community? This is rooted in the belief that if God is leading the community in a direction and everyone listens closely enough Quakers can move in unity.
Quaker group decision-making was created as a counter-practice to the Anglican church, as well as others, of that time where the priest was seen as God’s meditator and one who would decide on behalf of everyone else.
🛠 A Tool for Community Building
Quaker Process is about the collective seeking the will of God in matters of discernment. For Guilford, that discernment is done in the context of what is best for the whole community. What helps this story (we call Guilford College) progress in a way that is most in line (or faithful) with its principles and practices? The Quaker process of decision-making also works from a place of abundance trusting that “this community has all it needs to do what it is being called to do.”
To do the process well requires training, ongoing intention, and patience. It is a practice that takes time to develop. It is not a quick fix but a long-term commitment. What I have come to understand is that Quaker decision-making is deeply counter-cultural for a culture of people who grow up learning to value the practice of voting.
It moves at a different pace and is oriented around not having losers and winners (or blocking those whose voices we do not want to hear).
The process should be seen as a tool for community building. It is process that relies on relationships and commitment to common goals and vision. The Quaker process of decision-making is intended to constantly re-center the entire community around the desire and call of God on that community.
“Quaker decision-making is less about arriving at a final decision and more about becoming the people of God together.” -Jan Wood
⊜ Unity & Unanimity
Identifying the Difference between Consensus and Sense of the Meeting
Friends decision-making encourages communities to collectively to seek truth for the community – rather than pooling the needs of individuals. Sense-of-the-meeting and consensus are often confused because they have in common a non-voting process. One way to contrast them is to ask “What is the question that calls for a decision?” (From
I know difference between saying something like, “We can’t stop doing that, that’s my favorite…” and, “If we did that it would radically change the nature of how we interact with that community and we made a commitment to them when we…” One is rooted in a narrative where my wants and desires and I am the center, the other is rooted in a narrative where our community’s needs or another community’s needs or God’s own calling is at the center.
Can I discernment between what I want and what I need and place that in the context of other needs within my community?
Am I willing to let go of my preferences in order that other needs can be addressed?
🚦Everyone Helps Clerk
Four ways a clerk can be effective:
By focusing intently on the process rather than the content under discussion.
By helping to educate everyone else in the room about what they are supposed to be doing (thus taking some of the weight of the clerk to lead us or save us).
By the clerk doing their own spiritual work around humility, listening, and giving up any pretenses to per-ordained decisions.
By helping the Meeting to give up any per-ordained decisions and to enter into a business meeting “with hearts and minds clear” and ready to do the work together as a community.
A word on FSMM (Friend Speaks my Mind)
1. To be used carefully to echo a “message” or leading.
2. “I was being led to share the same thing”
3. “I am deeply moved”
4. Is not an “amen” so much as a “I was being led (by God) to share the same thing with the community.”