Plain in the city

A plain Quaker folk singer with a Juris Doctorate in his back pocket, salt in his blood, and a set of currach oars in the closet, Ulleann Pipes under his arm, guitar on his back, Anglo Irish baggage, wandering through New York City ... in constant amaze. Statement of Faithfulness. As a member of the Quaker Bloggers Ad Hoc Committee I affirm that I will be faithful to the Book of Discipline of my Meeting 15th Street Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

An Answer To Davd Carl's Question - Democracy of God in Quakerism (or lack thereof)

David's comment to my most recent post assumed that I was not in unity with a proposal and what happened next... Well, Friend, it was far more complicated than that. I apologise before hand to non-Quaker readers, as this must seem very complicated and odd with talk about quarterly and monthly meetings, and to my Quaker readers, also an apology, as I have tried to make this simple, but the story is rather complex...

Some thoughts first. There is always a struggle in any society to keep the fashions of the day from replacing the transcendent values of our founders. For some in the Religious society of Friends this is a struggle over doctrine. For me, however, it is a struggle over process. What makes us unique is the way we do business by laboring towards unity.

The USA today has become obsessed with secrecy, in order to insure outcome. Many have noted that one cannot have a functioning democracy without all the facts being laid on the table. The struggle in the USA over freedoms of the press, for example the attempt to suppress the publication of the "Pentagon Papers" by Richard Nixon, in order to hide the real policies concerning the extension of the Vietnam war into Laos and Cambodia pales at the classification as secret everything possible, the most mundane business of government today.

Times like these affect the day to day thinking about business as usual, even in Quaker Meetings. The security conscious state has led, for example, our Quaker school to festoon itself with a large number of video surveillance cameras ... compare this with the faith of the Amish in Nicole Mines, where the horrible events of last year did not change them at all. We struggle with concerns that our school committee is not allowed to share much of the mundane business with the Meeting and has closed meetings.

Recently, a nomination was held up because of anonymous and unspesific concerns raised to the nominating committee, in the case of this nomination, our Pastoral Care committee (Our Meeting as a bifurcated Ministry so instead of Ministry and Council, we have a Ministry and Worship committee and a Pastoral Care Committee). Placed before the full monthly Meeting, during a meeting for worship with a concern for business there was some real concern expressed about this.

Coincidentally, the clerk of Pastoral Care, was nominated to be clerk of the Meeting at the same meeting. Our Meeting has had some difficulty with the whole nominating process. When there was an objection to a nominee for clerk, it split the Meeting in half and we could not come to clearness on a clerk for 18 months. Frankly, I think this was all because of outcome driven Meetings and poor process in general. In response to this we created a process whereby any objection to a nominee must be addressed, not to the floor of the meeting, but to the nominee and or the nominating committee.

Well, the nomination of the Clerk of Pastoral Care raised some concerns over amalgamation of power in a single person in our Meeting. There had been a tradition of nominees stepping down from other weighty clerkships in order to concentrate on the work of Clerk of the Meeting as well as to preserve the Clerk's position of neutrality.

This was raised on the floor of the meeting (not by me), and our Meeting was not in unity on wither or not there should be a rule about this. Further, it was pointed out, the proposed clerk was a member of the school committee, a committee about which there is a concern over undue secrecy. So, it was decided that the next business meeting, we would first address the concern about the proposed rule, then have the second reading of the nomination. I felt this was bad form, but I did not stand in the way of it, as it foreclosed meeting with Nominations, if the decision went either way on the proposed rule.

Well, for a variety of reasons, most who objected to a clerk of the meeting being clerk of pastoral care were out of town for this past business meeting. Our present clerk opened the issue stating that concerns were raised over "Meeting clerks being clerk of weighty Quarterly committees." The school committee is a Quarterly committee. And that in this case the issue was moot as the nominee had asked release from the School Committee. As such, could we put over discussion of the proposed rule until the next months meeting.

I said that I was not in unity with the proposal as the request for release only cured half the concerns raised at the previous meeting. It left an important issue unresolved which I would have addressed to nominations, if I had known before hand that the agenda would have been revised without previous notice, and lacking that notice, we are now asked to decide on a nomination without full knowledge of governing events, as most of the objections centered on the clerk of pastoral care ( a monthly meeting committee, not a quarterly committee) being also clerk of the Meeting.

This alone, the idea of manipulating the agenda, not only is an outcome based maneuver, but removes the process of building on the light of previous meetings. I just think it is not becoming of our tradition of well meaning in our attempts at real unity rather than manufactured consent.
I have no objection to the outcome, and support this new clerk, but I am offended to the marrow of my bones and roots of my faith at the process which brought this about. I also extend to the outgoing clerk the best assumption that this all might have been oversight. However, especially in the light of a deeply expressed concern more thought should have been given as well as care, so that even the appearance of manipulation should not take place.


At 8:40 AM, Blogger David Carl said...

Well Friend, may all that work in the end to bless you and bring new openings to G-d's loving spirit.


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