This project — writing a Faith & Practice book — is a work in progress. Whenever a significant update is made to a published installment, the revision date will be posted at the top of the installment as well as in the Table of Contents. Following is the sixth part of “The Life of the Spirit.”
6. Meeting for Business (Quaker Decision-making)
And in your … [business] meetings, you are in and about the Lord’s business, and not your own; and therefore let the Lord be in your eyes, that all of you his presence, and power, and wisdom, and judgment may receive, to do, and act, and speak in. (George Fox, 1674)
Most local Quaker congregations are called Monthly Meetings because they meet once each month to conduct business together. (Business meetings may also be held at other times as necessary, and some regional Quaker associations meet only quarterly or annually for business.) The meeting for business is when matters needing corporate consideration are discussed and decided upon, but those terms can be misleading: it is not a time for arguing opinions or positions, nor is a vote ever taken. Our objective in business meeting is not simply to dispatch business but to act together in the power of agapē (divine love). As matters are brought before us, we hold them in the light of agapē. When we are gathered into unity of spirit, we may discern that a way forward has opened.
In your meetings together to do service for the Lord, be every one of you very careful and diligent in watching to [God’s] power, that ye may have the sensible, living feeling of it, each of you in your own hearts, and in the hearts one of another; and that ye may keep within the limits of it, and not think, or speak, or act beyond it. And know, oh! wait more and more to know, how to keep that silence, which is of the power; that in every one of you [whatever] the power would have silent may be silent. Oh! take heed of the forwardness of the flesh, the wisdom of the flesh, the will of the flesh, the talkativeness of the flesh; keep them back, oh! let them for ever be kept back in every one of you, by the presence and virtue of the power.
The power is the authority and blessing of your meetings, and therein lies your ability to perform what God requires; be sure ye have it with you. Keep back to the life, keep low in the holy fear, and ye shall not miss of it. You will find [that it is] easy to transgress, easy to set up self, easy to run into sudden apprehensions about things, and one [person] to be of this mind and another of that; but feel the power to keep down all this, and to keep you out of all this; every one watching to the life, when and where it will arise to help you, and that ye may be sensible of it when it doth arise, and not in a wrong wisdom oppose it, but be one with it. (Isaac Penington, 1678)
The meeting for business is, then, like the meeting for worship in that Friends’ primary duty in both is to open ourselves to agapē, especially toward those gathered with us; to wait silently for inspiration in that spirit, willing to having our preconceptions overturned; and to share such inspiration when love leads us to do so. Indeed, sometimes the phrase “meeting for worship with a concern for business” is used to emphasize the underlying unity of our decision-making process and our worship.
[S]ee that all … meetings are preserved by the wisdom of God in the unity of the spirit, the bond of peace, and the fellowship of the holy ghost; being ordered by the pure, gentle, heavenly, peaceable wisdom …. And that all may be careful to speak short and pertinent to matters in a christian spirit; and despatch business quickly, and keep out of debates and heats; and with the spirit of God keep that down, which is doting about questions and strife of words, that tends to parties and contention: which in the church of God there is no such custom to be allowed. And likewise not to speak more than one at a time, nor in a fierce way … but as the apostle saith, “Be swift to hear, and slow to speak”; and let it be in the grace, which seasons all words. (George Fox, 1690)
For procedural details about Quaker business meeting, please see Section IV.