by Mary Linda McKinney
Quaker committee meetings are often:
(Check all that apply)
❑ Community building
❑ Spiritually nurturing
❑ Emotionally intimate
If the boxes you checked lean toward the negative, you are not alone. Quaker committee work does not have a very good reputation. Have you seen the game “Unable, Unwilling”? It is a satirical game created by British Friends about the nominations process in a fictional meeting called Little Snoring. It is loads of fun to play with Friends, hilarious because it pokes fun at our secret impulses about committee work.
But what if it didn’t have to be this way? What if we could experience our committee work as a corporate spiritual practice? What if being on committees fostered a sense of connection with one another? What if the shared work of community helped us to recognize and develop our gifts and provided ways to use them? What if committee meetings were an opportunity rather than a burden? What if our committees were so spiritually nurturing that they enriched the life of the entire Friends Meeting?
I believe the work of committees holds the potential to be these things when we shift our focus about them. The key, I think, is for committees to de-center agenda and instead center on Spirit.
My husband and I are Friends Couple Enrichment leaders. The FCE organizing body has several standing committees that support our mission. A year or so ago, I joined the Nominations Committee. Although the work of Nominations for FCE is, like in many communities, actively needed for only a few months ahead of annual nominations (when folks leave or join committees), under the guidance of clerk Lorene Ludy, our committee meets regularly. Lorene understands the work of the committee to be about building community and spiritual intimacy. We meet for about an hour each month to share stories about our relationships with FCE and with the Divine, and how we are nurtured by our faith communities. One important theme that has risen for us over the past year was to explore how we have felt included or excluded. Those conversations led us to examine FCE’s culture and what our committee can do to make our community more welcoming and inclusive. From there we considered how the nominations process has traditionally been done and held in worship other ways Spirit could work through us. We were led to invite everyone in our community to a series of worship sharing sessions in which everyone is invited to share about their relationship with FCE, work they are led to continue to carry or feel released from, or gifts or skills they want to share. We see this as the opportunity for getting to know one another in a deeper way and to really listen for Spirit’s guidance about our individual responsibilities for the work we share.
I’m not suggesting that every committee do the same as FCE NomCom. I would, though, encourage committees to set aside time for the members to talk about what they would personally like to get from the shared work of the committee. Knowing others in the community better and feeling connected? Spiritual intimacy? The opportunity to share a gift or a skill? Take the time to talk about this, listen to one another, listen for Divine leadings and then see if you are led to change anything about your committee meeting structure. It is worth adding 30 minutes to a gathering if it means that folks leave feeling connected and nurtured rather than frustrated or spent.
Emily Provance, in her excellent blog, Turning, Turning, wrote a post “Permission to Experiment” in which she talks about Quakers being unwilling to try new things because we don’t want to make mistakes. When we trust God’s guidance, though, we can see experimentation as an opportunity to follow faithfully. Maybe FCE NomCom stumbled on a great new way of doing nominations, or maybe we will find that our experiment with worship sharing did bring the community together in a beneficial way but wasn’t actually structured enough when it comes to connecting people with committees. If the latter, I won’t see it as a mistake or a failure. I’ll trust that God led us through this experiment because our community needed it in some way. Maybe we will be led to try something different next year or to return to the old way of doing things. Whatever happens, I absolutely trust that Spirit will show us what we are to do when we make the time to listen together. That’s the important thing to keep in mind: the work of committees isn’t our work, it is God’s work that we are given to do. When we orient ourselves in that awareness, we can trust that everything we need–time, resources, people, skills, knowledge–will be available when we need them.
Spiritually grounded committees are one of the areas a community will have the opportunity to explore together in the Faithful Meetings program. If you are interested in learning more about Faithful Meetings, please email Mary Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org or join an upcoming information session.