When in Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business we discuss an issue, Friends traditionally speak of seeking to discern God's Will; i.e., "what does the Lord wish us to do in this matter?" Such corporate discernment is not easy. We individuals surrender our own conceptions ofwhat should happen and submit to corporate (and we hope Divine) discipline.
It is the corporate testing of our individual leadings which distinguishes us from Ranters, who believe a person may decide for themselves whether their leading be true. As we meet in Worship, our Meetings differ in form, content, and purpose from secular committee meetings.
When sensing unity, the Clerk may discern and state a sense of the Meeting on the issue being discussed. The function of the Recording Clerk is to minute the statement of the sense of the Meeting. The Clerk and Recording Clerk may be the same Friend, though most Meetings encourage separation of the two roles.
The Recording Clerk often provides the actual wording of the Minute and it is the wording that is then used to test the sense of the Meeting. Friends may comment on the choice of words, on whether the sense of the Meeting is aptly expressed, on whether they feel included in the sense of the Meeting as expressed by the Minute... As our Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice says: "It is the privilege of any member to offer a substitute for the clerk's minute."
When sensing that unity has been reached and as a way of testing that sense, The Clerk asks for approval of the, by now, possibly modified minute. When Friends say "I approve," they approve that the Minute expresses the sense of the Meeting.
There is an important distinction to be made here. Consider the following minute:
1-12:VI:96 The social room is to be painted brown.
When Friends say that "I approve," they are not saying that they, as individuals, want brown to be the color of the social room. They are approving the statement that it is the sense of the Meeting that the social room is to be painted brown. They are affirming that those present are in unity.
A Minute records the corporately approved statement of the sense of the Meeting. In traditional terms, the Minute records the Meeting's discernment of God's will.
In Meetings for Business of the New York Yearly Meeting at Silver Bay and at Representative Meetings, certain portions of the minutes as a whole are not read until the end, or in the case of a long meeting the minutes up to that point are read somewhere in the middle.
At other times the sense is clear and perhaps pedantic and the Meeting trusts the Clerks to get the wording right when they prepare the minute, as in "the date of the next meeting will be ...."
On minutes where the exact wording is sensitive, especially when it expresses the unity that can be found above or below diversity, thereading aloud of a particular minute to test it is very important.
Getting the wording acceptable is part of the basic pacific training ground of both the Clerk, the Recording Clerk and the Meeting as a whole. When Friends listen deeply and then restate accurately what they have heard, they are acknowledging the message of others or The Other, rather than only an individual filter of larger Truth.
The practice of reading the body of the minutes at the meeting is important because they express the sense of the Meeting at that time, not the Recording Clerk's sense.
The corporate decision and its expression are everyone's responsibility. The Clerks are the servants of the Meeting with a particular function to articulate the sense of the whole and that is why when serving in that function they do not express their own opinion.
It may be important to request that the Meeting remain in silent worship to help the Recording Clerk compose a difficult or complex minute, holding the discernment process itself in the centered worship. It can also be helpful for the Recording Clerk to ask someone who is an elder (someone with a gift for praying for the spiritual life of the Meeting or of individuals) to silently pray for the Recording Clerk during the Meeting for Business.
It is Friends' practice that individual Friends are not named as having individual points of view unless recorded as standing aside and that the Minutes (the whole document) record only decisions by the meeting and the reception of reports, rather than the flow of discussion. However, it is sometimes useful to say that a particular issue was raised or discussed and referred for further work to a later Meeting or to acommittee.
Discerning the sense of the Meeting is not an easy task to ask of
the Clerk. One resource is the record of previous Minutes which record
the sense of the Meeting when other attempts were made to discern God's
will for the Meeting. When we bring an issue to Business Meeting, we help
the Clerk by knowing well any previous Minutes relevant to our issue.
These minutes are published in our newsletter and are kept in a Minute
book in our Meeting library.