Woodbrooke have recently uploaded a new resource on Quaker clerking. Where did that come from and why was it needed?
I’ve been a Woodbrooke associate tutor for approximately twenty years now and have worked through innumerable versions of the teaching materials we have been using since then, and of course, building on the groundbreaking work established before my time. I learnt the clerking trade from Keith Redfern and Julia Gordon and am still grateful for the enduring advice from those and other Friends.
However, I have always felt a lack of practical books and pamphlets for Woodbrooke course participants to browse through when attending the on-site events. There is a wealth of excellent discursive material available but that seems to address the sort of business meeting that I was rarely, if ever, asked to clerk. Mostly Britain Yearly Meeting or Meeting for Sufferings gatherings where Matters of Great Moment are broached and there is leisurely time for discussion, discernment and minute drafting. My own experiences of clerking have been rather more mundane and routine. Local meetings and committee meetings are somewhat different in their agendas from Yearly Meeting, and Friends attending those are often quite new to the Quaker approach – we all learn as we go along.
So what learning material is available for new clerks or Friends under nomination for clerk, and where can people find out the nuts and bolts of the craft? The groundbreaking book for me was the evidence-based book that our recently deceased Friend Jane Mace published in 2012. Her work was entirely grounded by her observations on what she saw when she visited a number of Meetings for Business and interviewed clerks and Friends-on-the-bench. We were no longer getting distilled wisdom from much-established and experienced clerks (valuable though these writings are), but the reality of the messy business of steering a meeting through the Quaker business method.
However, even that book didn’t quite give me what I would have liked once I’d graduated from Keith and Julia’s course. My experience in supporting new clerks over the years told me that more was needed, both in terms of ‘what on earth do I do NOW?’ and worries like ‘what about zoom clerking’ and ‘paperless minutes’. In other words, clerking itself is changing as the decades change even though the basic premise has remained of: prayerful agenda-building, steering but not leading a meeting, obeying the collective mind of a meeting in session, drafting minutes and accepting collective editing in real time by Friends in the meeting room. (There’s a bit more to it than that but those are the bedrock basics in my view).
I consulted with a number of experienced clerks and was given some real gems of wisdom in response to my ‘how do you?’ type questions. I’m delighted we’ve included these in the Guide. Not everyone will like or agree with what I’ve offered – I think disagreement and constructive criticism is how we continue to learn. The Guide isn’t a set of rules to follow (sounds familiar? The Balby Friends were there first) but a collective gathering together of our best efforts to explain, support and continue the wonderful and privileged role of being a Quaker clerk. So Friends, dig out your L-plate, accept the nomination, buckle the Guide to your laptop and launch yourself into a period of clerkly service. We are all walking alongside you. You won’t regret saying yes!