Ask a former clerk

How can I deal with Any Other Business? “I don’t accept any!”

How do I arrange the items I decide should be on the agenda? “I identify the key matters and place them early. Background material is sent round in advance and not repeated in the meeting. I add estimated timings to the agenda and ask someone to be a gentle timekeeper.”

How do I initiate an item of business for the agenda? Is it my right to do this? “It is generally inappropriate for a clerk to initiate an item of business. If I see a need for some business to be brought to the meeting, I discuss it with one or more of the elders who can to discern whether it is appropriate to bring the matter at this time, and who might be asked to do so. There are some matters for which clerks alone have authority to decide, but this shouldn’t be one of them.”

How do I avoid an over-long agenda or an overlong meeting? “I offer draft minutes for straightforward items, asking Friends ‘can we take this on draft minute?’ If the Meeting goes on beyond the expected time, I ask Friends if they wish to continue or hold over items.”

How can I prepare well for the meeting? “I go through the agenda items making sure that as much as possible information Friends might need is available. If a matter appears to be routine I make sure that I have a draft minute prepared in advance possibly with gaps for, say, names or dates (but am ready to abandon it if it turns out not to be routine). I often find the wording of the draft minute by using the minute agreed the previous time a similar matter was considered.”

How do I avoid falling into the trap of speaking an opinion from the clerk’s table about a topic I know something about? “I get another Friend to clerk that item.”

How do I make good use of elders? “Have elders as a regular part of the team for meeting. Create an expectation with elders that the meeting values a spiritually disciplined gathering. Let elders know that, whilst you as clerk will guide the agenda and write the minutes, they are important in holding the meeting as a worshipping space.”

How do I know who to call to speak when several have indicated this? “Remember the spirit can speak through any who are present to it. I try to get a mixture of new and seasoned speakers and be alert to the person who rises with consideration or reluctance. I try to take particular care with the person who rises immediately the previous person has spoken – have they attended to what was just said?.”

How do I cope if nobody wants to speak in response to an agenda item? “Have I introduced the item adequately, so that those present know what they are being asked about? I try restating it: might the matter be broken into smaller questions to address? Or I ask for any questions or comments – that might reveal issues which need exploring. If it’s a report, maybe everyone is happy to accept it along with the recommendations. A single ‘hope so’ may be all that’s required. Is the item potentially contentious and no one wants to make the first comment? Questions for clarification may break the ice. But silence here may be a good thing too, to recognise the tenderness that will be required to speak sensitively.”

How can I work out how to introduce a difficult agenda item?  “I do research by asking around Friends beforehand, mostly by phone. This helps clarify my mind and gives a clearer picture of the issue.”

How do I keep some of my time to myself as personal time? “I can only clerk adequately if I look after my body mind and spirit. I need space around busyness to bring my whole self to serve. This includes both service ‘at the table’ in a business meeting and the reading, preparation and administration that happens beforehand and afterwards. So ‘me-time’ is essential for clerking as for any service to avoid feeling drained or suffering from burn-out. Having said that, one has to recognise that there will be times when we are very busy. So ensuring physical rest and fresh air and refreshment will enable the most adequate response, especially when busy. I build these times into my planning and ensure days away from the computer, times of the day when I don’t check emails. I go for walks, have times of silence or worship. Having some sort of routine helps me.”

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