In this part we look at ways in which meetings have developed the clerking role by sharing out the responsibilities in a variety of clerking teams. These models may be of use to you in your particular context.
The classic Clerk + Assistant Clerk model can be usefully adapted to: two Co-Clerks with equal authority, or a Clerking Team which brings in a number of Friends to share out the jobs. Some meetings adopt a Presiding Clerk + Minuting Clerk model. We look at pros and cons of each model and how they can best serve meetings in their current form and size. We also look at Meetings with specific purposes (e.g. Nominations, Children’s Committees, Quaker Trusts) and suggest ways in which these specialist groups can be well clerked or convened. The traditional role of clerk plus assistant clerk doesn’t always meet the need of meetings who are finding it hard to nominate on this basis, or who prefer to share the role round to a range of Friends. Let’s look at how co-clerks can divide up the work, then how a wider team can do it. And we finally look at the underrated role of assistant clerk, always in the context of local or area meetings.
Clerk plus assistant clerk
In this clerking team model there is a main clerk who acts as The Clerk: presiding at business meetings, giving notices, being available throughout their service to be consulted, to accept and then sometimes re-route most matters that come to the attention of a local or area meeting. They are aware of most communication matters, they deal with incoming and outgoing post and online messaging; they are the main contact Friend for Quakers and non-Quakers and their contact details are likely to be the main one included in all publicity and other information about the meeting. These days such a Friend may well be helped by others taking on part of that role, as is shown in the table further down. Gone are the days when such an administrator would have the time and energy to fulfil most of these components largely on their own – if they ever did.
In this model co-clerks share the responsibility equally but divide up the tasks in a number of different ways. One version has both clerks running the business meeting and all the extra jobs such as notices, communicating with the meeting and the wider world, and being available to Friends as a clearing house, and many other informal tasks that come along. This model might share out the work in a time-based way, so that that one Friend takes on the main work for a couple of months or so, with the other acting as assistant, and then they swap over. One may need a sabbatical for family reasons and needs to temporarily drop some of the work. A version of this model in the business meeting has the presiding clerk (as it were) steering the meeting and taking the minutes one month, then the two swap over in alternate months. Continuity can be an issue here and Friends can become confused as who is wearing which hat at any given moment. But some meetings do make it work – it does need careful preparation and frequent clear communication. Obviously the presiding and minuting can be shared out too – maybe alternating from month to month or keeping to one of the two skills for a year or so then changing over. Please don’t consider swapping presiding clerk role for item to item within a single agenda – it’s very confusing for everyone else!
A clerking team can begin by adopting thie Co-clerking model, then either by design or necessity there can be further sub-divisions of the tasks; these can include membership, correspondence, notices, liaising within the meeting (for very large meetings perhaps), and representing the meeting at non-Quaker events such as Churches Together. Other duties can include supporting the clerk spiritually and practically, standing in for the principle clerk as required, being aware of business items that need to be brought to the clerk’s attention, meeting with the clerk to discuss business agendas and items, note-taking during the meeting and helping the clerk write the minutes, filing and indexing the minutes, and confirming appointments made by the meeting. This model has the benefit of keeping the role manageable, especially in large meetings and also providing training for inexperienced Friends to try their hands at various elements of the role. Where the meeting has many Friends who are not firmly attached geographically to a meeting, or whose jobs require frequent travelling this can be a good option.
And so to the assistant clerk – someone who has no intention of taking on the larger responsibility but may have interpersonal skills valuable in assisting someone else. People appointed as assistant, however, have been heard to complain that they aren’t being used at all and don’t know what they are meant to be doing. This is not good! So, nominations committees and those serving as clerks need to learn how to use the assistant to the benefit of everyone. Sometimes the personalities of the clerks at the table are helped if a gifted clerk but one inclined to lose their temper is paired with a very calm and wise assistant who can help to keep things under control. You will think of other important pairings from a skills or personality perspective. Each Friend is different and each clerk has their own style and their own shortcomings. The assistant can be the essential glue that keeps everything together and running well and with affection. Admin comes more easily to some people than others! The assistant clerk may take on the other tasks as suggested in the table or leave all of them to one hard-working clerk.
Dividing up the tasks
Below is a list of who does what for each of the Local or Area team models that are detailed above:-
Clerk + assistant clerk
Tasks for clerk: Clerk always clerks meetings – presides and drafts minutes
Tasks for assistant clerk: Assistant clerk always assists at meetings. Also does notices, correspondence, membership, acts as contact
Best for: Medium and large meetings
Tasks for co-clerk 1: Co-clerk clerks alternate meetings. Does notices, correspondence, membership, acts as contact when not presiding.
Tasks for co-clerk 2: Co-clerk clerks alternate meetings – presides and drafts minutes. Does notices, correspondence, membership, acts as contact when not presiding.
Best for: Medium and small meetings – but continuity remains complex
Tasks for co-clerk 1: Co-clerk alternates presiding and drafting minutes – either turn and turn about during each meeting or swapping from meeting to meeting. Shares out other tasks.
Tasks for co-clerk 2: Co-clerk alternates presiding and drafting minutes – either turn and turn about during each meeting or swapping from meeting to meeting. Shares out other tasks.
Best for: Medium and small meetings
Tasks: Clerking team (three or more) – shares out all the tasks either in a planned way or according to circumstances as time progresses. Needs excellent planning ahead and good communication by all.
Best for: Medium and small meetings
Tasks: Volunteers take turns at the table, holding business meetings only when necessary. Other volunteers take care of notices, correspondence, membership, and acting as contact. Not to be recommended for the long term as collective memory can vanish so quickly.
Best for: Small meetings, or solution when nominations committees have despaired.
Clerking or convening committees
The role of clerk (or convenor) of nominations committees, trustees, finance committees, premises committees and so on is essentially the same as for a whole meeting. The Quaker business method works in much the same way no matter how large or small the group, though the degree of formality may be adjusted for small groups compared with larger meetings.
If this is your role as a new clerk, you may be disappointed to discover you don’t get an assistant, and only in some contexts will there be enough members in the group to allow for co-clerking. Your committee is advised to ask one of your group to act as elder – though this can be rotated of course. Some committees will have already chosen the clerk/convenor from among their number -the role doesn’t always come via the traditional nomination-appointment route. This gives you some flexibility to share the role round the group or divide up the associated tasks with the others.
However, for some specialised committees the clerk’s role is rather heavier than it is for the rest of the group. The convenor of a nominations committee may well be the main person to contact those whose names are suggested for a role, and it will be that person who reports back to the group and keeps a clear eye on how things are progressing (or not) for every post that is currently vacant. The convenor is likely to be the person writing regular reports and presenting them at the business meetings who have the authority to appoint.
The clerk to trustees will need some training in order to be on top of specialised topics connected to employment, safeguarding, data protection and so on. This is true of clerks of other Quaker charities. Role descriptions for these more specific clerkships should be available to prospective clerks/convenors – this isn’t the place to go into detail.