Many clerks carry out aspects of their role in addition to the cycle of holding meetings. There are many things that are brought to a clerk’s attention but which never make it to a meeting’s agenda.The size of this aspect to the role of clerk comes as a surprise to many, especially newcomers.
Demands put on a clerk beyond the admin
What can come the clerk’s way? There will be matters that aren’t ready to be on the agenda. They possibly shouldn’t be there – or not in the format proposed – or are confidential. Using the basic model of a Local Meeting, the clerk’s role is part clearing house (delegating, communicating), part figure-head and Friend with authority, and part ‘aunt Sally’ (an easy target for criticism or where the buck stops when nobody else wants to deal with a problem). Other Quaker committee clerks could adapt suggestions offered to their more specific contexts. You may be answerable to a conference, an appointing body or charity, or a sub-committee for some other Quaker group.
The potential list of things you might find yourself doing or asked to do can be wide, varied and probably daunting. So the first task is to find out what previous clerks have seen as part of their remit and decide if that’s for you. You can shape the role to suit your situation. Even if you agreed to everything when the Nominations Committee approached you, you can always ask the meeting to find others to do some of the tasks outside the meeting-in-session if it is becoming onerous.
Reducing the jobs and acting as ‘clearing house’
One way of reducing the jobs is not to take on every request put to you or that arrives in your inbox. You are not the local vicar, nor the chief executive, though you could easily become the meeting’s favourite go-to person. Unless you decide otherwise or the meeting is one that cherishes and nurtures you, you will become de facto the Correspondence Clerk, the Notices Clerk, the Opening-up-the-meeting-house Clerk, and so on. These tasks are not an essential part of the role unless you are willing to take them on. Others coming after you may not be so willing! If you are willing to take them on, be aware that acting as communications Friend (within the meeting or looking beyond the meeting’s own community) will need regular and ongoing attention and focus. Resist the call to become everything to everyone. See the page on ‘clerking teams’ for sharing out the work.
Engaging as clerk with the deeper issues in the meeting
What you shouldn’t avoid are all the quiet and confidential issues that may come your way precisely because you are the clerk. These may be matters that could perhaps come to a future agenda – it’s up to you to decide why the matter should come, and who is requesting a slot:
- Is it a simple thing that the meeting ought to approve or know about?
- Is it a bee-in-the-bonnet matter that one or two Friends are constantly wishing the meeting to focus on.
- Is it a concern or a potential concern? Has it reached sufficient maturity for the meeting to be ready to consider it or does it need more work by the Friend(s) raising it?
Dealing with conflict
There will almost certainly arise matters of conflict or disagreement during your period of service – possibly being brought to your attention by elders or overseers. You might get to hear that a committee is becoming dysfunctional, or that a key person has stopped doing what is needed and things are grinding to a halt. A Quaker community will have any number of these issues and the clerk should probably be aware of most of them. Not all these issues need to be solved by the clerk – perhaps a trusted Friend could be brought into the situation, perhaps a sub-committee could be looking at it, or the meeting might agree to form a temporary committee.
Fulfilling your role in the wider community
Sometimes there are outside events or political situations with which Quakers as a meeting want to get involved with. The list can be endless though they won’t all crop up at the same time. Even if you are not the only clerk and even if you have a Correspondence Clerk, you yourself will inevitably be seen as a kind of figure head temporarily representing the meeting in your role as clerk. You may be signing statements and letters on the meeting’s behalf, for example. For many clerks, once they have got the hang of how everything works in the meeting’s structure, this is where the creative and unexpected moments provide satisfaction and joy. This is the ‘joy and not a burden’ part of the role – the sense of being at the centre of Quaker life in this community, able to help and to make a difference. And it’s also a way of getting to know individual Friends more deeply and thus deepen your own spiritual life while you are giving this service.