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ALL THE LATEST NEWS, VIEWS AND STORIES FROM AROUND YOUR LOCAL AREA:SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER FOR THE MONTH


Quakers are known to be individualists. If you have 20 Quakers in a room you’ll probably have at least 30 different opinions. So, how has Quakerism kept going for 350 years without falling apart?


The secret lies in what is rather mundanely called our ‘Quaker Business Method’. Decisions are taken, or perhaps a better word would be ‘arrived at’, in a Meeting for Worship for Business. This is not a conventional discussion or debate but something more akin to a listening exercise. It does not involve voting. It is the task of the Clerk to try to judge the sense of the meeting and to encapsulate it in a Minute which is made on the spot, read out, amended and agreed by all those present. If the sense of the meeting is that there is no agreement, the matter will be dropped or held over to a later date. I have in my time been Clerk both of our local meeting here in Cockermouth and of our Cumberland Area Meeting. This can be a challenging task, even though I know all the Friends present. This summer, I attended our Yearly Meeting for the whole of Britain and observed the same method being used in gatherings of 1500 or more with three clerks (all of them, incidentally, women) using a light but firm touch to keep our deliberations on track. It was an inspiring experience. There was, perhaps, nothing very controversial at this Yearly Meeting but in past years, Quakers have successfully advanced our understanding of such matters as equal marriage where there was initially a wide range of opinions.


It’s a slow method, sometimes frustrating but it does eventually lead to good decisions. I can’t help but look at the mess we seem to be in following a first-past-the-post referendum on a highly divisive issue such as Brexit and wonder what would have happened if the nation had used Quaker Business Method. We would have thought long and hard about it before making a decision, rather than making the decision then thinking about the consequences. One thing is certain, we wouldn’t have made any decision for a good few years yet and maybe that would have been no bad thing.


Bob Pritchard Society of Friends (Quakers)


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21 SEPTEMBER 2017 ISSUE 418 PAGE 27 THOUGHT


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