Ann Arbor Friends Meeting
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Readings for Reflection: April 2014
from the Committee on Ministry and Counsel

Sense of the Meeting

Consensus decision-making is often attributed to Friends and I have found it challenging to describe to others how the Quaker notion of sense of the meeting is not necessarily “consensus” but rather a process of discerning right action at a given time. It is a process that requires faith in the leading of the Spirit and a willingness to disengage from one’s own opinion, despite considering its merits to be logical, self-evident, or even brilliant. I have found attending meeting for worship for business to demand patience, humility, and faith. Exploring the process more, I came across an FGC pamphlet by Patricia Loring and wanted to share part of it with others.
~   John Deikis

When Friends make a decision, they are not seeking a consensus of their membership. They are seeking the will of God in a particular matter. They have found the most reliable guide to that will of God to be the sense of the meeting. The sense of the meeting may be different from consensus because the sense of the meeting can arise only out of a membership which has in fact given itself over to seeking the will of God and has prepared itself spiritually for the search. It may be that some present have not yet come to that condition of seeking. It may be that some have come seeking that their own will be done – sometimes for excellent reasons. It may be that they come with a leading from God which is quite true for themselves but not a leading for the meeting as a whole.

It is easy and tempting for Friends to fall into secular customs in the conduct of business: each one simply seeking, working, manipulating for one’s own point of view, attempting to control the outcome to the advantage of the position with which one has arrived. Unfortunately these methods tend to obscure the sense of the meeting rather than clarify it. The sense of the meeting is better arrived at when each person present relinquishes control, to endeavor to see her- or himself and others not merely with the mind’s eye but with the eye of faith; to discern not only his/her own leading but the leading of others; to keep in mind that at any moment the most improbable person may be the prophet of God; to discern how the leading of the meeting may be different from the quite genuine leading of an individual.

… That it is why it is important to pause between speakers to recollect and re-center ourselves to listen and to speak in the Light rather than in passions or the intellect: to remember that we are engaged together in a search for the will of God rather than in discussion, argument, or persuasion. Information and reason are to serve the higher purpose rather than to be ends in themselves. The process also requires of the members tremendous openness, sensitivity, and tenderness to one another.

From Patricia Loring, “Spiritual Responsibility in the Meeting for Business,” Friends General Conference pamphlet, 1993. Reprinted with permission.

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