Quaker-pocalypse: Nominations, Committee Service, and Spiritual Renewal, Part Three
September 12, 2015 § 1 Comment
Some solutions to the problems of committee service—a preview
I said at the outset of this series that, if there are solutions to the problems of committee service, they will have to be sustained and long-term, far-reaching and multi-dimensional, structural and radical.
In subsequent posts, I want to unpack these approaches to a solution. Here, let me outline them in preview. We might consider pursuing the following alternatives:
- Redefine the purpose of the meeting committee. Make the committee a laboratory for helping its members discern and explore their leadings in the committee’s area of concern, and an incubator for helping to bring its members’ leadings to fruition.
This is in contrast to the committee’s usual role as a workshop for handling the meeting’s tasks. However, we would probably have to add this role to the committee’s existing roles or the meeting’s business would collapse—not a very realistic proposition, since the committees and their members are already overworked. So this is a case, I think, in which the half-way measure just won’t do. We need a more radical solution . . .
- Virtually eliminate standing committees altogether, except in the case of those necessary for the good operation and fiduciary responsibility of the meeting as a corporation—trustees, financial services, property, etc. And . . .
- Replace these standing committees with something else, a combination of ad hoc working groups, support committees for ministers who feel led to work in various areas of meeting life, and something like Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Threads, open gatherings of Friends interested in various areas of meeting life.
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting has undertaken numbers two and three, and I will be very interested to see how this unfolds. This approach might be easier for a yearly meeting than for a monthly meeting. More about this in a subsequent post.
- Redefine membership, so that, in the covenant between meeting and member, the meeting offers its members energetic, reliable, and focused spiritual nurture and pastoral care, not just an invitation to serve on committees, and then sees how the members reciprocate with service to the meeting. This reverses the usual pattern, in which we ask the members to contribute to the meeting, without thinking about how the meeting will contribute to their lives, assuming, I guess, that meeting for worship and committee service are enough, and then we wait to see whether worship and meeting service are enough to keep them active.
Once the meeting is clear about its identity, its role in its members’ lives, and about what membership means (see #5 below), we might consider a membership jubilee, in which all members are asked to reapply for membership in a round of clearness committees stretched out over a few years that focus on learning how the meeting can serve the member.
- Consciousness raising. In general, we need a sustained, long-term program of consciousness raising, not about the value of committees, but about the purpose of the monthly meeting, the nature of the life of the spirit, and the role of the meeting in the members’ spiritual lives. We need open discussion, threshing sessions, and spirit-led discernment about who we think we are as a monthly meeting and about the meaning of meeting membership. We need spiritual formation programs that implement the offering of spiritual nurture that I suggest in bullet #4 above as the meeting’s commitment to new members—assuming that we are willing to reconceive the meeting as a two-way street, a covenant in which both the meeting and the members are actively contributing to each others’ lives.
In the next few posts, I want to unpack some of these ideas in greater detail.