Quaker “Best Practices”—Meeting for Business

February 6, 2017 § 4 Comments

Best practices:

  • Distribute the agenda and relevant documents in the week prior to meeting for business in worship.
  • Consider one of the queries from your Faith and Practice.
  • Set aside time for exploring long-term issues, big picture issues, and other concerns that lie outside the usual business of the meeting.

Business materials

Central Philadelphia Meeting distributes materials pertaining to the upcoming meeting for business in worship by email during the week before meeting. The meeting also provides some packets of these materials on a table by the door into the meeting room for those who don’t use email or have not printed them or brought some mobile device to view them on. These should be in a format that makes mobile viewing manageable; pdf files work pretty well; html pages work better.


One of the first things on the agenda is to read and consider one of the queries in PhYM’s* Faith and Practice, rotating through them month by month. I think this is an excellent practice. My previous meeting (Yardley, PA) also read the queries in the meeting for worship on the same Sunday as meeting for business, so that the larger number of members attending worship could respond. It tended to shape the vocal ministry, sometimes, but that was the point. I liked this practice, also.

Dedicated time for exploration and reflection

On most business meeting Sundays, Central Philadelphia Meeting holds two meetings for business in worship, one before meeting for worship, and one after. The morning session is dedicated to considering the kinds of things that the necessary and regular business of a meeting almost always pushes to the side—exploration of issues facing the meeting, presentations from important outside groups, consideration of matters that affect the meeting but are not part of the meeting’s regular business, etc. We used this time a while back to work on the FCNL priorities survey. We’ve looked at the annual budget and the meeting’s priorities for the coming year. We’ve had a presentation from a local interfaith witness network that we’ve joined. We considered the report and recommendations from an ad hoc committee charged with addressing racism.

This makes for a long day for sure. For personal reasons, I myself am rarely able to dedicate that much time on a Sunday, so I often attend only one. I imagine that many meetings would never consider doing this. But I do think that it’s important to set aside time regularly for these kinds of concerns. Otherwise, they never happen. There is always too much regular and pressing business to attend to. Which sounds like an argument to not set aside such time. But realistically, how often would the meeting really suffer if some of the regular and even the pressing business didn’t happen until the next month? When you make an hour and a quarter available virtually every month to consider the important meta-issues of the meeting, as CPM does, the meeting grows into the future with self-awareness and a measure of confidence that is hard to get otherwise.

*  I use PhYM for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, even though members of the yearly meeting and the yearly meeting itself use PYM (it’s url is pym.org). I do this because Pacific Yearly Meeting also uses PYM, and I think it’s worth minding the distinction. PhYM’s historical importance, its venerable age, and its large size has given it first chance at PYM and this history encourages the yearly meeting to be a little self-centered. I have never heard anyone even mention the problem of the overlapping acronyms with Pacific. One could refer to Pacific Yearly Meeting as PaYM, I suppose, but that would suggest Pennsylvania and be confusing. Meanwhile, it seems to me that the “Ph” in Philadelphia lends itself nicely to an alternative usage for PhYM. PhYM can do nothing about its url, though, so I am resigned to being eccentric in this usage.

One day, I’m going to write a series of posts on “Bioregional Quakerism” and make a case for completely abandoning our historical nomenclature and boundaries and adopting bioregional names and boundaries. Then there wouldn’t even be yearly meetings named after cities, as Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore Yearly Meetings are. We already have some bioregional yearly meeting names, Pacific being one of them. But I suspect that most yearly meetings—maybe all—are virtually totally unaware of the bioregion they inhabit, its geology and physiography, its flora and fauna, its watersheds, its endangered species and invasive species, its water supplies and waste management systems, its fault lines and ecosystems. What would North American Quakerism look like if our yearly meetings had boundaries and identities that were directly informed by their bioregions, if the places we lived in really mattered?


§ 4 Responses to Quaker “Best Practices”—Meeting for Business

  • Steven,

    The discussion among PYM members (and staff) to use PhYM to avoid confusion with Pacific YM has been going on for years although informally and usually at times of organizational change.

    Many PYM Friends already use PhYM especially those originally from western or other yearly meetings in their personal correspondence. I often use it in private correspondence with western Friends to avoid confusion.

    For PhYM, the issue of “acronym change” is usually tied to logo redesign due to all of the official documents and correspondence that use “PYM” as part of our logo. So, some significant artist as well as printing costs would be involved in making the change.

    The issue was raised during our recent reorganization which was approved in 2014 and commenced in 2015. But, the concern was never raised to the level of a recommendation for Friends to consider approving as part of the reorganization.

    As for the regional names (PYM=Delaware Valley YM), this discussion, too has been talked about for many years. But, again it has never been raised to a concern and brought to annual sessions for consideration (and a budget!)

    Of course, it would also involve the above mentioned expenses plus a publicity effort (and funds) to “re-brand” — if you will — PYM to our meetings and the general public. Of course, the re-branding could be tied to a public media outreach effort (akin to Quaker Quest.)

    I personally like DVYM (Delaware Valley Yearly Meeting) although I could see folks confusing us with the DMV (Dept. of Motor Vehicles.) But, all kidding aside, I would encourage you to bring your concern to your meeting and then the Quarter for consideration.

    George Schaefer

    PS. In the spirit of full disclosure, I serve (work for) PYM as its coordinator of Pastoral Care & Aging services. And, I subscribe to (and like) your blog!

    • Thanks, George, for the reply—and for subscribing. I’m intrigued to find out that the yearly meeting is ahead of me on a possible name change. Such a change is way beyond moving the benches in the meeting room, which can take years of difficult discussion. I will consider bringing the idea to my meeting when the idea is more seasoned.

      I like Delaware Valley YM. I looked up the Lenape name for the Delaware River, which is Lenapewihittuk, but it means River of the Lenape, which would not be appropriate. But maybe Wihittuk Yearly Meeting? The Lenape word for river, however, is sipu. So maybe the First Nation angle isn’t working out. It just bothers me that the river is named after a European aristocrat who never even sailed up the river named after him.

  • Howard Brod says:

    The information below about the changed Meeting for Business format at Midlothian (VA) Friends Meeting was recently shared with all of Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM) in their quarterly Interchange magazine. It has contributed greatly to the enhanced spiritual life of our meeting.

    Due to the simplification of our ‘Meetings for Worship with a Concern for Business’, we now use this time together purely for discerning the spiritual path forward for Midlothian Friends. We have ceased using it for various announcements and administrative matters that previously utilized much time and could have been best handled through email. To emphasize the discernment purpose of Meeting for Business, our Recording Clerk now only minutes decisions, rather than the entire Meeting for Business deliberation. We have found we now have plenty of time during Meeting for Business to initially consider all spiritually related matters as an entire meeting in order to allow the Spirit to first provide direction through all of us. If needed we refer purely logistic or administrative aspects to standing or ad-hoc committees. This approach clearly places our entire meeting community in a steering capacity for our committees, rather than the other way around. This healthy evolution in our Quaker process has increased attendance at our Meetings for Business to be equal to that of our weekly Meetings for worship. We assume this is because very spiritually meaningful things now happen during that Meeting for Business time together.

    The following email announcement is provided to Friends each month as practical guidance on what to submit to the clerk of meeting as agenda items for Meeting for Business so that we have plenty of time each month to consider weighty spiritual matters:

    Items submitted to Meeting for Business as agenda items should only be those that require discernment and a decision from our meeting, or are an historically significant action that requires recording in the minutes. Please do not include as agenda items general announcements, committee updates, or financial updates that don’t require a subsequent decision. Instead, provide these to the Quaker Town Crier for email distribution or offer them after the conclusion of worship.

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