Finding the Sense of the Meeting

Finding the Sense of the Meeting

Observations from DeAnne Butterfield (1/15/17)


Meeting for Business is a container for Friends to be guided by the Spirit when making decisions for the Meeting.

Meeting for Business is not merely a gathering of individuals with ideas, but a single body seeking Divine guidance.  We may not all agree at the same level, but we can acknowledge that a path forward reflects the sense of the Meeting.

It is less about the “right” answer than confidence that the Spirit is guiding our path.

God doesn’t care what color we paint a wall.  The Spirit guides us to be good stewards of property and money and to ground our actions in Love.

Amount of time corresponds to importance of the issue to the life of the Meeting.

Recognize that we are all human, doing the best we can for the Meeting we love.


Valuable Steps

1. Preparation

Friends should arrive, and discernment should begin with a sense of Spiritual grounding.

Those bringing an issue forward have an understanding of necessary background information and clarity about bringing it forward.

2. Framing

Agenda item should start with clear articulation and understanding of the issue at hand and relevant information before discussing solutions:  “Why” before “How” or “Whether”.

Recommendation framed as one way to move forward rising from the discernment of the committee.

Often useful to remind Friends of the Principles behind the decision.

3. Insights

Out of the silence, Friends speak to offer insights.  These are “laid on the table” for the Meeting, released by the speaker for consideration by the group with no strings attached.  Each insight becomes part of the overall discernment.

Just as speaking in Meeting for Worship, if a Friend receives a strong message it is her/his responsibility to share it with the group. All Friends have an obligation to speak their deep insights, an obligation to listen openly to what others say, and an obligation to be open to others’ insights; we trust each other to do this.

Listening within (I), to others in the room (you), for underlying Principles (we Quakers), and the voice of the Divine.

4. Exploring

After the issue is understood, Friends go into silent worship/prayer to seek Divine wisdom.

Pray for openness and willingness to letting go, or leaving behind, in order to receive new insights and clarity.

Discernment requires sacred space, open hearts, open minds and concern for the common good.

Ask What if?,  How can this be made better?, “How can Friends concerns be overcome?”,  “What would the Spirit have us do?”,  “What can be set aside to get to the heart of the matter?”

Ask what voices are missing:  absent members, youth, those affected, the future, wisdom from the past.

5. Gathering

What has the Spirit brought us?

What rises up to guide the discussion?

Is there a clear path forward?  Are there pieces of the solution coming into focus?

Collaborative seeking: we are on the same side seeking Divine guidance.

It is the good of the Meeting as a whole, as a single body, that is the goal.  Not the preferences of individuals.  “What shall we do” rather than “what do I want?”

6. Unity

Sense of the Meeting is not a tally of individual opinions, preferences or agreements, but rather a statement of the direction or conclusion discerned by the group.  Sense of the Meeting is something one observes or experiences.

“Consensus” is a term for how a secular group approaches solving a problem by aligning individual interests.  “Sense of the Meeting” is a statement of where the Spirit has led the Meeting as a single body, reached through a process of prayerful attention to the Divine.

One should only stand in the way of a Sense of the Meeting if the person believes the emerging decision would harm the Meeting, goes against Quaker values or practice, has significant potential consequences that have not been adequately evaluated, or in a profound way is not ripe.

Less “do we approve of the outcome?”  More “is this where the Divine is guiding us?”

7. Gratitude

For Divine Guidance, for each other, for our Meeting community, for our own discipline.


What Gets in the Way?

Insufficient prayerful silence.

Trying to resolve something we don’t fully understand.

Individuals holding back from speaking their insights, especially potential concerns.

Individuals not listening to others’ insights or hearing their concerns.

Friends don’t put “principles before personalities” and either go along with or oppose something based on who presents or advocates for it.

Individuals don’t let go of their insights, trusting them to the discernment of the group, and instead react with strident support, opposition or defensiveness that closes out the Light .

The discussion ceases to be guided by Spirit and instead becomes ego-driven.

Friends get stuck in old “stories” that close off new insights or truths.

Pushing for a conclusion in our time rather than God’s time.