miriam berg
(circa 1992)

Friends, i want to make another appeal for us to call things by their right names, and not to go on confusing the meeting for business with the meeting for worship. Our two kinds of meetings are not the same. There are many differences between our two kinds of meetings. We do not have just "one" kind of meeting.

To begin with, our meetings for business are meetings for action; they are the method we have learned to help us reach decisions representing the whole of the meeting. Our meetings for worship are never meetings for action. Our meetings for worship may be said to be intended to help us refresh ourselves at the fountain of divine spirit if i may put it so poetically.

Our meetings for business have an agenda, and we try to stick to that agenda. Our meetings for worship never have an agenda, but we may speak to whatever matter we are led to in the silence. We do have another kind of meeting called a "threshing meeting", in which we have a single matter for us to seek clarity on together, but we do not try to reach decisions at those meetings.

Our meetings for business have a presiding clerk, whose part it is to help us follow our agenda. Our meetings for worship do not have a presiding individual. In a meeting for business the clerk may have to remind us to stick with the agenda. In a meeting for worship no one would ever tell us to stick to the topic.

Another of the duties of the presiding clerk at a meeting for business is to call upon individuals on occasion, when the need arises. Perhaps in an ideal meeting for business two people would never rise to speak at once, so that the clerk would not have to call upon each of them in turn. But in a meeting for worship no one ever calls upon anyone else to take their turn. On rare occasions two persons wi11 rise together to speak in a meeting for worship; but one of them always takes their seat again, although they may rise again later.

At our meetings for business we often hear scheduled reports of committees; sometimes these will present us with proposed minutes of action, and sometimes they will not. At a meeting for worship we never have reports of committees, even if a committee clerk or a member of a committee may be led to speak about a concern or an activity of that committee. Sometimes these reports provide us with information to help us in reaching our decisions together. Sometimes messages in a meeting for worship will give us information we didn't have before, but that is incidental to the delivery of the message in the course of the meeting for worship.

At a meeting for worship our custom dictates that we speak only once although it is difficult to find a precise spiritual basis for this custom. At a meeting for business a member may speak more than once even to the same matter, if the contribution seems important enough although we are enjoined not to make the same point twice or repeat ourselves.

At a meeting for business we seek to make decisions regarding the temporal and spiritual affairs of the meeting; but at a meeting for worship we never try to make a decision regarding our affairs. At a meeting for business we may have to layover a matter until a future meeting, if we need more time for seasoning the matter together, or if we need more information. A matter may come up at successive meetings for worship, but that is as the light directs us and not because we are seeking to make a group decision.

A meeting for business maintains a minute-book or other record of the decisions and deliberations of the meeting, either by the clerk in a small meeting or by an assistant clerk called the "recording clerk" in a larger meeting. But we do not record minutes for our meetings for worship, although occasionally a message may be written down by another member because of its great depth and power and beauty.

One of the decisions we are frequently called upon to make at our meetings for business is the acceptance of new members into our meeting or the transfer of one of our members to another meeting. But we never use the meeting for worship as the time to reach decisions on accepting a new person as a member or releasing someone from membership.

Still, we need to keep ourselves just as centered and open to the leadings of the spirit at a meeting for business as we do at a meeting for worship; we need to wait upon the Lord (as Friends say) just as much if not more in a meeting for business as in a meeting for worship; we need to be ready and willing to set aside our own desires and listen to others, if we are to reach decisions together on our matters of business. These are deeply central aspects of what it means for us to be Friends and to be a community. We may also use periods of silent worship during a meeting for business to help us remain centered and discern our corporate light together.

But it denigrates and demeans the meeting for business to refer to it as "just" another meeting for worship with a "concern" for business or as a "meeting for worship on the occasion of business". This is hardly a simple way of referring to our meetings for business, friends. This fashion of speech only arose in the 1980s, out of a feeling that there were those of us who had become careless in our practice of remaining centered and open, of waiting upon the Lord for openings and assistance, of refraining from pressing our own desires too forcefully or frequently. But we should not let our desire to remind each other of these spiritual needs of our community lead us to confusing our two kinds of meetings, or to call the meeting for business a meeting for worship when it is conducted differently from our meetings for worship.

In the 1973 Discipline of Pacific Yearly Meeting, and in other yearly meeting disciplines, the two kinds of meetings are properly grasped in the time-honored queries about meetings for business:
Are your meetings for business conducted in a spirit of worship? Do you seek truth and the right course of action, rather than acceptance for a previously-formed opinion?
These queries were left out of the 1985 Faith and Practice of Pacific Yearly Meeting, perhaps out of a desire to promulgate the notion that meeting for business was the just another meeting for worship.

We could say that a meeting for business is actually a meeting for worship with an agenda, and a presiding clerk, and committee reports and during which members may speak more than once, and at which we make decisions for the meeting and approve minutes of action, and record minutes. But why bother, when the term "meeting for business" denotes and connotes all those differences anyway?

It may be possible for us to hold a meeting for business after the manner of a meeting for worship, without an agenda, letting members and officers and committee clerks speak to the affairs of the meeting as they were led, and waiting in silence until someone was led to say "We are in unity on proceeding in this fashion on this matter...", but i do not know whether it has ever been done. It might be fun to try.

As a final word, it is to be noted that William James, one of the founders of Berkeley Meeting and of College Park Quarterly Meeting and of Pacific Yearly Meeting, always began the minutes during the years he was clerk by writing, We held our meeting for business immediately after our meeting for Divine worship. This shows that he perceived clearly that the meeting for business was not the same as the meeting for worship, or just another meeting for worship.

There is a time for worship, and a time for business...
(after Ecclesiastes)