In this reflection, Regina Renee Ward (who is currently clerk of the Committee for Nurthing Ministries and co-clerk of the Institutional Assessment Implementation Committee) lifts up her thoughts on the nature of Quaker clerkship and how it has shaped her experience of Quaker spirituality and community.
Editor' note: The reflection below was created using portions of an interview conducted by Kat Griffith of Northern Yearly Meeting, for an anti-racist clerking manual she is putting together. Since the project is still in progress, the article below may not be reproduced without Kat's permission.
If you are a clerk who is a Friend of Color, and you would like to give an interview that will be used to create an anti-racist clerking manual, Kat would like to hear from you! Contact her via email here.
Building relationships is the foundation of clerking. The time we spend together in meeting is precious and is a gift we are given. We are called together at specific times with specific people, and that is a God-given gift. How we relate to people and get to know them informs all that we do. Whether and how we choose to get to know people is where the clerking comes in. If clerking is about relationships, it is multi-relational. It is between the clerk and God, and between the clerk and and the other people, and between the other people and God, and then between all of us together. There are so many relationships all at one time that need to be tended to! Are we as clerks making it easier or harder for people to be in communication with the divine? Are we facilitating that or hindering it? Yes, I need to be listening to Spirit -- and to others. Am I facilitating that or more making it more difficult? And I need to respect the fact that God may be saying something to another member that God is not saying to me. Every message is not for meand every message is not going to come through me. I need to respect that it may be coming through someone else (and I’ve learned to respect that).
Building relationships is what supports getting work done together. Taking shortcuts on this ultimately hurts productivity, as well as community. Most cultures of People of Color are very relational, and the relationship happens before the business. I don’t think that’s the case for people of European descent. Even in faith communities, it’s like “We’re here to get this done” (among people of European descent). Maybe they ask how your family is, or whether you need anything to eat...but basically, when we get together it’s to get work done. But among People of Color, even if we have a packed agenda, we will always make time for worship and check-ins. With white people (it seems like) we don’t check in and we cut worship short. It may save time on those particular days, but in terms of building the community and relationships to get the work done over the long term, it’s not an efficient approach. I don’t think it pays off in the long run. That trust and that reliance on each other, and the feeling of support, is not built when we just focus on the work agenda.
Clerking means discerning people’s actual gifts and interests and passions and not making assumptions about what these are. There is sometimes a difference between what people are good at and what they are interested in doing for the meeting. People may be very skilled in various areas, but maybe they don't want to use those skills when they come to meeting. Every Person of Color I know has been asked to be on the racial justice committee at their meeting. That’s not a coincidence, and it is very concerning. This happens without a discussion about what people are interested in and what their passions are and what they are called to do. Just because People of Color are more directly mpacted by racial justice work doesn’t mean they are called to do the work.
As Friends, we need to listen more. We spend so much time telling people what they should want and what they should do, instead of asking them what they are interested in doing.
Clerking is not about counting people, it’s about making people count. There is a big difference between asking somebody to do something when you are in relationship with them and you’ve noticed certain skills and interests, and trying to fill a slot on a committee.
“There are no Black people on such and such a committee - would you serve?”
Those are very different things! You may not have any men, People of Color, or another member of a particular group, either. But what really matters is what qualities you are looking for in the person that serves on this committee. It’s not just about meeting a category.
There could be not a single other person of color present, and your meeting could still be an actively anti-racist meeting. You don’t need People of Color for it to be actively anti-racist. Even if there are no Friends of color as members or attenders of your meeting, there are People of Color in the community. You could be taking the lead from them, and lay down the idea that Quakers are the ones with the answers.
It's essential to prepare yourself spiritually before clerking a meeting. In my preparation for meetings, I revisit the nature of Quaker decision-making. I make sure that I’m not going in with the consensus framework - that isn’t what we do, though a lot of people think it is. A lot of preparation is getting my mind right, making sure that I'm listening to Spirit, and not succumbing to time pressure and letting time become the oppressor. I need to make sure that the practical issues don’t supersede what Spirit is calling us to do.
I need to make sure I’m not ignoring the needs of the committee members for the sake of the agenda. Everybody on the committee is a person with a life, and there may be joys and sorrows and challenges, so while it’s important to have the agenda and make sure the documents are ready in advance, that’s not the main work. Sometimes we get bogged down in the logistics of the meeting, but ultimately, we need to be in a soul space. We need to be in a spirit space, not a head space, so we can listen to Spirit and get the sense of the meeting. To do that, I need to be spiritually grounded. That includes reflecting on questions like:
- When I get ready for Meeting for Worship, do I just show up, or do I set a time of quiet before I go, and am I keeping myself in a state of prayer?
- Did I look at my Bible this morning?
- Am I holding people in the light who have expressed they need that?
All of that needs to happen for me before the meeting.
Regina Renee Ward is a public librarian and former public school teacher. She is passionate about social justice, intellectual freedom, books, and labyrinths. Her work with Friends and racial healing was born out of necessity as she navigates life as both a Black woman and a Friend. She identifies as a Christian Friend and her favorite book in the Bible is James. Her life verse is Micah 6:8.
This article was written for the March 2021 Vital Friends eNewsletter.