Children and Quaker process

Sometimes we don't have language for the things we do. We just do them.

Clerking a Quaker meeting for business is one such task. Facilitating group discernment engages a variety of interpersonal skills, and—especially when the question under consideration is emotionally charged—it can get complicated. A friend of mine once asked how exactly one learns to be a clerk. I didn't have an answer. Another friend hazarded a response: "I guess it's just something you learn to do by listening."

We agreed it wasn't a very helpful response. Several others jumped into the discussion, trying to put into words this thing we've all experienced but didn't quite know how to explain. It got complicated.

Later, I did what I normally do after that kind of discussion. I started looking for resources. And I found one—a book for children—that was so simple and clear, I decided to offer it through the Barclay Press bookstore.

With support from Wellesley Monthly Meeting, Nancy Haines wrote and Anne Nydam illustrated a story about children who are deciding what to do with the money they raised in a hot dog sale, Approved!: A Story About Quaker Meeting for Business. The genius of this book is an eleven-word description of what it means to clerk a meeting for business: "She leads the meetings and helps us as we make decisions."

In the story, the children self-manage, coloring quietly if they don't have something to say, so they "can still be a part of our community." After a financial report, they try, as best they can, "to listen to God." They share a variety of ideas, recognizing that "sometimes we have to listen to God and to each other for a long time until we know what is best for our community." And when one of the children doesn't get what she wants, she admits that even though she "really wanted to give the money to help animals," she knows that the proposed minute "is right for our group."

There's a reminder at the end of the book that "children are quite capable of participating in Quaker process." Maybe because it's not actually complex at all. Just hard.

Eric Muhr