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Faith and Practice

Pacific Yearly Meeting

of the

Religious Society of Friends

a guide to quaker discipline in the experience of pacific yearly meeting of the religious society of friends.
published 2001

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Friends Process for Making Decisions

pym in context
quaker faith & spiritual practice
testimony & experience of friends
organization of the society
activities & organization of the YM
sources of quotations
index of sources
subject index

We gratefully acknowledge the generosity of Friends who have permitted us to use material for this Faith and Practice.


in times of difficulty

If it were necessary for every member to feel equally happy about the decisions reached, we should be presuming to be settling matters in an angelic colony and not among flesh and blood members of a local Quaker meeting! From the point of view of myself as a member of a meeting, the kind of unanimity that is referred to is a realization on my part that the matter has been carefully and patiently considered. I have had a chance at different stages of the process of arriving at this decision of making my point of view known to the group, of having it seriously considered and weighed. Even if the decision finally goes against what I initially proposed, I know that my contribution has helped to sift the issue, perhaps to temper it, and I may well have, as the matter has patiently taken its course, come to see it somewhat differently from the point at which I began. … I have also come to realize that the group as a whole finds this resolution what seems best to them. When this point comes, if I am a seasoned Friend, I no longer oppose it. … I emerge from the meeting not as a member of a bitter minority who feels he has been outflanked and rejected but rather as one who has been through the process of the decision and is willing to abide by it even though my accent would not have put it in this form.

douglas steere,
the quaker decision making process

 Sometimes Friends have business that seems to require decision, but their differences appear unresolvable. Usually no action is taken, and the matter is held over with the expectation that unity can and will be found. Deference to the objections of even one or two members demonstrates the great reluctance of the Meeting to override any of its members — especially when matters of conscience are involved. Some people mistakenly believe that this procedure provides each member with a veto. Rather, Meetings place a high value on unity.

 Unity does not imply unanimity of the entire membership of a Monthly Meeting. A Meeting may proceed in the absence of, or (more rarely) over the objection of, one or more Friends present while recognizing that objections may contain, or lead to, new light on the matter being considered. Friends with hesitations may choose to state that they are “standing aside” when the final decision is made, or, rarely, may ask to be recorded as standing aside. <See Decision-Making Practice p. 85>

 Meetings may occasionally act even over the objections of one or more Friends. Due weight should be given to the insights of any Friend, long experienced in Friends meetings, whose judgment and service have been proven over considerable time. A “stop” in such a member’s mind should be heeded. If, on the other hand, the one who is withholding support is known for persistently objecting, then the Clerk may call for a period of silent worship and, if so led, announce that the weight of the Meeting seems decidedly to favor the action, and the proposal is approved. The same principle applies even on occasions when there is more than one objector.

 One of the Clerk’s more demanding responsibilities is to tell the difference between those occasions when it is right that the objector’s views be heeded, and those times when the Meeting has reached unity and, despite objection, it must act. Friends seek neither unanimity (a matter of votes), nor consensus (a resolution of differing opinions). Friends seek unity in the Spirit. When the Clerk is clear that the Meeting approves an action, even in the presence of dissenting views, it is his or her obligation to articulate the sense of the Meeting in a minute and so record it unless others present also object.

 Any ministry in Meeting for Business may contain elements essential to discovering a Spirit-led decision around which the Meeting may unite. This is true of the ministry of experienced Friends, newcomers, and Friends whose ministry others often find unhelpful. Before considering going forward over the objection of a Friend, the Clerk and the Business Meeting must be confident that it has labored in good faith with the objecting Friend and that the Meeting has done its best to understand the objection and that the objecting Friend has had spacious opportunities to understand the leading of the Meeting to proceed. It is unusual for a sense of the Meeting to be achieved over one or more objections, and there are good reasons for this. The objector(s) may actually be right, or the proposed action may profoundly strain their bonds to the Meeting. Sometimes concern for their feelings may weigh heavily in favor of deferring the decision. Meetings should not ignore these features of a decision taken over objection of some Friends, although the Meeting may still have to proceed. It is important to ensure that objections have been faithfully considered, and that everyone is satisfied that this has happened.

 Where there is discomfort, Oversight or Worship and Ministry Committees should act quickly to heal wounds, lest they fester and spoil the community of trust. If Friends feel that the Meeting should not have recorded a particular minute, they should bring their concern to the Worship and Ministry Committee (which has the responsibility for the care of Meeting for Business), the Clerk, or the Meeting for Business. It is important for differences to be aired and faced rather than to try to muffle views or circumvent attitudes for fear of dissent. Friends believe that truth, fully and openly sought, will carry its own conviction, and that unity will be found in truth and love.

It must always be remembered that the final decision as to whether the minute represents the sense of the meeting is the responsibility of the meeting itself, not of the clerk.

london yearly meeting,
to lima with love