Friends General Conference

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Message from the Clerks - April

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What an interesting bit of Quaker lingo the phrase “Sense of the meeting” is! What does it mean? Does it mean “sense” as in “feeling” or “sense” as in “meaning?” Who senses the sense of the meeting? I looked around online for answers to these questions, and not surprisingly, Quakers love to write about it.

Quaker decision-making is grounded in the belief that when several people come together to labor in the Spirit they can discern a truth that exceeds the reach of any one individual. In making decisions Friends do not simply vote to determine the majority view, but rather they seek unity about the wisest course of action. – AFSC, via

Slowly, or sometimes quickly, an agreement emerges: Friends find unity in a particular course of action which seems right for the meeting. Often, this course of action differs significantly from any idea present when the issue was introduced. The clerk or others try to put this agreement into words… Before the item of business is done, the clerk or recording clerk will voice this “sense of the meeting” very explicitly, to check their understanding with the meeting; the minute recording the decision is composed on the spot and read back “in the face of the meeting.” The actual decision takes place when this clearly formulated understanding is accepted by the assembled group. – Illinois Yearly Meeting Faith & Practice

Inward yielding and waiting for a sense of unity to grow among all present are characteristics of the way Friends conduct their business. The spiritual disciplines of corporate discernment are grounded in the faith that we can perceive and affirm God’s guidance for the gathered community... Sense of the meeting is the understanding of where the gathered body is led and does not mean that every individual present is completely satisfied or in total agreement. Contrasting views and perceptions may be expressed and some disagreements may remain. The sense of the meeting emerges from the committed efforts of a loving community and strengthens its bonds. – New England Yearly Meeting Faith & Practice

The first times that I heard this phrase were when I started attending meeting for business as a teenager. I would hear the clerk ask, “What is the sense of the meeting?,” and I would look at the adult Friends around me to try to get a context for understanding this phrase. From their expressions and body language and then their verbal responses, it seemed to me that they were reaching out somehow with their hearts and spirits and all of their senses, trying to ascertain something in each other and in God. Sometimes, I felt a strong sense of being gathered together in love and respect. Since then, I’ve read about this phrase and discussed it many times, but those first impressions still ring true.

Marie Lindsay, Assistant Clerk, on behalf of the LFFM clerking team