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Some Thoughts on Clerking

June, 2000

When, in the late spring of 1988, Ruth Hathaway and Tom Slayton from nominating committee approached me about becoming clerk, the lilies were blooming at the New School, our traditional summer meeting quarters. I was surprised and a bit taken aback. The possibility of serving the meeting in this way hadn't occurred to me.

Diane and the kids and I had been attending meeting for only three years or so. I thought of myself as a fairly young member of meeting without a lot of depth in experience among Friends in general and lacking a knowledge base of Plainfield's history as a meeting in particular. But I confess I was also pleased. As I explored the possibility with Diane I opened to the idea. I accepted, of course. Hind sight being twenty-twenty it is easy to see that the nominating committee had recognized a leading that I myself had not seen.

The only time I've regretted the decision was the ten minutes before the first business meeting. I was certain that the nominating committee had made a terrible mistake. I was certain that I would show myself to be an inept fool. Of course that wasn't the case. Not that I was such a good clerk. I wasn't, especially in the beginning. I was halting and unsure and green. Ron Ball, who filled the roll before me, I know, was much more centered. A few years later when Rachel took over the roll for the year she was on leave after Becky's birth I felt both relieved and outdone by her abilities.

A strange thing happened though. Within the roll of clerk I discovered I wasn't alone. In those few minutes of worship before business begins I always feel the support and nurture of meeting, and often a Divine Presence. That dual nurture was always present both when unity was easy and when there was conflict over some issue.

I didn't know it at the time, of course, but the opportunity to be clerk of Plainfield Meeting has been a huge gift to me. It has been a catalyst in my movement down a path that has lead me to the new adventure I'm beginning with Friends' World Committee. It has been an opportunity to know Friends more deeply than I might have otherwise. The nurture and the service has moved me toward a greater understanding of my place in the world and a broader searching for acceptance of God's plan in my life. As clerk I've gotten more from the meeting than I have given to it; I have been blessed and cared for and loved.

Friends' have much to offer the world. At our best Quakers are united a community, frequently seeing each other through clearer eyes than we may see ourselves as individuals. Each of us bring different gifts. Our next clerk will bring gifts and skills different than mine. It is both an advantage and a disadvantage that I have been clerk long enough that the things I do and the role or clerk have become synonymous. Different strengths will help the meeting grow in different ways.

It is a mistake to think that the clerk acts in a role of authority. When the best clerking is in practice, the pronoun "I" rarely, if ever, comes up. The pronoun of choice is "we" indicating a community united in it's understanding of God's design. The role of clerk is not a solitary position. It is full of the meeting as a whole. If we carry ourselves to the world at large we do it not so much as a collection of solitaire individuals but as a group. The clerk has the opportunity to serve the meeting during the process of discerning and acting with God's guidance in the world.

Be open to this role, Friends. It is one that allows growth and nurture and giving. If you sense a calling to it, or if nominating committee approaches you give it some thought and be open. Wonderful things can happen. had been their sole income, lay dead in the field. The younger angel was infuriated and asked the older angel how could you have let this happen?

The first man had everything, yet you helped him, she accused. The second family had little but was willing to share everything, and you let the cow die. "Things aren't always what they seem," the older angel replied.

"When we stayed in the basement of the mansion, I noticed there was gold stored in that hole in the wall. Since the owner was so obsessed with greed and unwilling to share his good fortune, I sealed the wall so he wouldn't find it."

"Then last night as we slept in the farmers bed, the angel of death came for his wife. I gave him the cow instead.

Things aren't always what they seem."

Sometimes that is exactly what happens when things don't turn out the way they should. If you have faith, you just need to trust that every outcome is always to your advantage. You might not know it until some time later...


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