There is a tendency in many silent-worship Quaker meetings to turn the clerk into a de facto pastor. This is curious when we consider the widespread resistance in the same meetings to recognize ministers, elders, and overseers – historic roles a modern clerk becomes expected to fill, at least in part. This is something I had observed long before agreeing to serve as clerk of our meeting.
To be fair, one of the difficulties facing modern pastors is that congregations expect them to assume all three of the historic Quaker offices – to be ministers, elders, and overseers – while few individuals are gifted in more than one. Somebody who’s great in the pulpit may be lousy in hospital visits or in coping with children. Add to that expectations as administrator or chief executive officer, or even as a major fundraiser or organizational planner, and you can imagine the stresses and burnout that result. The fact that “programmed” Friends have both a pastor and a clerk should be a healthy reminder.
The message for quietist Friends like us is that the central job of the clerk is to moderate our business sessions. Yes, by extension, the clerk typically becomes a Public Friend empowered to speak on behalf of the congregation. At Dover, we usually expect our clerk to sit at the head of Meeting for Worship (and, as a consequence, to have nearly perfect attendance), although that has not always been the case. Other expectations may creep in, almost unseen – as the Most Visible Friend is sought out to solve Meeting problems left and right. No, this one will rarely solve the problem. Our strength is that we ALL have active roles in this faith community. Making the service and talents of each Friend more visible is a worthwhile accomplishment – and a sign of health, too. Please stand up and take a bow for the ways you contribute, even as I steer someone in your direction. Especially those of you serving as clerk of your committee-ministry.
For more of my reflections, click here.