The Quaker card game Unable Unwilling provides a light hearted insight into the challenges of nominations for a local meeting such as Bath Quakers.
Our Friend Alison Harries, convenor of nominations for Bath Quakers, asks us to bear in mind these passages from that ever-reliable and often inspiring volume Quaker Faith & Practice
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (I Cor 12:4–7)
It is a responsibility of a Christian community to enable its members to discover what their gifts are and to develop and exercise them to the glory of God.
Much of the work of meetings for church affairs and committees will be undertaken by Friends especially appointed by the meeting or committee responsible for the work, most often on the recommendation of a nominations committee. The process of appointment starts when the meeting identifies the need for a task to be performed. It is good practice for a meeting to have a clear view of the tasks that need to be accomplished on its behalf and to fix the length of service required so that both the meeting and the Friend appointed understand the commitment.
Many of our gifts are latent. A particular appointment may enable one Friend to exercise unsuspected abilities. Other Friends may find themselves overburdened by being appointed to service beyond their capacity and experience. It requires great discernment to know the right moment to ask a particular Friend to undertake or lay down a particular task.
Most appointments should be for either one or three years. It is generally undesirable for someone to hold an appointment for more than six years continuously although there may be exceptions. Meetings should give thought to the training of replacements for existing officers and it will help in this process if those appointed try to give the meeting some notice of wishing to be released from service.
Meetings will differ widely in the appointments they need to make. In some meetings, there may be a shortage of people willing to undertake the work that is needed. In others there may be many who are anxious to serve and some may feel excluded from the busy life of the meeting if not offered appointment. It is important that the whole process be open and clearly understood by all who attend.
The following suggestions for good practice are intended to apply to all our meetings and committees and to the appointment of Friends and, where appropriate, attenders.
- In general a nominations procedure should be used when the appointment is to an office in the meeting, or for any other service of importance. Receiving nominations from the body of the meeting is not generally a good method of making appointments.
- The great responsibility resting on nominations committees and their clerks cannot be too strongly stressed. Nominations committees should be large enough to be representative; impulsive Friends may need to be questioned, whilst the cautious and conservative may need to be encouraged to consider new ideas. The committee needs a balance of experience and age-groups. Members will need to have knowledge of the meeting and be prepared to take pains to understand the qualifications needed for the required appointments. They will need to be clear about the requirements of the office and where appropriate should consult the requesting body. They will also need to be discerning in judgment and tactful in manner. It is important that the members meet in a spirit of worship. Some meetings have found it helpful to survey the gifts of their members in a systematic way.
- Nominations committees are appointed on behalf of the meeting, and suggestions for their consideration put forward by other members of the meeting may well be helpful to them. Such suggestions are best made directly to members of the nominating group. A nominations committee should act when asked to by its meeting or committee and only in exceptional circumstances on its own initiative.
- Nominations committees are appointed in many ways. Sometimes names are suggested from the body of the meeting, on other occasions a special committee is asked to bring forward names of Friends to serve on the nominations committee. In some circumstances participating bodies send forward representatives. It is important to ensure openness and to prevent any suggestion of an inner group; thus membership should be for a limited duration. Many meetings retire one-third of their nominations committee every year on a rotating basis.
- A nominations committee should think carefully before bringing forward the name of one of its own members for appointment. Any such nominee should withdraw from the meeting when her or his name is being presented.
- A nominations committee should meet in a worshipful manner. Committee members will occasionally need to consult each other by telephone, but this should not be the normal means of conducting the committee’s business.
- The nominations committee is not the appointing body and must bring the suggested names to the body for which it acts. Members of this body have the responsibility for approving the names or not and must be given the opportunity to express any doubts they might have. Sometimes it may seem impossible to find someone to serve. Nominations committees should not hesitate to bring their problem back to the meeting to ask for both guidance and practical help.
- The duration and scope of an appointment should be explained to all who are asked to accept nomination; the approach should not be made casually or acceptance taken for granted. It will be helpful to ask those nominated if they would consent to serve if the meeting required it. When a nominations committee brings forward a name it should not then be necessary to appoint ‘subject to consent’. However it is important that it is made absolutely clear that the appointment would be made by the meeting in its discernment and not by the nominations committee. It will be helpful to indicate when the appointment is likely to be made.
- Those nominated to serve as clerk of a meeting, elder, overseer, treasurer, registering officer or as a member of any nominations committee should be in membership. Those nominated to serve as a trustee must be in membership. In case of difficulty the Recording Clerk may be consulted. (For further guidance on the appointment of elders and overseers see 12.07–12.09.)
- Where two Friends would be expected to work together (e.g. as a clerk and assistant clerk) care should be taken to talk the proposal over informally with them before making any firm approach.
- When it is decided not to renominate any Friend holding an appointment, care should be taken to convey this information sensitively in person or by letter well before nominations are submitted.
- Nominations committees should be required to report from time to time on their thinking and their way of working.
Despite being made prayerfully appointments do not always turn out as planned. It is at the discretion of a meeting to end an appointment at any time if it is necessary to do so. Loving and tender care will be essential. An appointed Friend who finds the service inappropriate should be released.
Responsibility for an appointment does not end when it is made. Having been fully involved in the making of the appointments, the meeting must support and uphold those carrying out the tasks. Some may be disappointed that they themselves were not asked to carry out a particular function; humility and prayerful support for those chosen will be better than a continuing resentment.
Our ability to discern the gifts of others is not perfect and we will recognise an element of God’s grace in our deliberations. Be bold; welcome the chance to give opportunities to younger Friends and to those more recently arrived, and encourage those who underestimate their own potential for service.