Exploring the legal basis on which Quakers can do God’s work

Kate Macdonald writes

I’m the new deputy Trustee for Bath Meeting, and went to the Being a Quaker Trustee course at Woodbrooke.

Woodbrooke Quaker study centre at Selly Oak, Birmingham.

The first session on the Friday the evening was for the eighteen course members to get to know each other, and for the course leaders to gauge our levels of knowledge and specialist skills. We were also asked for the questions that we all ‘must’ have. Since I’d done my homework and read the Trustees’ handbook I knew that answers to my questions, such as they were, would be in there, so I was curious to hear what other Trustees were asking about. Overall, I inferred that West Wilts and East Somerset AM has comparatively high levels of organisation and good processes, but I made a list of gaps in my knowledge, and possibly in our practice, that I want to investigate, once Elaine, the Frome Deputy Trustee, has also been on the course.

Saturday morning’s sessions were much more interesting and stimulating. Chris Willmore gave us an interruptible session on Trustees’ responsibilities from a lawyer’s perspective, with some very good diagrams illustrating processes and duties that I’ll be using myself. The most striking single piece of information that we learned was the extraordinary and unique power that British Quakers have in law, as negotiated with the Charity Commissioners, which effectively gives us the power, as a charity, to do anything we want, as long as it has been agreed in right ordering following the Quaker business method set out in the Book of Discipline, because our charitable purpose is to follow our leading to do God’s work. Churches have archbishops, temples have rabbis; we have what Chris called ‘a piece of legal elastic’ as our higher authority, since the Charity Commissioners can’t get their heads round God being the arbiter of our actions.

Martin Ford then led us through a really excellent piece of group work on the Borsetshire AM accounts. I don’t follow The Archers, but I was interested to learn that Borchester and Ambridge Meetings are hanging onto a large amount of cash, and that their Area Meeting has raised their four wardens’ pay by 12% this year, despite falling donations. It was a lot of fun to analyse the accounts in 20 minutes, in groups of three, and present them to the Meeting. I think this would be an excellent way for Local Meetings to familiarise themselves with the accounts as a group exercise.

We then had an hour on the purpose and audience of an annual report; and a lot of brain twisting working through case studies and asking What Would AM Trustees Do?

It has been a very thorough and worthwhile course, and I’ve come away feeling as if I’ve been taught how to speak a new language. Things that I hadn’t understood before in Trustees meetings now have a place and a purpose. I feel enthused and full of vim, and certainly not scared of the legal stuff, as the course leaders seemed to expect us to be. It’s an excellent way to learn about Quaker business with a legal and financial eye, and how Trustees manage the background detail to enable Meetings for Worship to function well and easily.

I recommend it to anyone interested in becoming a Trustee. Overall, I learned a lot about other Meetings and Area Meetings.



  1. Thanks William, I wonder if this could be useful for the Quaker members of the Stansted 15 in their appeal against criminal convictions for terrorism?



    • What an interesting connection. Wouldn’t have thought of that. Might be relevant.

      I suppose they weren’t acting corporately as Quakers in doing what they did.

      Who should we ask?


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