Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Nominating Committee

I've never been on Nominating Committee before. Fifteen years a Friend and this is the first go 'round for me in helping to fill all the slots on the the committees that make a meeting go. Lacking any paid staff at all, Bridge City Friends Meeting operates because the people who comprise it make it operate through committee work.

Nominating Committee is difficult, though. Friends are busy and they are reluctant to make commitments to serve on committees. I'm not particularly good at asking people to do things. Sometimes, too, Nominating Committee work gets into talking to people about problems they are having with tasks that they are not fulfillling. Messy. Hard.

Nonetheless, Nominating Committee looked good to me last spring, when Nominating Committee approched me and said that their process revealed to them that I had the appropriate gifts and grounding in the meeting, etc, to be on Nominating. That's Quaker nominating talk, I think, for "It's your turn." After two years on the Ministry and Oversight Committee during the preparative meeting days, and the next two years of being Clerk (during which time the preparative meeting became a monthly meeting), and then two years as Recording Clerk (as well as being on the North Pacific Yearly Meeting Steering Committee), I accepted the Nominating Committee position because it's not very demanding most of the time. I was to continue as the Clerk of the Committee on the Discipline/Faith and Practice for North Pacific Yearly Meeting. The "part time" aspect of Nominating Committee--it not requiring much until time to put together what we call a "slate." beginning around the first of the year and lasting until June, or so--appealed to my desire for some breathing room.

This past January the Nominating Committee started the process of identifying and approaching people to fill in positions. In the course of this I realized that the diminished involvement I have had in the business of the meeting this past year has led to a feeling of disconnection. There are a few new people to the meeting, people with whose gifts I am not familiar. That makes it difficult for me to contribute to discussions about where they would fit in best. I have also lost track of the day to day situations of some people in the meeting, and so I am not sensitive to what they are able to take on, at this time.

It made me realize, all over again, that committee work is one aspect of the discipline and practice of participating in the life of the meeting. Like prayer or fasting or meditation or loving a PTSD dog, committee work, along with things like camping trips and pot lucks and doing dishes after social hour, is a way that we put ourselves in a position of servanthood--a position in which we give ourselves to others and, in that giving, we are grounded in one another's lives and changed, transformed by the Holy Spirit/Spirit/Light/Transcendent Reality--God.

Two of the testimonies most often identified by liberal Friends are Unity and Community. Committee work, an aspect of participating in the life of the meeting, brings about changes in us and thus in our meeting, improving our condition in relation to these testimonies, creating a stronger witness to the fact that these testimonies characterize us and our meeting. So, when Friends are strong with committee work, as well as the other aspects of participating in the life of the meeting, Unity and Community are enhanced. A part of our spiritual energy is contributed to the common pool that we make available to one another, that contributes to the well being of all.

A wise and weighty Friend told me a few years ago that meeting for worship may well be the least important way that Friends interact with one another. I think she was hyperbolizing to make a point, but I do think that giving of oneself, doing the work that keeps the meeting together, breaks down the barriers among us and strengthens our relationships. Leaving home after a quick supper once a month to meet with other Friends--or taking a phone call and thus getting up from a book or even (shudder) watching a baseball game on tv- to participate in framing decisions and discussion for meeting for worship for business edifies us (so long as we are not so committed that we do it too much) and pumps life blood into the meeting.

It is no co incidence that as I was receiving these reminders about the importance of participating in the life of the meeting through Nominating Committee activity I was also preparing to do an adult education session on spiritual discipline/practice. It is also no coincidence that this is leading me back to a more active committee participation in Bridge City Friends Meeting--back, apparently to clerking Ministry and Oversight--in addition to my Yearly Meeting calling.

Quakerism is not only or even mostly about individual spiritual development. That individual development, transformation, is actually a part of the development and transformation of a body of people. That's why it's called the Religious Society of Friends, I think. The Spirit works on all of us individually, and on all of us as a body. The individual work and the corporate work complement one another in a feed back loop that moves us all closer to conforming to the Divine.

One important aspect of this corporate work is the mundane and sometimes taxing work that we do on committees. It is important to remember, when we would rather be doing something else, that this work is about more than the particular task that is at hand. Through committee work we do things like the purchasing of new chairs and we make the arrangments for the children's program and organize support for families in need and raise funds to send our young people to international gatherings. This is how we get things done. This committee work, though, is as much, if not more, about improving and developing the condition of people who are doing those things and of the group that is shaped and nourished by their being done. It is a spiritual practice, and a spiritual discipline.


Liz Opp said...

Hi, Timothy.

You write, Nominating Committee appro[a]ched me and said that their process revealed to them that I had the appropriate gifts and grounding in the meeting, etc, to be on Nominating. That's Quaker nominating talk, I think, for "It's your turn."

I would beg to differ, but maybe you are saying this tongue-in-cheek.

It's true that some Nominating Committees lose their spiritual grounding and focus on "filling committee slots" rather than on seeking the good fit between Friends' gifts and opportunities for them to serve.

But if we ourselves cannot trust that an invitation made to us is genuine, inviting us to bring our gifts to bear on a committee that is in need, then how can we expect other Friends to take our invitation for them to serve seriously...?

Again, if I have misread you, I apologize.

FYI, I really enjoyed my service on Nominating Committee, because of the spiritual basis I just described.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

Liz Opp said...

I loved my service on Nominating Committee--and other committees after that--but only after we stopped looking at our work as "filling slots" and started considering our work as matching gifts and leadings with opportunities to serve.

Once it became clear that few Friends had gifts and leadings for caring for the building, Nominating Committee brought the concern to the meeting, rather than stressed itself to "find bodies to fill slots." In the end, a new committee was formed--the Stewardship Committee--to help lift up the need for community involvement for care of the meetinghouse and its grounds. Now the meeting is also considering hiring paid staff, which in a small way also came out of Nominating Committee's earlier work.

I personally think that "committee work" often gets a bad rap, in part because of how it is talked about; specifically, how Friends are "solicited." Folks want to be known for their gifts, not for their ability to be a body in a slot.

Through committees we have yet one more opportunity to get to know one another through a different venue, to get involved in the life of the meeting beyond MfW, and to be of service to the Spirit by way of helping the work of the meeting.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

Timothy Travis said...

Sorry I was not clear. I was joking. I agree with everything you write, above.