The Quaker way of making decisions is grounded in our experience of community. We are each responsible for our own decisions, but we listen to the counsel of others because they are important to us and we are important to them. Quakers have developed practices like “worship-sharing” and “clearness committees” to support community involvement in individual decision-making.
Spiritual community is also the foundation of Quaker group decision making in what we call our “meetings for worship with a concern for business.” Our business process does not rely on voting—we have found through long experience that the majority is not always right. Nor does it involve what is commonly called consensus—a kind of negotiated compromise to which everyone can agree.
Instead we make decisions based on “the sense of the meeting.” We give everyone a chance to speak, and try to listen deeply to what everyone has to say. We listen for what God is telling us, in our own hearts and through each other. We look for a way forward that is loving, honest, respectful, and creative. We each try to let go of our own agenda and objectives, and look for how Spirit is leading the community as a whole.
If there is deep disagreement, we do not take action. Only when the meeting reaches a “sense of the meeting” do we feel free to proceed. The “sense of the meeting” changes over time in response to new information, new conditions, and new concerns. Decisions can always be revisited.
A "Coordinating Gathering" is held once a month (usually the Sunday before Business Meeting) in order for committee representatives to share ongoing items, to see the larger picture of what is happening within our Meeting, and to prepare the agenda for the next Business Meeting.
A wedding is a meeting for worship, held in the manner of Friends “Under the Care of the Meeting.” Since traditionally Friends have no clergy, there is no one person to “marry” them. Instead, Quakers believe that they are married by God, and declare their intentions before God and those gathered. In an atmosphere of quiet and reverence during a period of worship, the couple make their promises to each other, the marriage certificate is brought for them to sign, and the certificate is read aloud. After that, those assembled share in worship through prayer and mediation or through spoken messages.
After the close of the meeting, those present are invited to sign the certificate as witnesses to the marriage. A copy of the certificate is made for the records of the Monthly Meeting under whose care the marriage has taken place. The legal requirements of the marriage are completed by the committee appointed by the meeting. Many Quaker marriage certificates, handed down from generation to generation, have proven to be valuable historical records. Today the certificate becomes a cherished possession in the new home, recalling the reverent attitude of worship with which the marriage began and the company of loving family and friends who took part in it.
In the Friends community, “Under the Care of the Meeting” means not only that we take the couple and their marriage under our immediate care, but that we intend to follow up with care long after the ceremony itself. As a result, Bethesda Friends generally marries people who are and have been involved in the life of the Meeting. It is, however, preceded by some important steps that involve the couple and the work of three or four standing committees of the Meeting. The entire process can take three or more months preceding the ceremony.
A Friends memorial service is a meeting for worship in the traditional manner of Friends where we gather in silence and holy expectancy to open ourselves to the leadings of the spirit, consistent with our belief that there is that of God in everyone.
A memorial meeting is a special meeting, however, being a meeting of thanksgiving for the life of one we have known and loved, and by whose presence among us we have felt blessed.
In such a meeting, we seek neither to eulogize extravagantly our friend or our friend’s accomplishments, nor to dwell on our sorrow and sense of loss at our friend’s death.
Rather, we seek, in prayer and thanksgiving, to worship God, the Creator of our friend and of us all. Anyone present may speak, or remain silent, as he or she is led to do, mindful that neither words nor silence, but sincerity of heart best testifies to what the life of our departed friend has meant to us.