Are Committees Still the Answer?

Author(s): 
Department: 

Dear Friends: Liberal unprogrammed Quaker meetings are organized or disorganized by committees. Without an identified pastor or priest, we count on the wisdom of committees.

However, at every level (monthly, quarterly, and yearly meeting) we are having trouble filling our committees. Not enough members. Disappeared members. People refusing to clerk. The truth is that most of our committees are filled with the same old Friends (suspects?) who have been playing musical chairs (committees) for years now.

Too often committee experience results in so-very-human disagreement and pettiness. Too often members pull away, quietly or in protest, perhaps estranged. Although we are Friends committed to nonviolence, we may not have the conflict resolutions skills necessary in committees.

Also, let’s acknowledge the lives of the newer generation of younger adult Friends. Contrast their lives with those of my generation (I am 70). We could work our way through college, which was followed by marriage and family, and work with a living wage. Friends around me in the 1960s and 70s welcomed leadership. Quaker meetings were often run by adults in their 30s and 40s. I clerked business meeting at Pendle Hill when I was 25!

What’s different in 2015?  For one, the failing economy has changed young adulthood into a period of uncertainty and sometimes prolonged partial employment. Too often wages are poor, often requiring pasting together several jobs. Friendly committee participation is simply not a priority. Child rearing is a struggle, and in Quaker adulthood, there is growing mental health suffering, particularly depression.

What can be done? NPYM Faith and Practice (1993) proclaims committees should be “useful tools rather than extraneous burdens.” What alternatives should we consider to reduce the number of committees and improve their effectiveness? I have recently learned that some monthly meetings and yearly meetings have declared one-year suspensions of committees-as-usual in order to consider restructuring that works. What does the Light require? Let’s talk.

– Joyce Zerwekh, Multnomah Monthly Meeting, Portland, OR (NPYM)

[A longer version of this message is in Western Friend’s online library.]