Virtual Clerking and Discernment
Quakers make group decisions by listening for unity. When we are not able to gather in person, we must adapt our practices to allow for new ways of listening. Scroll down to find resources for conducting business in the manner of Friends virtually.
Clerks Talk: A Conversation About Bringing Business Meeting Online
Hear experienced virtual clerk Emily Provance (of Fifteenth Street Meeting in New York Yearly Meeting) talk with Fritz Weiss, former presiding clerk of New England Yearly Meeting and experienced monthly meeting clerk, about how monthly meeting clerks and others can bring Meeting for Business to an online format such as Zoom.
From listening to clerks across New England who have begun clerking virtually, we offer you the following tips and considerations (this list will expand over time):
- Practice. Before you clerk a business meeting virtually, you can prepare yourself to clerk by clerking a committee meeting and soliciting feedback on how it went. You can help your meeting or group prepare to participate in a virtual business meeting by having worship or another activity virtually first. With the recording clerk or any other Friends supporting the flow of the business meeting, practice using any Zoom features that will be part of the meeting ahead of time (such as screen sharing or hand-raising).
- Verbalize. Because the ability to read body language is greatly decreased when meeting virtually, both the clerk and the body should seek ways to regularly verbalize how they are feeling and what they are thinking. Because making eye contact is not possible over Zoom, clerks may find it especially helpful to say when they see someone who is interested in speaking (“I see you Cindy. Let’s sit for another moment in worship before we respond.”)
- Clarify expectations. Because some of your practices will need to change in the new format, walk the group through how you will manage minutes and how participants can signify approval or concern. Decide if and how you will use the public and private chat feature during the meeting.
- Consider support roles. Some larger meetings find it helpful to have a “watcher” (someone to watch for people who are interested in speaking when it is not possible for the clerk to see everyone on the screen at one time). Some meetings replicate the role of "care of microphone" by having one Friend designated to mute and unmute speakers. Other meetings find it helpful to have a Zoom tech support person ready to privately assist with the technology features during the meeting. Some also use the role of "greeter" to greet newcomers and rename participants whose names are unclear so that the clerk knows who is who. Whatever roles you choose to use, remember to explain to participants what each role does and who is playing it so they understand how to be part of the business meeting.
- Explain tech features and offer alternatives. Before you get into the agenda, take the time to let everyone practice any technology features that you want people to use (those might include mute/unmute, public and private chat, the “raise hand” button, “share screen” for presenters). If there is a tool that not everyone can access that is important for the discernment process, consider how you might offer an alternative way to contribute that works for everyone.
For additional tips and reflections on clerking virtually, visit Emily Provance's blog post on the topic.
To participate in an ongoing conversation with other Friends, we have set up a forum for discussion via Slack (an online discussion tool). If you would like to join our Slack channel (online chat group), contact us. If you are new to Slack (as many of us are!), you can learn more on the brief “how-to” linked here.
Our four-page guide on the spiritual and practical aspects of meeting electronically
Questions? Didn't find what you were looking for?
Contact Nia Thomas, Quaker Practice and Leadership Facilitator, to begin a conversation.