Friends believe that we can discern God's guidance. Our Meetings for Business are opportunities for us to listen together. When we gather for this purpose, we set aside our own preferences. We set aside our own expertise in how things should be done. Instead, we listen for God's direction. Because our focus is on God, we sometimes call these gatherings, "Meetings for Worship for the Conduct of Business."
When we listen together, we trust that God will bring us to unity. If we find that we don't agree on how God is leading, then we know we need to listen more. There may be a larger truth that can reconcile our different perspectives. There's a parable of three blind men who encounter an elephant: the first man feels the elephant's ear, the second man feels the elephant's tail, and the third man feels the elephant's leg. "An elephant is like a palm leaf," says the first man. "No, an elephant is like a rope," says the second. "I happen to know that an elephant is like the trunk of an oak tree," says the third. "Voting" on palm leaf, rope or tree trunk might produce an electoral victory, but it would not produce an accurate understanding. These contradictory perspectives can only be reconciled if all those involved keep exploring until they gain more complete picture of the elephant. Quakers are motivated to wait through a long process of discernment, because we want to keep laboring until the Truth is revealed.
Because we believe the Spirit of God enlightens every heart, we invite everyone to participate in the process of discernment. Entering this spiritual laboratory together is educational for all. Also, each of us may have some experience or insight that God can use for the benefit of all.
The process of discernment is organic and Spirit-led. That is, we gather in a particular time and place to listen for God's guidance. For that reason, it is rarely helpful to rely upon prewritten "position papers." These statements may be reasonable and insightful, but they are incapable of participating in the dialogue that is inherent in Quaker process. For the same reason, it is unhelpful to arrive at business meeting with the intent of campaigning for one position or another. This work must be centered in listening.
Like other forms of Quaker worship, the Business Meeting begins in silence. The Clerk serves as a facilitator throughout the meeting. All those who wish to speak should secure permission from the Clerk. Sometimes, this is done by silently raising one's hand. Sometimes, people say, "Clerk, please." Because the Clerk is monitoring the overall flow of worship, she may preserve silence rather than invite further comments at any particular point. This mindful service helps all those gathered to stay focused on the work of listening and responding from a sense of God's leading.
Once the Clerk has discerned a sense of unity, he will articulate a "sense of the meeting." This is the Clerk's attempt to express God's leading among us. If Friends find unity with the sense of the meeting as it was expressed by the Clerk, they express their affirmation by saying, "Approved." If some remain unclear, the conversation may continue or be postponed until the next Business Meeting.
The Recording Clerk assists the Business Meeting by taking minutes. Sometimes (especially if the conversation results in something more complicated than a collective "yes" or "no"), the Clerk may ask the Recording Clerk if he or she has crafted a minute that might serve as a "sense of the meeting." Once approved, the minute becomes a record of God's activity among us.