Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Revision: What Next?

A chalkboard, with "what's next" written on it in white chalk
So, Yearly Meeting has decided. British Quakers will begin the long, thoughtful process of revising our Book of Discipline, the same process (more or less) as was begun in the 1980s to produce our current book, Quaker faith & practice, eventually approved and published in the mid-1990s.
Okay, you might be thinking, but what next?
Let me explain what I understand of what will happen, and my own thoughts and suppositions about what them might happen. I think it's going to be quite an interesting time to be a Quaker in Britain, if you want to be engaged in the process. If you don't, I suspect you may get bored in a year or two and wish people would shut up about it. Either way, it's going to be a lot of work for some people.
The BYM website has a blog post from the Recording Clerk, Paul Parker, about what's next regarding the revision process, but it's a bit light on detail. I recommend reading it, though the really key points are actually the links – to suggest names for Central Nominations Committee to consider for the revision committee, or express interest in being involved yourself; to suggest text that might form passages in the new Book of Discipline; to catch up with the Reading Quaker faith & practice programme, to better understand and know the current book; to acquire God, Words and Us, perhaps to organise a group to read it. All worthwhile things, if you haven't done them already – and I think we should all be letting the question of possible new passages tick over in our minds so we can make suggestions in that regard as and when they occur to us.
In terms of moving the process forwards, the first thing that will happen is setting up the revision committee. This is a process of several stages: Meeting for Sufferings will have to agree terms of reference, and YM Trustees and Management Meeting need to work out how it will be resourced. This is in terms of the financial resources directly used by the committee – travel expenses, materials, other costs and so on – and in terms of other YM resour ces – which ultimately have financial costs, but also involve things like staffing (hence Management Meeting being involved).
Once there are terms of reference, Central Nominations Committee can get started in earnest on nominating to that committee. I'm sure they will be doing preparatory work already, much as YM Trustees and Management Meeting will have done preparatory work on resourcing, but there are limits to how far that can be taken until the terms of reference are known. These terms will indicate how large the committee should be, and how long people are expected to serve, but also a fair number of details about how the committee will work and what skills are anticipated as being needed.
The Revision Preparation Group have produced proposed terms of reference, which can be read as part of the Meeting for Sufferings papers for the meeting at which the group reported (the terms of reference begin on page 27 of the PDF). It is likely that Meeting for Sufferings will accept these largely unaltered, though they are free not only to make minor edits – Sufferings could rip it up and start from scratch, if they wished. The draft terms allow for a committee of 24, at least 8 and preferably 10 of which would be suitable to convene subcommittees and working groups. They would all be appointed for the duration, with the anticipation that some would request release before the work is completed. In that event, replacements would not be automatically appointed, with the committee responsible for requesting replacement (or additional) members up to a maximum of 28.
More importantly than the numbers and the term of service, the draft terms also call for the members of the committee to represent as broadly as possible the diversity that is present in our Yearly Meeting – age, geography, gender, abilities and theology. On the last point, there is a specific call that the members be “in tune” with our theological diversity, but not appointed to represent specific points of view, and able to understand and work within that diversity. Now, I might not be reading this as intended (though I rather suspect I am), but to me this says that the members should include a wide range of theological positions, but not anyone who objects to that diversity. No Christian essentialists, or at least not of the stricter sort, and none of the non-theists who want to “help” all Quakers throw off their, as they see it, theistic baggage. Not that there are terribly many of either sort in the Yearly Meeting, but the draft terms seem to suggest that they should not be directly represented on the revision committee. I think, idealistically, that it would be best for those views to be represented, to better capture the full range, but practically I think it is a good idea to avoid the endless circular arguments that a liable to result.
Some changes may follow as a result of the precise wording, or just the sense of the minute of Britain Yearly Meeting calling for the revision. Sufferings might feel it appropriate for the terms of reference to more clearly call for more frequent and in-depth consultation on the direction the revision is taking, for example, or to include instructions regarding format or order of working. Ultimately, it is fruitless to attempt to predict the outcome, because it is dependent on the Spirit-led discernment of Meeting for Sufferings.
Now, in the absence of approved terms of reference, Central Nominations Committee (CNC) will presumably not have engaged in any actual discernment of names. However, having a reasonable idea of what sort of thing will be needed, the search may have begun. This is the process by which CNC comes up with names to discern between. This can draw on information from Quaker Service Information Forms (QSIFs), from the personal knowledge of members of CNC, from informal conversations with Friends who are likely to know people who might be suitable, and so on. The groundwork for the search at least has begun; we know this because of the existence of the special form for expressing interest in being involved in the revision. Once the terms of reference are determined and approved, the work of CNC in nominating for the revision committee will begin in earnest.
Once the names have been discerned, and the Friends in question contacted and asked if they would be willing and able, the names will be given to Meeting for Sufferings for appointment, and then the committee will exist. What happens after that depends on how that committee decides to work. Don't expect anything massive to happen very quickly. This is not a job to be done ASAP, but carefully and without rushing. It is most important that it be done right, rather than soon.
Given some other details of the draft terms of reference, it is likely that the committee will give opportunities for other Friends to have input, communicating and consulting on a reasonably regular basis. Perhaps drafts will be circulated for some chapters or sections within a couple of years. Perhaps proposed structures for the new text will be released for comment early on. It's going to be a very interesting process.
Eventually, whole chapters, or the whole book, will be ready in draft form for approval. Last time, I understand this was produced in a series of yellow volumes, each containing part of the eventual book. These will be approved by relevant other organs of the Yearly Meeting before, presumably, coming to Yearly Meeting in session for final approval. I have hope, confidence even, that if the revision process is followed faithfully and with due waiting on the Spirit, we will be able to receive those drafts with approval and a sense of great joy.
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