Presented to Meeting for Business March 5, 2023
What is Shared Witness?
Shared witness follows when Spirit leads the Meeting to a collective sense that we must respond together to a call to take action in the world. Such movements of Spirit may reach beyond our Meeting and may involve the Meeting’s financial resources. Shared witness is different from responding to a leading by a single individual or small group, although individual leadings may grow into shared witness with time, patience, and wider engagement of Friends. These need not be acts that all individuals in the Meeting might take, or even an issue that every individual in the Meeting might consider important–but they do represent witness that we undertake together.
A “call to shared witness” is more than just accessing money from the Shared Witness Fund, although that is an important consideration that has prompted this process proposal. Shared witness could involve dedicating volunteer time, making a public statement regarding a policy issue, spending or donating money, engaging in direct action, or joining a coalition, among many other possibilities.
A call to shared witness will benefit from seasoning, and the process may take time. The purpose of seasoning is to bring the idea from a “still small voice” into a call to action that addresses the concerns, hopes, and spiritual insights of the Meeting as a whole. Seasoning will involve gathering relevant information and speaking to people both within and possibly outside the Meeting.
Seasoning could take many forms, depending on the situation: listening and being a sounding board; suggesting resources, including people who have pertinent knowledge or skills; helping put thoughts into writing; helping lay out realistic timetables; exploring both financial and non financial elements of this call to shared witness, and so on. The call will likely be shared with the wider Meeting for further discernment. This might happen through called meetings, present ations, Q&A sessions, written proposals, or other forms.
To facilitate this process, the Nominating Committee will identify three people for the Meeting’s approval to serve as Shared Witness Conveners (“the Conveners”). As a group, the Conveners should understand what it means to sense a call to witness and know the spiritual gifts and different points of view in the Meeting.
People sensing a call moving in our Meeting can ask the Conveners to gather people for seasoning the idea: a Shared Witness Seasoning Group (“a Seasoning Group”), which could include one or more of the Conveners. The Conveners will let the Co-Clerks know when they have been contacted by an individual or group seeking seasoning for a sensed call to shared witness. The intention is to include varied perspectives and skills within each group, so the team is well-balanced. Depending on the type of guidance needed, these skills could include things like organization, tending to details, seeing the big picture, listening, collaborating, being a leader, experience with social and political change, etc. Members of the group would be expected to have experience sensing Spirit’s nudges—recognizing, of course, that this can look and sound very different depending on the individual.
Similar to a clearness committee, each Seasoning Group would be available to support the process of moving a call into proposed action(s), guided by Quaker testimonies, which include stewardship, integrity, peace, community, equality, and simplicity.
Key queries to help move from an initial idea or concern to concrete proposed action are included in an addendum to this document. They are intended to clarify the call, its implications, and the supporting logistics needed to carry out the proposed action. After seasoning the call, each Shared Witness Seasoning Group may make recommendations, such as identifying pathways for further seasoning, laying down the call, or other supportive steps, but it will not make decisions regarding the call. Approval will come only through the discernment of Meeting for Business.
When there is unity in the Seasoning Group that a call to shared witness is clear for possible action, the Seasoning Group would request to bring the idea forward for consideration at Meeting for Business.
At times when Friends fail to find unity through this seasoning process, Ministry and Counsel Committee and the co-clerks may meet with those initiating a call to consider a different approach or other recourse. Whether brought with growing unity or prompted by the passionate leading of a few, the gathered Meeting in shared worship for the conduct of business must discern the path forward.
Evaluating this Experiment
To promote continued growing and learning, we propose the following:
1. The Conveners will share a report with the Meeting each year in September about the challenges and successes they experienced;
2. Changes in this process might be made at any time by bringing concerns to Meeting for Worship for the Conduct of Business;
3. The Conveners will invite the Meeting to assess this process of seasoning calls to shared witness in September 2025.
Addendum 1: Queries to help season a proposed shared witness
1. How does this call to shared witness embody testimonies that are alive for us as Quakers in this Meeting? How would this call bring us closer to right relationship with our neighbors and the world?
2. Where do we see movement in our Meeting toward this call? How is this call showing up among us with energy, excitement and, at times, a sense of urgency? How might the Meeting community become educated about this concern?
3. If we encounter resistance to this idea during the seasoning process, what is the source of resistance? What might we learn from this resistance?
4. Who are we listening to as we consider this call? What relationships do we have, as a Meeting, with any groups or individuals involved? Are we being guided by the people who will be most impacted?
5. Who will carry out the action—those who are proposing it, another established organization, or others? Are there any risks to those carrying out this call to shared witness, to those who may be receiving funds, and/or to the Meeting?
6. What is the projected timeline for this call to shared witness? How will its progress, challenges, and successes be shared with the Meeting?
7. Does this call include using money from the Shared Witness Fund, as a public witness of our Meeting? How much money is needed for this call? Are there other sources of income for this work? If the funds requested will not go to an established non-profit organization, what banking and accounting procedures will be in place for depositing and disbursing the funds as the project gets underway?
Addendum 2: Questions and Answers about the Proposed Shared Witness Seasoning Process
1. Why not just bring a proposal to Meeting for Business instead of going through a committee? We are a large Meeting—and it is our Meeting’s experience that prior seasoning of a proposal brought to Meeting for Worship for the Conduct of Business strengthens it. The proposed seasoning process will allow for fuller discernment about spiritual, logistical, and financial aspects before asking the full meeting to consider a proposal.
2. Does it matter if an initial call comes from an individual or a group?
No. However, over time, the call must gain support from the wider Meeting.
3. How is this process different from the work of the Leadings Committee?
The Leadings Committee supports leadings of an individual (or small group of individuals), and the Shared Witness process deals with a call to witness for the gathered body of the Meeting. The Conveners and, in some cases, each ad-hoc Shared Witness Seasoning Group, would hold the responsibility for discerning whether there is a call to shared witness, or if this is an individual’s call.
The Conveners or any of the ad-hoc Shared Witness Seasoning Groups might guide an individual to the Leadings Committee, for example, if it became clear that the idea was arising for an individual or small group rather than a call for shared witness for the whole Meeting. Or, the Leadings Committee might sense a Leadings Grant application had more movement in the Meeting as a shared witness project and could guide individuals to the Conveners as appropriate.
4. Doesn’t this put a lot of decision-making power in the hands of just a few people? At times the Conveners or Shared Witness Seasoning Group may feel clear that there is not a call to shared witness. In this case, they will provide guidance for those who brought the call for seasoning to find the support they need. In that sense, they exercise decision making, but it is preliminary; people remain free to bring ideas for shared witness to Meeting for Business, regardless of the findings of any Shared Witness Seasoning Group. In any case, the final decision to approve an allocation from the Shared Witness or any other shared action comes from the Meeting as a whole.
“Inward yielding and waiting for a sense of unity to grow among all present are characteristics of the way Friends conduct their business. The spiritual disciplines of corporate discernment are grounded in the faith that we can perceive and affirm God’s guidance for the gathered community. Our experience of worship undergirds our understanding of reaching unity in the Spirit, a sense of the meeting that sometimes comes as an unexpected blessing when we have labored hard to discern our way. As we listen to each other and seek together for Divine guidance, can we affirm the unity that enables us to respond faithfully?” NEYM Interim Faith and Practice 2014