Arthur M. Larabee returned to Friends School of Minnesota for an inservice focusing on the process of Friends (Quaker) decision-making. He led two days of workshops for staff as well as an evening session for FSM school committee and standing committee members. Reviewing and learning the basics and nuances of the Friends decision-making process strengthened our understanding of this foundation of Friends School of Minnesota’s community.

Arthur M. Larabee

Friends decision-making is:

  • a non-voting process that
  • uses the sense of the movement and direction of the energy in the group as the basis for coming decisions.

Decisions are identified by the unity of the group. 
This process is called “sense-of-the-meeting.”
The person who presides, with responsibility for facilitating the process, is the clerk.

How is the sense-of the-meeting process different from consensus and majority rule models of decision making?

Quaker or Friends decision-making is different than other decision-making processes. It can take a little getting used to for those of us used to majority rule voting.

Friends decision-making encourages communities to collectively to seek truth for the community – rather than pooling the needs of individuals. Sense-of-the-meeting and consensus are often confused because they have in common a non-voting process. One way to contrast them is to ask “What is the question that calls for a decision?”

  • Majority Rule Model: “How do we vote?”
  • Consensus Model: “What can we agree to?”
  • Sense-of-the-meeting Model: “How are we led?”

What does a Friends decision-making process reward?

  • the melding of ideas
  • understanding that the best idea may not be first idea or the idea articulated most skillfully
  • listening, patience & mindfulness
  • taking risks to speak & being reluctant to speak what’s already been said
  • community building

Why use Friends decision-making at FSM?

Here are some of FSM staff’s thoughts. This process:

  • leads to better community
  • leads to better understanding of other perspectives – diversity strengthens us and invites more creative decisions
  • recognizes truth is complicated and intricate – we need all voices
  • promotes deep thinking, allowing creativity to emerge
  • gives time to reflect and consider
  • being heard invites more participation and builds trust – so we bring our better selves to the table
  • we learn and grow as individuals by participating in this process
  • affirms a better outcome, working as a community

Friends School of Minnesota staff spent the last part of the inservice focusing specifically on how Friends decision-making actually works at FSM. We explored how we can improve our meetings, discussions, and decision making.

As a school, we have a hydrid of a traditional hierarchy melded with Quaker process. Understanding how this works at staff meetings, for example, made for interesting discussion. We reviewed the roles of the clerk and meeting participators and recognized some of the challenges we have as a group. Listening more, talking less, allowing more time, understanding our responsibilities, and clarifying the process were common themes for our future work.

As Arthur Larabee says, taking the time to explore topics such as these tills the soil deeply and plants new seeds. We look forward to seeing what new life sprouts and flourishes from this time spent together.

Arthur M. Larabee currently serves as the General Secretary of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. He is a lawyer by training and practiced law for 23 years in Philadelphia. He is life-long Quaker and a member of Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting. In the 1990’s, he served as Clerk of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and has also served as Clerk of Westtown School’s Board of Trustees.

Arthur M. Larabee’s 2012 inservice at Friends School of Minnesota was made possible by a grant from The Friends Council on Education.