Monday, January 17, 2011


Last week, I became presiding clerk of Freedom Friends Church.  That wasn't a surprise.  Although you never know what the meeting will do, I had been assistant presiding clerk for the previous year with the expectation that I would go on to be clerk, and no one had raised concerns about my nomination.  But I wasn't expecting to clerk the business meeting in which I became clerk.

On Sunday morning before meeting, I got a call from Alivia, who was then presiding clerk.  She sounded awful.  She told me that after Ministry and Oversight met the day before, she had come down with a terrible cold, and had spent the night awake with a sore throat.  I said that I was sorry, and that I could clerk business meeting if she wasn't up for it.  She said she would think about it, and called me back a few minutes later to say that she thought it would be better for me to clerk.

I was terrified.  Although I have clerked committee meetings and conference calls, I had never clerked monthly meeting.  And, in addition to the regular business meeting, this was the Sunday we were going to have yearly meeting (because Freedom Friends is an independent monthly meeting, we have our own yearly meeting).  I had never even attended yearly meeting at Freedom Friends.

I knew I needed some backup, so I sent out an email to 22 Friends from all over the country, asking them to pray for me.  I said,
Dear Friends,

I just found out that Alivia has a bad sore throat and probably will not be able to clerk business/yearly meeting today, so I will most likely be clerking in her place.  This is the business meeting where we are considering the new slate of officers, including me as presiding clerk.  I would really appreciate it if you would pray for me and for Freedom Friends, whenever you get this (since God is out of time, I figure after-the-fact prayers work just as well).  Thank you!

 A few minutes later, Peggy and Alivia picked me up and we went to church.

When we got to the church, Alivia and I went over the powerpoint slides that she had prepared for the meetings.  We talked again about whether she was up for clerking, and agreed again that she was not.  I know it was disappointing for her, after being clerk for over six years, to not be able to clerk her final business meeting, but it seemed right to both of us.

While we were talking, I realized that my hands were shaking so much that I couldn't hold my cup of tea.  I prayed to be able to get through the meeting.  Alivia prayed for me, and said that she would be praying during business meeting.  Then meeting for worship began.

It has been our practice at Freedom Friends for a while to have business meeting rise out of our usual meeting for worship.  So we began our usual semi-programmed worship with a song and gratitudes and petitions.  During the time for petitions, I said that I had not woken up that morning expecting to clerk business meeting, and asked the meeting to hold me in prayer.

After open worship, I felt led to pray and begin the business meeting.  As soon as business meeting began, I felt a calm descend on me.  I knew that Alivia and others were praying for me, and I felt easy to go through the agenda that Ministry and Oversight had prepared.  As I was clerking, I felt as if there were hands on my shoulders.  Even though I knew there was no one there, I almost turned around to check.  I could feel the presence of many of the Friends I had asked to hold me in prayer there in the room with me.

I was supposed to present on two topics during business meeting, my Margaret Fell Fund report and a recommendation from Ministry and Oversight to have alternating unprogrammed and programmed worship on fifth Sundays.  I knew it was not good process for me to present while I was clerking, so I asked Alivia to step in and clerk during those presentations, and she agreed to do so.  I think it must have looked funny for us to be switching chairs, but when we did, I could feel the weight of clerking come off my shoulders and see it go onto hers.  And when we switched back, I felt the weight on me again.

Business meeting took about an hour, then we took a 10 minute break, and met again for yearly meeting.  In our yearly meeting, we approved the new slate of officers, including me as presiding clerk, and minuted our gratitude for those who had served for the previous year.  We also extended our pastor's call for another year, and heard and approved the State of the Church Report.  And then it was over.

I know that being clerk of Freedom Friends will be one of the most challenging things I have ever done.  I know I won't do it perfectly, and making mistakes along the way will be part of the learning experience.  But thinking about it now, I feel so filled with gratitude.  I am grateful to all those who were praying for me, both there and far away.  I am grateful to Alivia for being faithful and allowing me to step into this role.  I am grateful to Freedom Friends for trusting me to listen to them and to God.  And I am grateful to God for being there with me through it all.


  1. Ashley, you were well covered. And I too, share your gratitude: for our community, both local and wider, for the hands of the Spirit, and the breath of the Spirit and the listening, waiting, serving and loving of each of these both individually and joined together into one. I am grateful for you, and am blessed and humbled to have served God, FFC,and community for such a formative and precious time. It has been deeply challenging, humbling and blessed. I have experienced the pits of despair with my community, and the heights of joy -- to be witness of Love from the thick of the growth and change, loss and gain, and through the growing formative years of God's precious child (FFC). I thank God for you, and your willingness to respond to God's call. I am totally confident in our God and in you. May Light and Love surround, enfold and rise up within you as you walk this road.

  2. Thanks for your perspective on clerking your first monthly (and yearly) meeting, under unexpected circumstances. One for the annals!

    I also loved your point about after-the-fact prayers.

    Wishing a blessed, peace- and joy-filled 2011 to you and all at Freedom Friends Church!

  3. Hi Ashley

    Consider yourself held in the Light

    I am meditating in another context about the difference between clerking a Meeting and clerking committees. Do you have any thoughts on this question so early in your tenure?

  4. As one Conservative Friend sometimes says,

    Thee was favored.

    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up


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