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reported by Ian Kirk-Smith
Meeting for Sufferings
Clerk of BYM trustees reports
THE RECENT RESIGNATION of two senior members of staff at Friends House, the recording clerk and the general secretary of finance and property, has prompted interest and concern among Friends in Britain.
The report of the clerk of Britain Yearly Meeting trustees on Saturday 1 October was, consequently, widely anticipated at Meeting for Sufferings. Jonathan Fox began by expressing his gratitude for the many expressions of support for staff and trustees as ‘together we have sought to work through the consequences of the resignations’.
‘I know that some Friends expect explanation of what may or may not have lain behind the resignations,’ he said. He reiterated, in relation to the resignation of the recording clerk, an appreciation of her enormous contribution over recent years and reminded Friends of a statement reported in the Friend: ‘She feels it is time to step down and that a new person with different skills is needed now to take the work of change forward…’
In explaining the background and giving reassurance, he stressed that there was absolutely ‘no impropriety’ behind either resignation and that both had been personal decisions. They were regretted. ‘We learn from the past and move forward,’ he said. He then talked about what has been done.
‘Michael Hutchinson,’ he said, ‘has stepped in as acting recording clerk for the interim period and he is providing leadership and maintaining the momentum of the work.’ Vincent Poupard has been appointed interim general secretary of finance. Two part-time human resources consultants have been engaged. JOnathan stressed that ‘the work goes on’.
Britain Yearly Meeting trustees have the responsibility for the employment and recruitment of all staff and, specifically, the recording clerk. This used to lie with Meeting for Sufferings. A recruitment group has been appointed and a new recording clerk is to be appointed in December and will begin work at Friends House in early 2011.
The consultation process has highlighted that a crucial issue is the relationship between the recording clerk, management meeting and trustees. There is a concern about whether there is sufficient clarity of relationship and whether changes should be contemplated.
‘Any change of personnel,’ he said, ‘presents the opportunity to reassess circumstances and to identify priorities, structures and working relationships appropriate to the next phase in the life of the institution.’
It was a revealing comment and prompted some interesting contributions from Friends concerning the scope and limitations of the role of the recording clerk and how compatible, or incompatible, it is with the role of a chief executive.
‘The recording clerk has a very difficult role. They are given a role without having ultimate responsibility for the appointment of staff or the budget,’ a Friend said. Another reflected that the position, in fact, was one of many different roles. It was also asked whether there were difficulties in a position that had to combine both spiritual and managerial responsibilities. Where was the balance between the sacred and the secular?
A laugh was raised when a Friend asked whether the recording clerk’s role within Quakerism was like that of the archbishop of Canterbury. No, this was not the case, another Friend explained from the floor, and it was suggested later that the role of a town clerk, administering but not holding absolute power within a local authority, was a better analogy.
In regard to the broader picture of change, one representative felt the trustees were ‘going about things the right way’, while another Friend was concerned at the ‘speed and pace’ of change and was ‘very uncomfortable’ at the thought that decisions might already have been made. Was Meeting for Sufferings to merely rubber stamp such decisions or was it a place where suggestions for consideration, and discernment, were brought?
Another representative, wisely, expressed the opinion that Friends should be positive, look to the future, and that the present situation offered a good opportunity to ‘look at fundamentals’.
See the advertisement for the recording clerk on page 20.
the Friend, 8 October 2010