What Are Queries For Anyway?

A Friend of mine was wondering where the concept of Quaker Queries came from and what they are used for. He sent the question to a few people. Here is my answer, slightly edited for public distribution:

I think the queries were originally provided by the yearly meetings for their monthly and quarterly meetings to report back to them. The closest thing to that in Pacific YM today is the State of the Meeting report, which each monthly meeting completes annually and sends to the quarterly and yearly meeting Ministry and Oversight committees. But I don't know of any meeting in PYM which uses the queries to structure their report, even though I have suggested it before. Just wait 'til I'm clerk...

But really, the queries in our current PYM book of Faith and Practice weren't written with that in mind. They are read out loud, one section a month, on the first Sunday of the month in our meeting for worship, and at the beginning of our monthly meeting for business. Sometimes individuals respond to them in worship, but mostly we just consider them in silence. If you asked most PYM folks, this is what they would say the F&P Queries are for. (which is not much, IMHO)

The Advices and Queries in PYM F&P are the closest we come to a statement of our faith and practice, and they always go together in the book. The A&Q were written by a committee that labored for a long time to come to unity on the right language and the right topics and the right number of sets of A&Q. That committee is called the Discipline Committee, and they wrote the whole F&P, the last version took 10 years or so from the time they started until they finished in 2001.

When we have opportunities for worship sharing, at PYM gatherings or quarterly meetings for example, there is usually a new set of queries developed for the occasion - on the theme of the gathering, or something like that. They are usually developed shortly before the meeting by one or two people from the M&O committee. One SF Friend says that it doesn't matter what the queries are in worship sharing, it always comes down to "How is the Spirit moving in your life?"

In my monthly meeting, we have had a couple of series of worship sharing opportunities, after meeting for worship, or in the evening, to respond specifically to the queries in our F&P. Sometimes, these have been rich opportunities for spiritual formation and sometimes they have ended up being just a gathering for the most lonely or conflict-desiring people in the meeting. But that's true for any series of events in our meeting.

In your experience, how are queries used? Are they useful?


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Anonymous Lisa H said...

At Strawberry Creek, each month's advices and queries are read out loud in meeting for worship on the first Sunday. We also rotate which committee reflects on them and shares the writeup of their responses at the beginning of business meeting on the second Sunday, followed by some open worship. This reflection is rich, and helps to keep the committees grounded in Quaker faith and practice.

7/12/2010 8:55 AM  
Blogger Mx. MB said...

Queries are a prophetic device used to point out stumbling blocks in the way. By all Friends reflecting on a query no one was singled out although the giver of the query might have someone in particular in mind. They are a method of provoking reflection and change in the individual and the meeting dating back to the earliest days of the Children of Light.

7/12/2010 12:25 PM  
Blogger RichardM said...

NCYM-conservative still asks each monthly meeting to answer the queries and report the answers at our annual sessions. These answers are read to the whole body at YM a few at a time. This is done with sufficient silence and time for reflection. It is often the deepest part of our annual business sessions. The answers are printed in the Minutes.

MM come up with answers in different ways. In smaller meetings the queries are answered at meetings for business. Most often the query is read and individual Friends speak to various portions of the query. It is the job of the Recording Clerk (or whoever is recording for that day) to synthesize what is said into a corporate answer. You can go the the ncymc website and read these answers in our Minutes.

Coming to unity on a corporate answer, as opposed to recording various individual opinions, is the most challenging and rewarding part of the process.

I recommend the corporate answering of queries to all Friends groups.

7/12/2010 3:02 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thank you all for your comments. I think they will also be useful to my Friend who originally asked the question.

If you're interested, there are also comments on this post on my Facebook wall from Marshall Massey and Martin Kelley.

7/13/2010 1:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our Testimony to a Living God leads to Queries as a way of staying open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit rather than a creed which asks for affirmation to settled doctrine. While it's likely that Friends will settle into answers that do not change from year to year, there is always the opportunity for a prophetic response.

7/13/2010 8:01 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

What I find interesting is that while on an individual level, I suppose you're right, at the institutional level Friends have not settled into unchanging answers. This is surprising in any institution.

7/14/2010 12:07 AM  
Blogger forrest said...

You say, "I don't know of any meeting in PYM which uses the queries to structure their report, even though I have suggested it before."

The book itself actually suggests that possibility: "They may be used as a basis for annual reports on the State of the Meeting."

But trying to do so is likely to provoke shock and indignation from Meetings accustomed to the easy-pass style of self-evaluation...

7/14/2010 12:19 AM  
Blogger RichardM said...

The queries that our Monthly Meetings answer aren't the sort of thing that could have a permanent answer. The queries are all of the nature of "Are we being faithful to our testimony about X" Since we change and our conditions change, the honest answer to each query changes.

7/14/2010 8:46 AM  
Anonymous DianeM said...

I'm not sure where queries come from historically, but I do know they had them already in John Woolman's time. He and some other younger Friends of his day worked hard to change the wording of a query related to slavery. As you might expect, it took a long time to make what looks to us now like a little change.

7/14/2010 8:22 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Eric M. sent me this comment via email:

"I saw your blog on queries, particularly liked that you got the historic connection between “rise” of State-of-Meeting reports and “fall” of queries. So far as I can determine, SMRs are about to log a centenary, and some graduate student ought to compile an anthology, “Best of.” SMRs, almost without analog in other religious traditions, represent a diffusely shared authorship a la “First Publishers of Truth” -- IMHO an anthology would offer a fascinating read."

He also recommended (and I concur) Doug Gwyn's article on Quaker practice and the right use of queries in the journal Quaker Theology #17.

7/17/2010 10:36 AM  
Anonymous Jay T. said...

The queries have been answered in at least one meeting in PaYM. In the late 1970's I attended Marin Friends Meeting, where we regularly prepared a minute answering the query for that month. I think it was probably suggested by some Friends who'd witnessed the practice at Iowa Yearly Meeting-Conservative. The practice was laid down in 1978 or 79, I think.

In the 1980's or 90's, I suggested it to Corvallis Friends, who engaged in that practice for several years.

I recall that at least once in each meeting, the answers were used as a basis for the State of Society report.

There is a difference between collecting the responses of individuals and gathering the sense of the meeting into a collective response, but I've rarely been able to communicate that with Friends in my meeting.

7/24/2010 11:04 AM  
Blogger joven said...

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8/11/2010 4:35 AM  

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