An open letter to our MfS Representatives

By Stephen Petter, 25/7/06

Monthly Meeting in July asked that you ‘foster discussion’ on ‘the future role and purpose of MfS’. Here’s my view, based on my experience during the four rather painful years up to 2001 that I served on MfS.

I see MfS as having three great tasks, and I suggest that each may be the subject of an annual meeting, i.e. that MfS meets three times per year.

1. I suggest that there be an annual MfS session (perhaps a month or so after yearly meeting) specifically for exploring opportunities to ‘take on a visionary and prophetic role for the life of the YM’. These need to be free and open-ended. They might be introduced by a Friend delivering an address designed to encourage lateral thinking and openness to the Spirit. After discerning one or a few possible new openings for the prophetic role, groups might be set up to explore each idea. They would then report back at one or other as appropriate of the other two sessions with a recommendation as to what should be done about it - abandon it, consider it further, or implement it. Implementation might take the form of asking MMs to pick it up, or it might be to include it in the long range plan for central work.

2. Secondly, there could be an annual session devoted to consideration of the central work of the Society, focussing mainly on the long range plan (LRP). There will be two tasks. First to decide which projects should get additional resources, and which less, to the point of identifying which should be laid down, and second, to decide what if anything should be added into the LRP.

MfS must in my opinion carry out the role envisaged by YM of setting the basic policy of central work of the Society, i.e. the LRP, and of monitoring its implementation. It must not do this simply by approving an LRP laid before it by the management. In fact it must resist that approach.

(However, in the initial two or three years unfortunately MfS will have to accept the current LRP but it must not allow itself to continue with the habit of accepting what is laid before it. MfS must vigorously over the first two to four years seize (or wrest) the initiative from the management.)

To monitor the implementation of the LRP MfS would need to insist on being given full and quantified data on each project. By project I mean each item of work undertaken corporately, whether contracted out to other agencies or undertaken by a section in Friends House. This data should include, for each year of the LRP and the past year(s):

1. Financial resources (to be) used;

2. Staff resources (to be) used, split into professional/managerial and support workers;

3. Aims of the project (achievements anticipated), including some quantification;

4. Achievement in the past year(s) against past anticipations.

In other words MfS would know what goes into and what is produced by each section. It will not be concerned with how the work is done - that’s the responsibility of management and the trustees.

You may find the management extremely reluctant to share this information. One must assume that all the upheavals of the past 10 or so years (presumably to improve management efficiency) have resulted in this information being available to them. MfS should insist it is shared. If it is not available then Trustees will need to ensure it becomes so, if only to do their job properly.

Thus each year, as far as central corporate work is concerned, MfS would have three inputs and one output. The LRP brought forward from the previous year, information on which to decide which projects to build up and which to cut back or lay down, and the discernment of new projects to be brought into the LRP. Their output would be the revised LRP.

There may be occasions when pressure of circumstances causes MfS to insist that a project not in the LRP be taken on immediately, as was the case when yearly meeting insisted QPS ‘did something now’ about the Kosova/o situation. For this reason MfS should a. insist that there is a contingency fund in the budget/LRP and b. be prepared to cut back projects at short notice. MfS must of course hear the management’s opinion on their proposals for any immediate deviation from the LRP. But MfS must insist that it sets the policy, and that the management are there to carry it out. (We have to accept that the final arbiter is the trustees, but YM (and the first trustees) all have agreed that they will do all they can to accommodate the leadings of MfS.)

3. Thirdly MfS should look at the work of the Society other than the central work, i.e. the life of MMs, Residential YMs, Summer Gatherings, Northern Friends Peace Board, the Listed Special Interest Groups, QSA, QHA, QVA, etc. Also the work of QWRC, QCIR, the Living Witness Project, etc. In this they would be replacing and broadening the work of the Representative Councils. Maybe this would need two sessions, one mainly concerned with Quaker life issues, the other with social witness and peace.

Hoping this is helpful

Stephen Petter


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