Vital Friends: Interview with Steve Mohlke

For the March 2021 Clerking issue of Vital Friends, FGC’s Communications Manager caught up with Steve Mohlke, a celebrated facilitator on clerking workshops.  

How did your spiritual walk with Friends begin?

I was aware of Quakers in my teens and early twenties but I didn’t have any direct experience. Then I met Avis Fleischer, who was a good 55 years older than me. Now, I know a lot of older Quaker ladies who carry themselves and respond to life the way Avis did, but at the time that was new and I was intrigued. I peppered her with questions. Finally she said matter of factly, “Well, you’re just going to have to come with me to Quaker worship.” When I walked into that Worcester, MA meetinghouse, I felt like I’d come home to a place I’d never been before. I recognized that these were my people. I could relate to the way they talked about spiritual matters and where that led them in witness.

You’ve served as the Co-Clerk of the FGC Gathering, and you’re known for the clerking workshops you’ve facilitated. What do you like most about the role of clerking? What is most challenging about it?

I love bringing people together in a spiritual process of mutual discovery. That discovery could be about lots of matters, like how Spirit is at work in our lives or how we prioritize spending money. When our initial differences on a matter give way to something none of us saw when we started, I experience a deep, satisfying sense of joy.

I find it really challenging when we don’t listen to each other, and/or don’t respect each other. We need to address that when it happens in any given situation and in patterns. Our spiritual process is more satisfactory when we listen and respect.

It is challenging to identify and address my own patterns of not listening or expressing disrespect. When I invite others to name that, and when they see it in me, it serves as a reminder to me to be humble. If I can address the words and deeds that aren’t who I want to be and do that right in the gathering where they happen, it can remind others that this isn’t about perfection. Maybe someone else will feel invited or be inspired to take a risk on behalf of the community.

What resources or experiences do you refer to most when you are facilitating a clerking workshop or serving as a clerk?

This question is easier for me to answer if I think of it as “What practices do I rely upon most? “

  • I prepare in advance. When I have to suddenly facilitate something I didn’t expect, I feel like I’m operating at half capacity. In preparing, I make sure I understand the material so when the meeting comes, I can put my attention on the people. When my agenda is well prepared, I more readily recognize when Spirit is taking us in another direction and the agenda has to be abandoned. For a complex or controversial matter, preparation also means finding out ahead of the meeting how people are feeling and thinking about the matter.
  • I put myself into the perspective of each person present as best as I am able. I try to be inviting to each. I try to take on their perspective as I prepare the agenda and again as I listen to what is being shared in the meeting.
  • I try to separate any given concern from the individual who gave it voice. I think of things people say as Spirit’s message delivered through that individual as best as they could discern it. When I refer to the concern I try not to name it “Nancy’s concern,” and prefer to name it something like “the concern about the children.” That takes the attention off of the individual and steers the community discernment toward the message itself. Our task is to examine the message, not the messenger.

Who are your clerking role models?

As with the last point, I’d like to take the attention off of individuals. I’d like to answer, “What practices do I admire in clerks?”

I admire when a clerk:

  • Creates an environment that is so inviting that it allows room for a person feeling timid to share the thing that nobody wants to hear. If we truly believe there is that of God in everyone, then it behooves us to do what we can to help God’s message get through.
  • Reflects back with clarity, the message(s) behind words that were spoken in a manner that may not have been clear. I feel deep spiritual accompaniment when clerks do that and the original speaker affirms it.
  • Stops the proceedings with the matter at hand to address something that tore at the fabric of the community. Our process is so rooted in community that we can’t be confident of our result if we ignore something that prevents some from participating.

What advice would you offer a Friend who is a first-time clerk, or who feels led to serve as a clerk?

We don’t have to be perfect.

We can ask for help. That might be help with learning how to do something better or somebody else doing the thing that really is just not the clerk’s gift. Identify some people you are comfortable asking for help, and talk with them about it. Maybe it is just for occasional one on one advice or maybe it is a regular meeting of a group.

Lastly, your attention on strengthening the community you are serving as clerk is important.

Steve Mohlke is a longtime Friend and former clerk of Ithaca Monthly Meeting. He served as co-clerk for the 2017 FGC Gathering and currently serves as General Secretary of New York Yearly Meeting. This summer, he will facilitate the Clerking with Joy and Confidence workshop at the virtual FGC Gathering.

This article was written for the March 2021 Vital Friends eNewsletter.

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