The Monthly Meeting consists of a group of Friends who meet together at regular intervals to wait upon God. In other words, the Monthly Meeting is what would be called in many other churches, a “congregation.” Friends meet every Sunday for worship and every month to conduct business. The Sunday meeting is called “Meeting for Worship.” To emphasize that even conducting organizational business is a form of worship, the monthly business meeting is called “Meeting for Worship on the Occasion of Business.” This name is often shortened to “Monthly Meeting for Business.”
As the term “Monthly Meeting ” can have two meanings, “Monthly Meeting” will be used on this page to refer only to the idea of a Friends’ congregation. On this page, the term “Monthly Meeting for Business” will be used to refer to the monthly business meeting.
In corporate fellowship, Friends experience the most profound realities of life: birth and death, marriage and family, community of spirit, and concern for other people. A true Meeting in the Quaker sense is a gathering of people that is also an encounter with God. When this divine-human interaction takes place, there is order, unity, and power. If and when this connection fails, Friends wait and pray that “the way may open” once more. The good order of Friends is based on this conception of a “Meeting.”
The purpose of organization is not for its own sake, but to provide the Monthly Meeting with the necessary means for orderly and effective operation, with a maximum of freedom, participation, and responsibility. A Monthly Meeting has many functions. It receives records and terminates memberships. It provides spiritual and material aid to those in its fellowship. It oversees marriages, gives care at the time of death, and counsels with members in troubled circumstances. It collects and administers funds for its maintenance and work. Monthly Meetings hold titles to property, witness to Friends’ testimonies, and relate to other bodies of Friends and to other organizations with common concerns.
A Monthly Meeting’s organization evolves with its needs. At first, a small Monthly Meeting may be able to act as a “committee of the whole.” As it gains strength and experience, it should select appropriate persons and committees to carry out specific responsibilities.
The following descriptions of the organizational structure of a Quaker Meeting are not specific to the Orange Grove Monthly Meeting but apply generally to the Quaker groupings that have joined together in the Pacific Yearly Meeting. Orange Grove Monthly Meeting has created written “job descriptions” for its officers such as “Website Coordinator” which are specific to our Monthly Meeting. The following articles are intended to provide a general orientation to the structural organization of Quaker Monthly Meetings.
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The responsibilities of persons in the Monthly Meeting include: ministry in word and act, responsibility for the good order and material needs of the Monthly Meeting, visitation, and faithfulness in testimonies. All these things, in the measure of the Light that is given, are shared responsibilities. For practical reasons Monthly Meetings appoint members to serve as its officers for definite terms of service, using a nomination process described below. A good officer is one who, while assuming a particular responsibility, seeks to engage the resources of the Monthly Meeting in the task to be done.
The Clerk presides at the sessions of the Monthly Meeting for Business, prepares or bears responsibility for the minutes of its proceedings, and carries out instructions to accomplish its business. He or she may be assisted by a Recording Clerk, who assists with drafting minutes; an Alternate Clerk, who presides when the Clerk is unable to serve; and a Corresponding Clerk, who handles Monthly Meeting correspondence.
Most Monthly Meetings appoint a Recording Clerk who can make faithful, concise, and accurate records of the minutes of action, as discerned and stated by the Clerk. The Recording Clerk puts the Monthly Meeting’s insights and minutes into written words, but the Clerk bears the ultimate responsibility for the completeness and accuracy of the minutes.
The Treasurer is responsible for maintaining and disbursing the Monthly Meeting’s funds and giving regular reports to the Monthly Meeting. A financial professional should periodically review the Monthly Meeting’s accounts.
The Recorder (or Recorder/Archivist) keeps faithful and accurate membership records on forms provided by the Yearly Meeting. Such records include vital statistics pertaining to the member and his or her immediate family, whether or not they are all members of the Monthly Meeting. The Recorder promptly notes any changes relating to the membership, such as births, deaths, transfers, releases, or marriages. At the request of the Yearly Meeting Statistical Clerk, the Recorder completes a questionnaire regarding the Monthly Meeting and files a copy of this report in the permanent records of the Monthly Meeting.
The Recorder/Archivist also takes proper care of other important records of the Monthly Meeting. The officer responsible for current minutes and record books may retain them. All others should be preserved, together with important correspondence and legal papers, such as deeds, conveyances, and trusts, in a durable and legible form, and in a permanent repository protected from fire and loss.
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Committees of the Monthly Meeting
Each Monthly Meeting decides which committees are necessary to carry out its business and concerns. When a committee no longer serves its purpose, it should be laid down.
Committees conduct business in the same manner as a Monthly Meeting for Business, waiting on the Spirit to find direction in their operation and unity in their decisions. It is important that members of committees, and clerks especially, attend the Monthly Meeting for Business regularly to assure smooth coordination between the committees and the Monthly Meeting.
A written charge to each committee enables a Monthly Meeting to be clear both about what it expects of its committees (and officers) and the limits of the delegated authority. Such clarity and communication within an atmosphere of trust allows Monthly Meetings, officers, and committees to fulfill their respective tasks without wasteful duplication and frustration.
Members of committees should be selected according to their abilities and concerns. Monthly Meetings customarily appoint experienced and capable members of the Religious Society of Friends to the Worship and Ministry Committee, the Pastoral Care Committee, the Nominating Committee, and as Clerks of most committees. The purpose is to assign those responsibilities to persons of spiritual depth who are familiar with Friends’ faith and ways of organizing and conducting Monthly Meeting work. Serving on a committee allows Friends to engage in the life of the Monthly Meeting. New attenders learn Quaker decision-making process, and all committee members have an opportunity to deepen relationships and to develop their gifts.
Committees serve the Monthly Meeting not only by carrying on routine delegated functions, but also by doing important background work in preparation for decisions at the Monthly Meeting for Business. They examine designated matters in depth, identify the issues, gather the most useful information, and make seasoned recommendations for decision by the Monthly Meeting for Business. When this work is done well, the Monthly Meeting for Business is able to focus quickly on the matter at hand.
It is important that committees keep minutes of their meetings and report to the Monthly Meeting for Business regularly. In bringing a matter to the Monthly Meeting for Business, the committee should supply concise background and a clear description of the response it wants, such as a draft minute. All actions of committees in the name of the Monthly Meeting are subject to approval by the Monthly Meeting for Business.
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The Nominating Committee is a small committee that must be representative of the Monthly Meeting and familiar with its members and attenders. It is selected by a small ad hoc committee who nominates individuals to serve overlapping terms on the Nominating Committee. Members of the Nominating Committee need to be discerning in judgment and tactful in manner and, at the same time, bold, giving opportunities to younger Friends and to those more recently arrived, and encouragement to those who underestimate their own potential for service. The great responsibility of this committee cannot be too strongly stressed.
A Nominating Committee is given the task of discerning how the gifts of members and attenders may best serve the Monthly Meeting. Like all committees, the Nominating Committee meets in worship seeking divine guidance. The committee starts with a clear idea of the Monthly Meeting’s needs regarding officers, committee membership, and other responsibilities. Their goal is to appoint the best-qualified persons while developing and using the resources of the whole Monthly Meeting: the younger and newer as well as the older and more experienced people. A Nominating Committee tries to understand the qualifications needed for each individual appointment and the need for a committee to function well together as a whole. However, the list of vacancies is only a tool. The desire to fill all vacancies should not distract the committee from its task of discernment.
Monthly Meeting responsibilities or jobs should rotate among Friends so that new approaches can be practiced, and individuals have an opportunity to develop different gifts. Many gifts are latent. A particular appointment may enable one Friend to exercise unsuspected abilities. Another Friend may be overburdened by being appointed to serve beyond his or her capacity and experience. It requires great discernment to know the right moment to ask a particular Friend to undertake or to lay down a particular task.
Nominating committees do not appoint. They bring their nominations to the Monthly Meeting for Business to be held over one month for final approval. During the intervening month, members must have the opportunity to express any doubts directly to the Nominating Committee, while carefully recognizing that of God in each person. A member of the Nominating Committee may wish to meet with an objecting member to understand a concern. When the objection demonstrates a lack of unity around that specific nomination, the Nominating Committee should seek a different person to carry out the task. No member should press unduly to have a particular person appointed or not appointed.
The duration and scope of each appointment should be explained to all who are asked to accept nomination; the approach should not be made casually or acceptance taken for granted. To avoid misunderstandings about the tentative nature of the nomination prior to its approval by Monthly Meeting for Business, initially it is best to ask members and attenders whether they would consent to serve if appointed. At times it may seem impossible to find someone to serve. Nominating committees should not feel obligated to fill vacancies that remain after the committee has concluded faithful discernment.
Sometimes, following thoughtful consultation with members of the Pastoral Care Committee, an appointment may need to be ended ahead of schedule or an appointed Friend may request release from service. A particular concern arises when a committee member’s presence on a committee could prevent another person’s access to that committee. In such a case, the committee member should be advised to resign. Nominating committees should not hesitate to bring problems back to the Monthly Meeting for Business for guidance and practical help. Loving and tender care are essential.
Responsibility for an appointment does not end when it is made. Having been fully involved in making the appointments, the Monthly Meeting must support and uphold those carrying out the tasks. In the course of its work, the Nominating Committee may see cause to consider the laying down of a committee and should report this to the Pastoral Care Committee for forwarding to the Monthly Meeting for Business.
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Worship and Ministry Committee
The Worship and Ministry Committee customarily consists of members of the Religious Society of Friends of varied ages, genders and gifts and who are known to be faithful in worship and sensitive to the life of the Spirit. It includes both Friends inclined to speak in the Meeting for Worship and those less inclined to do so. It also includes Friends who are acknowledged as spiritual elders, to whom persons go instinctively for understanding and loving care. The function of the committee is to nurture the spiritual health of the Monthly Meeting community.
The first responsibility of the committee’s members is to deepen their own spiritual lives and their preparation for worship. When they are grounded in the Spirit, committee members can recall that they are but vessels of the Light among many other vessels. Then, they can better trust that the power of God may work through all persons in the Monthly Meeting and beyond. Committee members’ concern for the Monthly Meeting throughout the week, the promptness and reverence with which they approach the Meeting for Worship, and their faithfulness to the guidance of the Spirit, are the most effective ways they may deepen the quality of the worship. By deepening their own experience of worship, and by their regular presence at Meeting for Worship, committee members contribute to the corporate experience of a centered Meeting for Worship.
The Worship and Ministry Committee meets regularly to keep the Meeting for Worship under constant review, prayer, and care. Committee members should nurture the Meeting for Worship by giving appropriate attention to the quality of the vocal ministry and the ministry of stillness that springs from the centered silence. They should encourage all Friends to give adequate time to study, meditation, prayer, and other ways of preparing themselves for worship. Members’ concerns about worship are directed to this committee for prayerful consideration and action. At times, the committee should open its meeting to all to share experience, search for insight, and nurture the spiritual health of the Meeting for Worship.
Committee members should encourage those who show promising gifts and should lovingly guide those who speak unacceptably, too often, or for too long. They should endeavor to open the way for those who are timid and inexperienced in vocal ministry and should encourage all Friends to listen with tenderness. In trying to be helpful, they should not assume superior wisdom, trusting instead that all are sharing in the search for guidance.
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Pastoral Care Committee
The Pastoral Care Committee customarily consists of members of the Religious Society of Friends with experience, empathy, good judgment, and discretion. This committee assumes leadership in maintaining a caring community and helping all members to find their right roles as nurturers of each other. It may share tasks with other committees. In order to care for all members and attenders, it is important that members of this committee represent the varied make-up of the Monthly Meeting. New members should join the committee prayerfully, with an alert willingness to be of service. The committee should meet together regularly and carry on its work in a spirit of dedication and love.
The primary responsibilities of the Pastoral Care Committee are as follows:
- Members of this committee have a special responsibility for taking a personal interest in the spiritual and physical welfare of each member and attender of the Monthly Meeting.
- The committee considers requests for membership and transfer and withdrawal of membership.
- It considers requests from persons who wish to be married under the care of the Monthly Meeting.
- It sets up clearness committees for the purposes of membership or marriage or when otherwise requested by a member or attender.
- It ensures that an accurate list is maintained of all members and regular attenders, including mailing addresses and telephone numbers.
- It offers emotional care and practical assistance at the time of death in a family.
- It is concerned for the nurture of the religious life of children and young people, for their participation in the Monthly Meeting, and their preparation for membership.
- It tries to be of help in reconciling differences among people in the Monthly Meeting.
- It endeavors to welcome newcomers and attenders, to respond to inquiries about Friends, to promote the Monthly Meeting’s interests to prospective members, and to make clear to them the interest of the Monthly Meeting in their joining its fellowship.
- It encourages visitation and fellowship within the Monthly Meeting and seeks to assure that those who are ill, troubled, or in material need, receive visits, spiritual listening and support, and other assistance.
- It oversees funds available to assist members and active attenders.
- It encourages Friends to attend Yearly Meeting sessions and other gatherings of Friends, advising on possible financial assistance for this purpose.
- It keeps in touch with related committees and may form sub-committees charged with specific responsibilities (e.g. marriage or a fund for special needs).
Sometimes a problem may be too complex and beyond the capacity of a Monthly Meeting to handle. In such cases, professional help should be sought. Committee members need to have knowledge of professional resources in the wider community. Even when it is clear that professional help is needed, the Monthly Meeting may still offer practical assistance such as meals, childcare, or transportation.
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Monthly Meetings must have income in order to pay for space (rent or maintenance), communication, outreach, insurance, educational materials, and other items. The procedures for securing the income are unobtrusive. The Finance Committee may send an annual letter to members and attenders, describing the broad budgetary picture and suggesting an average “share” per contributor. Such a letter always explains that actual contributions may be less for some and more for others, depending on personal circumstances.
Other duties of the Finance Committee include maintaining orderly accounts and expenditure procedures, and advising the Monthly Meeting on financial aspects of its affairs. In Monthly Meetings without a Finance Committee, the Treasurer may carry these responsibilities.
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As a Monthly Meeting grows, it will be necessary to add other committees such as Religious Education (both Children and Adult), Peace and Social Order, Committee on Environmental Concerns, and perhaps Hospitality. A Building and Grounds or Property Committee may be necessary, even if the Monthly Meeting is using rented facilities.
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Source: We wish to express our appreciation to the Pacific Yearly Meeting for permission to re-publish these articles from its 2001 edition of Faith and Practice. Pacific Yearly Meeting is a regional Friends organization to which Orange Grove Monthly Meeting belongs. Minor adaptations of the articles have been made.