George Fox and his early followers went forth with unbounded faith and enthusiasm to discover in all lands those who were true fellow members with them in this great household of God, and who were the hidden seed of God.
A Brief History
Regularly enrolled membership as we know it was not a feature of the early Meetings of Friends; however, a recognized membership did exist. In its first years, the Society was a radical and charismatic movement, very much at odds with the civil and religious bodies of its day. Because the risks of joining involved rejection by contemporary society, imprisonment, physical abuse and economic ruin, only deeply convinced and committed people were willing to face the consequences of being considered Friends. Formal lists were unnecessary, since Friends were well aware of each other and of events in each other’s lives. The word “member” appears in early Friends’ correspondence, and lists of those “suffering for Truth’s sake” were drawn up almost from the beginning, but formal membership was not established until 1737.
Although there was no formal membership, fanatical behavior and spiritual irresponsibility led to the practice of disownment. Those who misrepresented the group in word or deed were still welcome in worship and fellowship, but they were not allowed to participate in Meeting decisions. Thus the distinction between an active community of shared faith and an evolving institutional structure was tacitly recognized in early Quaker history.
[back to top]
The Meaning of Membership
Membership establishes a commitment between the individual and the Religious Society of Friends within the framework of a particular Monthly Meeting. Membership implies that, for each member, the Religious Society of Friends provides the most promising home for spiritual enlightenment and growth. It commits a person to the daily pursuit of truth after the manner of Friends, and commits the Meeting to support the member in that pursuit. Membership represents the outward recognition of unity with other members of the Religious Society of Friends and a commitment to cherish and share in the living tradition.
Ever since early Friends rejected the distinction between clergy and laity, responsibility for the full range of Meeting activities has rested with the membership. Members are expected to take an active role in corporate worship, to share in the work and service of the Society, and to live in harmony with its basic beliefs and practices. This means participating in Meeting for Worship, Meeting for Business, and committee work, and giving time, skills, and financial support to Meeting activities such as religious education, pastoral care, and witness to the broader community.
Membership in a Monthly Meeting also confers membership in Quarterly and Yearly Meetings and the Religious Society of Friends. The strength of these bodies depends on the active involvement of members.Membership in a Monthly Meeting extends one’s joys and obligations to include the wider family of Friends around the world.
[back to top]
Preparation for Membership
An attender may wonder how to discern readiness for membership. Typically, one first becomes acquainted with a particular Meeting through regular attendance, at both Meeting for Worship and Meeting for Business, often for a year or more. Familiarity with the Meeting’s aspirations and ways may lead one to want to share in the responsibilities, difficulties and joys of its community. It is also important to become familiar with the history, principles and testimonies of the Religious Society of Friends, and with Pacific Yearly Meeting’s book of discipline, Faith and Practice.
Attenders realize that it is time to apply for membership in various ways. One may discover that the faith of Friends and their ways have become central to her or his life. A spiritual leading which becomes clear and strong tells some that it is time, while many others report that it is the sense of having found their true place, of being “at home” after long seeking. For some, there may be a feeling of identification with and a responsibility for the Meeting and the Religious Society of Friends. Such realizations may indicate a readiness for membership. Attenders who are not yet members are urged to attend to such leadings as to any other guidance in the Light.
[back to top]
Becoming a Member
All decisions concerning membership in the Religious Society of Friends are made in sessions of the Monthly Meeting, as Meetings seek to include in their membership all who find themselves in unity with their faith and practices. The procedure has several steps. It is seldom completed within less than three months. In some cases both the applicant and the Meeting may find it useful to take even more time for this process.
step 1: An applicant writes a letter to the Clerk of the Monthly Meeting expressing a desire to become a member. The letter need contain no more than a plain request although in some Meetings it is customary to provide some background. The Clerk promptly sends an acknowledgment on behalf of the Meeting, reads the letter at Business Meeting, and then gives it to the Oversight Committee.
step 2: The Overseers appoint a clearness committee consisting of two or three members, at least one of whom is an Overseer, to visit with the applicant. Great care should be taken to select sympathetic and discerning Friends who also have a strong understanding of the meaning and implications of membership. All visits take place in the spirit of a common worshipful seeking for God’s will and guidance. Sufficient time must be allowed to ensure mutual trust and understanding. The members of the committee meet with the applicant as often and for as long as necessary for both the applicant and the committee to discern the rightness of this relationship, and the readiness of the applicant. These visits provide an opportunity (a) for the visiting Friends to become acquainted with the applicant at a deeper level, (b) for the applicant to ask questions and (c) for preparing the applicant and the Meeting for this new membership.
step 3: When the clearness committee unites with the applicant in the request for membership, it reports to the Oversight Committee with its recommendation. If the committee feels the applicant is not yet ready for membership, they may encourage a wider experience with Friends’ beliefs and practices through additional reading, visits to other Monthly, Quarterly or Yearly Meetings, attendance at workshops, or other activities. Membership itself is not as important as the spiritual growth of the prospective member. If it becomes clear that more seasoning is required, the committee should set another time to meet again with the applicant. The committee should inform the Overseers and plan a time to report again, keeping the Meeting aware of continuing work on the application. If it becomes clear to the applicant or the clearness committee or both that membership is not advisable, the application may be withdrawn and the Meeting should so be informed. Regardless of the outcome, the applicant should be treated with gentleness and respect. He or she should be welcome to continue attending and participating in the life of the Meeting, just as prior to exploring the possibility of membership.
step 4: If the Overseers have a positive recommendation, they present it to the Meeting for Business. It is not acted on at that session, but is placed on the agenda for action at the next Business Meeting. This allows members to become better acquainted with the applicant and to voice concerns about the prospective membership to the Oversight Committee in advance of the decision. When the recommendation is brought back to the Meeting for action, it is customary in some meetings for the applicant to withdraw from the room during the deliberations. A Friend, often a member of the Oversight Committee, generally accompanies the applicant.
step 5: Upon approval of the application, the Meeting minutes its acceptance of the new member, and the Recorder or another designated person promptly completes Pacific Yearly Meeting membership forms.
step 6: The Meeting should arrange to provide a warm welcome into the community. A Quaker book or periodical may be presented as a gift from the Meeting.
[back to top]
Children and Membership
Pacific Yearly Meeting has no provision for birthright membership.
From birth, all children of the Meeting are under its care. Meetings must be aware of and responsive to the needs of its children, most particularly their spiritual needs. Meetings have a responsibility to help children develop a sense of security in their relationship to the Meeting and in their own identities as Friends. Children become aware of themselves as Friends, not only through attendance at Meeting for worship and religious instruction, but also through friendship with adults and participation in Meeting activities.
Some Meetings in Pacific Yearly Meeting and other Yearly Meetings recognize Junior Membership, which the parent(s) or the child may request at any time, from birth onward. However, there is no established category of Junior Membership in Pacific Yearly Meeting at this time. Junior membership generally ends when the young person reaches the age of 21, although he or she may apply for adult membership earlier. If a child who holds Junior Membership moves to a Meeting that does not recognize this, the practice of the new Monthly Meeting will apply. Some Monthly Meetings simply call all children whom they recognize as part of their community “Children of the Meeting.” Like an adult, a child of any age becomes a member by application. A young person’s request for membership should be considered according to the Meeting’s regular procedures.
Meetings should be very tender toward a young person’s application, making sure that she or he understands the meaning of membership and feels welcome to participate in the life of the Meeting. As there are seasons in a person’s life, Meetings must not expect each one to be able to do all that another can do at every age.
[back to top]
sojourning membership: The Religious Society of Friends is best served when membership is held in a Meeting near the member’s primary residence. Friends who expect to be residing temporarily near a Monthly Meeting which is not their own should ask their Meeting for a Minute of Sojourn , outlining the reasons for and the probable duration of their sojourn. If the home Meeting approves, a minute of sojourn is written and sent to the new Meeting. A minute of sojourn does not terminate the membership in the home Meeting. Friends who find that their stay will be prolonged beyond a year should seriously consider transferring their membership. When a minute of sojourn has been accepted, the Friend may participate fully in the visited Meeting, although their primary financial responsibility and their membership statistics remain with the home Meeting. Meetings care for sojourning members as they do their own. Decisions made and the consequences of those decisions remain the responsibility of the members of each Meeting. A sojourning membership terminates when the sojourner leaves the visited Meeting, whose Clerk should notify the home Meeting.
membership of isolated friends: Occasionally, a person who lives far from any Meeting or other Friends may seek membership. When a Meeting is willing to make a genuine, practical and lasting commitment to maintaining supportive contact, membership may be appropriate. When a Friend who is a Member of a Meeting moves to an isolated area, they and the home Meeting should try to locate a Meeting in that area. Membership in the Wider Quaker Fellowship† is an alternative way to obtain continual contact with Quaker thought and activity. FWCC accepts applications for membership in the Religious Society of Friends from isolated Friends worldwide through the London office.
dual membership: Meetings want to contribute to the wellbeing and health of all those who attend. For this reason, applicants are asked to be certain that they are whole-hearted in joining the Religious Society of Friends.Membership in another religious body, or even in another Yearly or Monthly Meeting, is difficult to maintain. Therefore, dual Membership is discouraged. There may be occasions when, for personal or family reasons, a person finds it essential to maintain membership elsewhere. In such a case, the individual Meeting may be willing to accept such a person into membership. The Friend would have the full responsibilities of membership in both congregations. When a member of the Meeting feels drawn to join another religious organization, the Meeting should labor with that member to determine an appropriate resolution.
applicants from preparative meetings and worship groups: When an attender of a Preparative Meeting or Worship Group wishes to become a member of the Religious Society of Friends, he or she does so by applying for membership in the overseeing Monthly Meeting, following the procedure outlined above. It may be difficult to consult if the two Meetings are a considerable distance apart, but such an application can provide an impetus for contact between the two groups involved in the process. Ideally, the clearness committee should include members from both the Preparative and the overseeing Monthly Meeting. It is important for the clearness committee to arrange sufficient time for satisfactory visits with the applicant. In the early stages of a Preparative Meeting, most of the responsibility for membership applications lies with the overseeing Meeting. As the group grows, its responsibility increases, but only the Monthly Meeting can accept members. The Overseers of the Monthly Meeting may ask the Preparative Meeting’s Oversight Committee to comment on a membership application. When it becomes a Monthly Meeting, the new Clerk sends to the former overseeing Meeting a list of all who wish to transfer their memberships to the new Meeting. These transfers are made promptly without the usual visiting committees.
[back to top]
The Religious Society of Friends values the attendance and participation of persons drawn to Friends whether or not they are Members of the Society. At the same time, the Society encourages concerned persons to consider membership as a way to increase opportunities for developing their religious lives. In general, non-members do not serve as officers, as members of the Worship and Ministry, Oversight or Nominating Committees, or as Clerks of most committees. Occasionally, Meetings find it wise to make an exception. The Overseers should be aware of the increasing interest or participation of an attender and discuss with her or him the question of membership. Non-member attenders may choose to be included as such in the Meeting’s list of names and addresses.
Their contributions are valued and respected; however, responsibility for decisions remains with the members of a Meeting. An ability and willingness to take an appropriate share of responsibility for matters under discussion, and for the life of the Meeting as a whole, gives weight to one’s participation in Meeting for Business.
[back to top]
Transfer of Membership
Ideally, an individual should hold membership in the Meeting where he or she is active.Where this is not so, there is a loss both to the individual and to the Meeting, as well as a failure to assume the responsibilities of membership. Membership is based on function, not sentiment. The love for an old Meeting is not transferable, nor should it be. Friends anticipate that appreciation and love for the new Meeting will grow through full participation in its life.
When a Friend moves to the vicinity of another Monthly Meeting, the clerk of Overseers of the original Meeting should write promptly to the Clerk of the new Meeting, recommending the member to its fellowship. Transfer of membership without undue delay is encouraged, but it is not automatic. Because Meetings vary greatly in style and character, transfer of membership deserves prayerful and thorough consideration. Both member and Meeting need to understand each other’s hopes and expectations to avoid future misunderstanding. Therefore, the Meeting appoints a visiting committee to share points of view and experience. The member and both Meetings are involved.
[back to top]
Termination of membership may be initiated by the member or by the Monthly Meeting. Membership of a Friend ceases when this action is formally minuted in the record of that Meeting for Business. Monthly Meetings need to keep in mind that some Friends may go through periods, sometimes prolonged, when their association with the life of the Meeting is tenuous, and it is important that the Meeting communicate with them. However, a membership based only on nostalgia, status, or inertia should not be continued. on the initiative of a member: A member who no longer feels in accord with the beliefs and practices of Friends should be encouraged to consult the Oversight Committee to explore that feeling before considering resignation.
When a member writes a letter of resignation, it is given to the Oversight Committee before being brought to the Monthly Meeting. When the person and the circumstances regarding termination are already well known to the Oversight Committee and they are satisfied that the member’s decision is clear, the Committee may make its recommendation to the Monthly Meeting without appointing an additional committee. If the reasons are not clear, Overseers should appoint a clearness committee of two or three persons, including one of its members, to visit the Friend and explore the reasons for the resignation. They may encourage the Friend to reconsider and continue in the fellowship of the Meeting. If the member’s intention remains unchanged, this is reported to the Oversight Committee, which in turn recommends to the Monthly Meeting that the request be granted.
The Meeting minutes the release of the Friend, stating that it is at the member’s request. The Clerk of the Meeting sends a letter to the resigning member by registered mail with return receipt requested. The letter should include a copy of the Meeting Minute that terminated the Membership and express the affectionate regard of the Meeting. The Meeting may consider renewed application from this person, according to the usual procedure for new members. If the resignation is due to a desire to join another religious body the Clerk may, at the request of the member, write a letter to the other denomination indicating that the individual has been released from the Religious Society of Friends.
on the initiative of a monthly meeting: When a member seems to have abandoned Meeting for Worship, or to have replaced it with some incompatible practice, Ministry and Oversight should seek clearness with that Friend as to whether resignation or termination of membership would be appropriate. If it becomes clear that the termination should go forward, Meeting for Business should minute the release of that person from membership in the Monthly Meeting and the Clerk should inform the individual of that action by registered mail with return receipt requested. One copy of the Minute should be placed in the Membership Record and another kept in the file of former members.
If a Friend shows no interest in the Religious Society of Friends over a prolonged period, or exhibits repeated disregard of Friends principles, a Monthly Meeting may initiate the release from membership. Such a member should be approached by a member of the Oversight Committee or by a small committee of its members, either in person or by correspondence, to clarify the relationship between the member and the Religious Society of Friends. If the committee and member reach clearness to terminate Membership, the recommendation should be brought to the Meeting for Business. Approval should be minuted and a copy of the minute, accompanied by a friendly note, should be sent to the former member.
If the Meeting repeatedly attempts to contact a member over an extended period of time and there is no response, the Oversight Committee may recommend to the Monthly Meeting that the individual’s membership be dropped. If the Meeting concurs, it should minute the circumstances and terminate the membership. The Clerk of the Meeting should send a note with a copy of the minute to the discontinued member promptly by registered mail with return receipt requested. If the address of a member is unknown, and the above procedure has been followed, a returned letter should be attached, unopened, to the Meeting copy along with the membership record in the file with the record of former members.
If a Friend by behavior or expression appears to harm the Meeting or to misrepresent Friends, the Oversight Committee should appoint a small committee to meet with the Friend. In a spirit of loving concern, this committee should counsel with the member, seeking to understand his or her views and actions. When termination of Membership must be considered, it should occur over a minimum of three Meetings for Business. If there appears to be no hope of restoring unity with the Meeting, the Oversight Committee should report to the Monthly Meeting, and recommend that the membership be terminated. The Meeting may then wish to appoint a special committee to confer further with the Friend before taking action. If that committee reports that there is still no hope of reconciliation, the Meeting should notify the member in writing of its intention to consider termination of the membership at a Meeting for Business. If the Meeting agrees that the membership should be terminated, a proposed minute should be written, noting that final approval will be sought at the Meeting for Business on the date scheduled. That minute should be sent to the individual by registered mail with return receipt requested. At the appointed Meeting for Business, the minute should be re-read to the Meeting for its approval.
A Monthly Meeting or member may approach the Quarterly Meeting’s Oversight Committee to help find clearness if problems arise regarding ending a membership. Procedures designed to promote clarity amid difficult circumstances are not intended to displace kindness and loving care for individuals’ spiritual life.Using registered mail and following procedures precisely may avoid misunderstandings and be helpful to the Meeting in case of legal action.
[back to top]
Source: Excerpted from Pacific Yearly Meeting, Procedures, Membership, 2001