What we have in common is not our ideas, but our selves.
Gusten Lutter, Mountain View Monthly Meeting, 2003
The Religious Society of Friends is a community of faith
based on individual and mutually shared direct and unmediated experience of the
Divine. Friends worship and grow in the Spirit together, open and obedient to
the Power within, by which we believe all may be guided. Friends welcome all
visitors, inviting them to return frequently and become regular attenders. The
Society desires to include in its membership all persons who find themselves in
unity with its faith and practices or are committed to aspiring toward that
unity. The meeting consists of its members and faithful attenders. We share
ourselves without distinction; membership acknowledges a deeper commitment to
the affairs of the monthly meeting.
Persons finding themselves in or seeking unity may apply
for membership in a monthly meeting of the Intermountain Yearly Meeting of
the Religious Society of Friends. Membership signals a readiness to join
in the common effort of the Society to seek and follow the Inner Light. This
readiness involves some experience and understanding of that Light as it is
known by Friends: a reality that guides and directs, gives strength to act upon
that guidance, and brings unity with the Spirit of God. Membership in a monthly
meeting also involves sustained commitment.
As members have responsibility toward the meeting, so has
the meeting responsibility toward its members. Members are the immediate family
of the Society, and although all those associated with the meeting fall under
its loving care, it is for the membership that the meeting carries primary
responsibility. Historically, this responsibility included provision not only
of spiritual support but also of material assistance to members experiencing economic
hardship. This custom continues in many meetings. A meeting’s broad
responsibilities to its members include, but are not limited to: mutual
support, charity, guidance, empowerment, and forgiveness.
Ever since early Friends rejected the distinction between
priesthood and laity, responsibility for the full range of meeting activities
has rested with the membership. Meetings are enriched by members who take an
active role in corporate worship, share in the work and service of the Society,
and live in harmony with its basic beliefs and practices. Friends make a
spiritual vocation a responsibility of all members. Membership involves
a willingness to attend meetings regularly, both those for worship and those
for business; to give service through committees and otherwise as the way
opens; and to share in financial responsibilities. Responsibility for the
meeting and its decisions resides with and is ultimately retained by the
members of the meeting.
Throughout the history of the Religious Society of
Friends, the community has been led by the Light shining through individual
Friends, just as the Light of the community has called individual Friends back
from what George Fox called “wandering in notions.” Friends’ suspicion of
concretely formulated creeds, confessions, and doctrines comes out of respect
for this dynamically unfolding experience and charges the individual and the
community to challenge and test each other. This mutual discernment does not
always work to perfection—sometimes we reach premature judgment; sometimes we
fall into inertia. Nevertheless, by undertaking membership we agree to open
ourselves—and our understanding of the Light—to the testing of the community.
Likewise, when we accept individuals into the community we publicly acknowledge
that their leading and measure of Light may open us to new understanding and
action. As one applicant for membership said,
I feel very strongly that the spiritual life absolutely
requires that we should not remain isolated. It is this deep need of getting
out of a prolonged and dangerous relative isolation which urges me to be
admitted among the Quakers. It is more and more clear to me that it is only in
the bosom of a religious family, freely but strongly constituted, that the
individual can render to the world the services it sorely needs. . . .
Pierre Ceresole in a letter of application for
membership to London Yearly Meeting, 1936.
as quoted in Britain Yearly Meeting Quaker Faith &
Practice: The Book of Christian Discipline
of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in
Britain, 1994, section 10.29.
Attenders and Membership
When I walked into the silence of my first meeting for
worship, I knew I was home.
Sentiment expressed by many Friends
People are attracted to the Religious Society of Friends for
many reasons. Some discover a community that supports their quest for a
personal experience of the Divine, and others find a context within which to
live out a life of discipleship. Many have had disappointing or unfulfilling
experiences in other faith communities and find among Friends the freedom and
support to explore their own leadings. Still others see Friends as a socially
engaged and politically active community.
Meeting members are encouraged to get acquainted with
attenders and to be available to them for mutual spiritual support and
guidance. The meeting invites regular attenders to participate in its life.
Attenders are encouraged to take part in the various activities of the meeting,
to attend meeting for business, and at the discretion of the monthly meeting,
to serve on committees. Attendance at regional (quarterly or half-yearly)
meetings, Intermountain Yearly Meeting, and other gatherings of Friends can
provide attenders with a deeper understanding of Friends than participation in
just a monthly meeting typically allows. Familiarity with Friends’ way of
worship, manner of conducting business, organizational structure, finances, and
major spiritual and historical writings, as well as Friends’ periodicals and
enriches the quality of attenders’ participation in and experience of the
The Religious Society of Friends values the presence and
participation of all persons drawn to Friends. Attenders nourished through
their involvement with the meeting, familiar with and enriched by Friends’
basic beliefs and practices, and desiring to undertake some responsibilities
within the meeting are encouraged to apply for membership. The meeting
committee charged with membership should be aware of and responsive to
attenders who appear to be approaching readiness for membership. Similarly,
attenders who feel ready to consider membership may broach the topic with any
member of the meeting or with someone on the committee overseeing membership.
You’ve been acting like a member for a long time. Don’t
you think it’s time to make it official?
Barney Aldrich, Mountain View Friends Meeting
Preparing and Applying for Membership
Remember that moral and spiritual achievement is not
what is required in an applicant: sincerity of purpose is. Complete agreement
with all our testimonies is not necessary. It is important for the life of the
Society that the applicant is broadly in unity with the views and practices of
Friends. Many applicants have too lofty an idea of the Society, and of the
quality of the lives of its members. They should be warned of possible
Britain Yearly Meeting, Quaker Faith & Practice:
The Book of Christian Discipline of the Yearly
of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in
1994, section 11.17.
Membership in the Religious Society of Friends is held
within a monthly meeting. The membersof the monthly meeting welcome inquiries
about membership and other matters concerning the Society. Friends encourage
informal conversations as one step toward applying for membership. It is
important that the meeting help newcomers understand the membership process and
how it differs from that of other denominations.
As a person becomes acquainted with a particular monthly
meeting and with Friends’ ways by participating in the life of the meeting, he
or she may feel led to consider membership. Preparation for membership involves
regular participation in the life of a meeting over a period of time (often
more than a year), including meetings for worship, meetings for business,
committee service, and other activities. Additionally, attenders interested in
membership benefit from a familiarity with written materials about the history
and principles of the Religious Society of Friends; particular attention is
invited to readings about Friends’ testimonies and to the Intermountain Yearly
Meeting’s book of discipline, Faith and Practice. These preparations are
assumed to accompany a prospective member’s sense of being a part of the
community as well as a strong spiritual persuasion.
A sense of readiness to apply for membership can come to
an attender in a variety of ways. One may discover that the faith and practice
of Friends has become central to her or his life. Another may feel a spiritual
leading that becomes increasingly clear and strong. A third may report a sense
of having found the right place, of being “at home” after long seeking. Others
may identify with and feel a responsibility toward the meeting and the
Religious Society of Friends.
The application procedure for membership involves several
An applicant writes a letter expressing her or his desire to pursue membership
in the meeting. Depending on the meeting, this letter is directed to the Clerk
or to the designated meeting committee charged with overseeing requests for
membership. This letter need be no more than a plain request to apply for
membership. Customarily, an applicant also includes an account of his or her
background and how he or she reached the decision to apply for membership. The
request for membership is announced at the meeting for business following it’s
receipt, and the letter may be read. The letter is turned over to the
appropriate meeting committee (and eventually is archived).
The meeting for business or the meeting committee responsible for
membership appoints a clearness committee to meet and talk with the applicant.
Care should be taken to select discerning Friends who have a strong
understanding of the meaning and implications of membership. It is helpful if
the applicant knows at least one member of the committee. The applicant may
request that certain Friends be appointed to the clearness committee; the
choice, however, is ultimately made by the meeting for business or the
responsible meeting committee. Members of the monthly meeting are invited to
become better acquainted with applicants and to voice approval or concerns to
The members of the clearness committee meet with the applicant to
explore his or her commitment to the faith and practice of Friends and to
discern together the readiness of the applicant and the meeting. All visits take
place in the spirit of a common, worshipful seeking for God’s will and
guidance. Providing sufficient time allows opportunities for (a) the clearness
committee to become acquainted with the applicant, (b) the applicant to ask
questions, and (c) the meeting and the applicant to become clear about the
request for membership. (See, at the end of this chapter, a list of suggested
topics to be covered during clearness committee meetings.)
The clearness committee reports the results of its process to the
meeting for business or responsible meeting committee. If the clearness
committee feels that the applicant is not yet ready for membership, it may
encourage her or him to seek wider experience with Friends’ beliefs and
practices through additional reading; visits to other monthly, regional, or
yearly meetings; and/or 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 needed, the
clearness committee will arrange to continue meeting with the applicant and
will keep the meeting informed.
If it becomes clear to the applicant, the clearness committee, or both
that membership is not advisable, the application may be withdrawn, and the
meeting is informed. Regardless of the outcome, Friends endeavor to treat all
applicants with gentleness and respect. Friends welcome continued attendance
and participation in the life of the meeting on the part of the applicant, just
as before the possibility of membership was explored.
If the committee recommends membership, it presents its recommendation
and report to the meeting for business for approval. A decision regarding the
membership may be reached during that meeting for business, or the report may
be seasoned for one month with approval being sought at the next meeting for
Upon approval of an application for membership, the meeting minutes its
acceptance of the new member, and his or her name is added to the membership
records. Membership in the monthly meeting also confers membership in the
regional meeting and Intermountain Yearly Meeting, as well as in the worldwide
body of the Religious Society of Friends.
The meeting provides a warm welcome into the community for the new
Some meetings retain a tradition of having members of the clearness
committee remain available to the new member for continued support and
enfoldment into the community.
Children and Membership
From birth, all children of the meeting are under its care.
Intermountain Yearly Meeting has no provision for birthright membership.
Each monthly meeting has different ways of designating the children and young
people in the community. In some, they are given the designation of junior or
associate Friends either at birth or upon the request of their parents. Birthright Friend
remains a term used by some in Intermountain Yearly Meeting for children
raised within the meeting. Regardless of the terminology applied to children in
individual meetings, all children of the yearly meeting are equal and due the
same consideration and care.
Meetings are responsible for helping young Friends assess
their spiritual development, understand the faith and practice of Friends, and
discern their relationship with and readiness for membership in the Society.
Children and young adults may apply for membership according to the
meeting’s regular procedures. Meetings are urged to treat a young applicant
with tenderness and care. The clearness committee is charged with ensuring that
the applicant understands the meaning of membership and feels not only welcome
but also prepared to participate fully in the life of the meeting.
Many young people wish to be acknowledged as part of the
community of Friends for the purposes of support in conscientious objection to
military service or upon application to Friends colleges, universities, or
agencies. When these individuals have been under the care of the meeting and
active in the community, demonstrating their unity with Friends’ principles and
beliefs, such written acknowledgment should be provided regardless of their
official designation regarding membership.
Membership is generally held in a meeting near the
member’s primary residence. Friends who expect to be residing temporarily near
a different monthly meeting may ask their meeting for a minute of sojourn. This
minute, written and signed by the home meeting’s clerk, customarily outlines
the reasons for and the probable duration of the member’s sojourn. If the home
meeting approves, a minute of sojourn is written for each family member and
sent to the new meeting.
Typically, a sojourning Friend may participate fully in
the life of the visited meeting. Meetings are encouraged to welcome sojourning
Friends warmly and to extend to them the same care due a member. A sojourning
membership terminates when the sojourner leaves the visited meeting. The clerk
of the visited meeting notifies the home meeting of the sojourning Friend’s
departure, returning the sojourning minute to the home meeting. Friends who
find that their stay will be prolonged should consider transferring their
Transfer of Membership
Ideally, an individual holds
membership in the meeting he or she regularly attends. Attending one meeting
while holding membership in another can result in a loss to the individual and
to the meetings involved. The member may not receive adequate support from
either meeting. Likewise, the member may fail to assume the responsibilities of
membership in either meeting. Although membership is based primarily on
spiritual ties, it also assumes a willingness to share in the responsibilities
of a meeting. When a Friend moves to the vicinity of another monthly meeting,
the clerk of the original meeting should write promptly to the clerk of the new
meeting recommending the member to its fellowship.
When a member desires to transfer membership, that member
must request a letter of transfer from the home meeting. If the transfer is
accepted, the receiving meeting sends a letter to that effect to the former
meeting. A clearness committee can be offered or requested; clearness
committees are available to anyone requesting a transfer.
Membership of Distant Friends
Occasionally, a person may seek membership in a meeting that
is at some distance from their residence. 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 moves to an isolated
area, the Friend and the home meeting should try to locate a meeting in that
area. Resources available to those living at some distance from a meeting
include Friends’ publications, webpages, the other branches of Friends
throughout the country, and the Wider Quaker Fellowship. Attendance at the
yearly meeting, retreats, the Annual Gathering of Friends General Conference,
and workshops offered through Pendle Hill or Ben Lomond should be encouraged,
as they can provide opportunities for fellowship.
Monthly meetings within
Intermountain Yearly Meeting vary in their acceptance of dual membership.
Friends are advised to avoid contradictions and to maintain honesty and
integrity in their affiliation with any religious body or organization. Should
a member of the meeting be drawn to join another religious organization, the
use of a clearness committee is recommended.
Applicants from Preparative Meetings and
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 for membership outlined
above. The responsible monthly meeting appoints a clearness committee, which
includes people from both the monthly meeting and the preparative meeting or
worship group, if possible. The responsible committee of the monthly meeting
may ask the worship group or preparative meeting’s responsible committee to
comment on a membership application.
Most of the responsibility for membership applications
rests with the overseeing monthly meeting during the early development of a
preparative meeting. As the preparative meeting matures, its responsibility
increases. Only a monthly meeting can accept members, however.
When a preparative meeting becomes a monthly meeting, the
clerk of the new meeting sends the former overseeing meeting a list of all
those desiring transfer of their membership to the new meeting. These transfers
are made promptly, not needing to follow the usual clearness committee process.
Termination of Membership
Termination of membership in a monthly meeting
simultaneously ends membership in the Religious Society of Friends. Termination
of membership may be initiated either by a member or by the monthly meeting.
Membership ceases formally when the termination is minuted by the meeting
A member may resign from the Religious Society of Friends by
writing a letter to the clerk of the monthly meeting. Any member considering
ending her or his membership is encouraged to request a clearness committee to
examine the motivations for termination. Is she or he no longer in accord with
the faith and practice of Friends? Has she or he not been involved actively in
the monthly meeting over a significant period of time? When the monthly meeting
minutes acceptance of the Friend’s resignation, acknowledging that it is at the
member’s request, the meeting sends a letter to the resigning member that
includes a copy of the meeting minute. Meetings are encouraged to send
correspondence regarding termination of membership by certified mail with
return receipt requested. Letters written in acceptance of a resignation customarily
manifest considerate regard for the person leaving membership.
When a member resigns without seeking clearness, the
meeting is not absolved from further care. Customarily, the monthly meeting
appoints a committee to visit with or otherwise contact the Friend and inquire
about the reasons for the resignation.
If a member resigns out of a desire to join another
religious body, the monthly meeting will, at the request of the member, write a
letter to the other denomination indicating that the individual is no longer a
member of the Religious Society of Friends.
A monthly meeting may remove
from membership an individual who (1) exhibits a persistent lack of interest in
or responsibility toward the obligations of membership, (2) fails repeatedly to
reply to communications from the meeting, (3) cannot be located by
conscientious effort, or (4) exhibits repeated
disregard for Friends’ principles.
Customarily, monthly meetings periodically contact
long-absent members. 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 due to difficult life circumstances, illnesses, or other
crises. Meetings should make every effort to clarify the circumstances of a
member’s absence as well as the relationship between the member and the
Religious Society of Friends.
If the monthly meeting—after conscientious effort over an
extended period of time—receives no response from and cannot locate a member,
it may consider termination of membership for that person. If the monthly
meeting unites regarding the termination, it minutes the circumstances and ends
the membership. The monthly meeting sends a letter that includes a copy of the
minute to the former member, preferably by certified mail with return receipt
requested. When the address of a member is unknown and the above procedure has
been followed, the returned letter should be attached, unopened, to the meeting
copy and filed in the membership record for former members.
If a Friend, by conduct or publicly expressed views,
appears to be disregarding the faith and practice of the Religious Society of
Friends or to be misrepresenting Friends so that the meeting or its
undertakings are harmed by the person’s membership, the concern should be
communicated to the committee charged with ministry and counsel.
- If the
committee finds warrant in the concern, it can meet with or appoint a
clearness committee to meet with the member and any other individual
involved, seeking through a spirit of loving
concern to understand the member’s views and actions. This process
must be handled with sensitivity and may need to be carried out in
confidence. The clearness committee brings its findings and a recommendation
to the originating committee. If the clearness committee finds
insufficient grounds for removal, it is encouraged to make recommendations
on how to facilitate reconciliation. If
there appears to be no hope of restoring unity between the member and the meeting,
the clearness committee recommends termination of membership. If
action by the monthly meeting is recommended, a minute is sent to the
clerk of the monthly meeting to this effect.
the clerk places the recommendation on the agenda of the monthly meeting,
a letter is sent to the person concerned, inviting his or her presence and
offering time to speak in response to the minute. This letter, sent
preferably by certified mail with return receipt requested, must be
received in sufficient time to allow the person to respond in person or in
minute is read at the monthly meeting. The individual whose membership is
under consideration may address the meeting regarding the proposed action
and related circumstances. After adequate seasoning, no sooner than at the
following meeting for business, the monthly meeting may unite in a
decision. The individual concerned, if present, is asked to stand aside
when the decision is made. The decision of the monthly meeting is minuted
and sent to the individual, again preferably by certified mail with return
A monthly meeting or member may request assistance from a
nearby meeting 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 an individual’s
A person whose membership has been terminated either by
resignation or by action of the monthly meeting and who desires to rejoin the same
or a different monthly meeting may do so by following the procedure outlined
earlier for application for membership.
Membership rolls should be kept current. Accurate
accounting of new memberships and transfers, deaths, and removal of members
should be recorded and reported in the yearly meeting census. Customarily,
regular attenders are listed along with members in a meeting directory.
Suggested Queries and Topics for Use by a
Clearness Committee on Membership
The test of membership is not a particular kind of
religious experience, nor acceptance of any particular religious, social or
economic creed. Sincere religious experience and right religious belief are
both important, but develop in the course of participation in the activities of
the meeting. Anyone who can become so integrated with a meeting that he helps
the whole and the whole helps him is qualified to become a member.
Friends for 350 Years, Pendle Hill Publications, 2002, p.
The queries and topics listed below often arise naturally in
the course of a clearness committee meeting with an applicant for membership.
They are intended to clarify any questions the applicant may have about
membership and the workings of the meeting, to help committee members become
acquainted with the applicant on a deeper level, and to enable the committee
members to share about their spiritual lives with the applicant. All clearness
committee meetings are held in a worshipful manner of openness and caring. It
may be appropriate to hold several meetings.
are some milestones along your spiritual journey?
- How do
you expect membership in the meeting to contribute to your spiritual
have you experienced and come to understand the Light?
- How do
you quiet yourself and open yourself to the Spirit?
does the Religious Society of Friends meet your needs for worship and
- How is
Quakerism a “way of life” for you?
does your association with the Religious Society of Friends challenge you?
attracted you to Friends’ articulated faith and practices? Are there some
that you find puzzling or disturbing? In what ways do the advices and
queries speak to you?
of the testimonies of Friends speak most strongly to you? Which
testimonies challenge you most?
- How do
you respond to the fact that Quakerism is rooted in Christianity but
Friends differ in their views of Jesus and the role of Biblical
does the variety of religious language and expressions describing Friends’
spiritual experiences fit or differ from your own? How might differences
between the views you hold and the views held by other Friends affect your
spiritual life and the life of the meeting?
- How do
you feel you can contribute to the meeting’s conduct of business?
- How do
you envision the meeting supporting and contributing to your faith and
might you contribute to the faith and spiritual development of others in
- How do
you envision supporting the nurture and religious education of the
is your experience with the wider family of Friends, including the
regional meeting, Intermountain Yearly Meeting, Friends General
Conference, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Friends World
Committee on Consultation, and the American Friends Service Committee,
among other groups?
- How do
you know that you are led to make this meeting your spiritual home?
in your experience, contributes to manifesting qualities of worship while
business is conducted? What interferes with business being conducted in a
worshipful manner? What is your experience of the process and outcome of
decision making among Friends?
is your understanding of the financial practices of the monthly meeting?
- How do
you anticipate that your membership in a Friends meeting may affect your
Do you have any questions or other matters you want to
discuss with us?
For example, American Friends’ Service Committee (AFSC), Friends’ Committee on
National Legislation (FCNL), Friends’ World Committee for Consultation (FWCC),
or Friends’ General Conference (FGC).