Becoming a Member
Personal and group worship is the vital center of Friends' religious life. It is important that those who desire to join the Society of Friends attend meeting for worship regularly. Regular attendance at the meeting for worship establishes personal responsibility for sharing in the search for divine guidance, a responsibility that must continue if membership is to be fruitful both for the individual and for the group.
By careful reading of this book of Faith and Practice, by discussion with meeting members, and by study of the literature interpreting Friends' beliefs, applicants can gain a sympathetic understanding of Friends' mode of worship, the transaction of business, and the responsibilities of membership.
When, on the basis of this understanding, a person feels moved to apply for membership, application should be made in writing to the monthly meeting. The letter should state why the applicant feels drawn into the fellowship of Friends, and to what extent he or she is in unity with Friends' principles and testimonies. Before the application is considered by the monthly meeting, it is sent to Ministry and Counsel. When an applicant for membership brings a letter from another religious denomination, this document should also be presented to Ministry and Counsel together with the applicant's own letter.
Ministry and Counsel or Friends appointed by Ministry and Counsel will instruct and guide the applicant as seems appropriate. They should inquire by personal visits into the applicant's earnestness and conviction concerning Friends' principles, and they should satisfy themselves that the applicant desires to live in a manner consistent with these principles. Although preparatory proceedings, outlined above, have been followed, nevertheless the method and spirit in which Friends' meetings for worship and for business are conducted should be carefully explained to the applicant, together with such responsibilities implied by membership as faithful attendance at meetings for worship and business, service on committees, a willingness to share a just portion of the financial support of the meeting, and participation in larger Friends' groups.
If Ministry and Counsel reports favorably, the monthly meeting may then receive the applicant into membership. If Friends feel the need to become better acquainted with the prospective member, action may be postponed. Sometimes a special committee is appointed to call on the applicant as a means of facilitating better acquaintance.
When an application has been approved, the monthly meeting records the acceptance into membership, furnishes the new member with a copy of the approving minute, and may appoint a welcoming committee.
An application for membership in the monthly meeting which comes with a letter releasing the applicant from another denomination is dealt with in the same way as described above. A Friend wishing to reaffirm membership which is held as a result of parental request (see page 237) also follows this procedure.
Other applications may come by certificates of transfer of membership from another monthly meeting. Although the last will ordinarily be dealt with without delay, all these applications are initially referred to Ministry and Counsel.
Membership by Parental Request
Monthly meetings record minor children as junior members upon (a) request of both parents if they are members of the meeting; (b) request of a member parent and consent of a non-member parent; (c) request of a guardian; and (d) under other appropriate circumstances upon recommendation of Ministry and Counsel. Members so recorded are counted in the monthly meeting's statistical reports.
Enrolling children as junior members in this way is an expression of the conviction that children and young people have a special interest in and claim upon the Society. It should earnestly foster their spiritual well-being and growth. As spiritual maturity develops in parallel with an understanding of Quaker principles, such members are expected when the time seems right to express in writing to Ministry and Counsel their wish to affirm and continue their membership in the monthly meeting. (See Chapter 3, Duties of Ministry and Counsel.) Ministry and Counsel then meets with the Friend, just as in the case of a new application for membership, and reports to the monthly meeting for business on the suitability of the proposed continuation of membership. The monthly meeting will welcome this letter whenever the junior member feels moved to write it; this should be no later than age twenty-five unless the member expresses in writing to the meeting a need for more time to consummate the decision. At age twenty-five any such junior member who has neither written in this way to the monthly meeting nor indicated a likelihood of doing so shortly thereafter will be removed from the rolls; but it will be made clear that a future application for membership will be considered sympathetically by the monthly meeting.
Junior members should be encouraged to attend both meeting for worship and meeting for business and also, if it can be arranged, to work as members of meeting committees. Some meetings appoint for each junior member an older Friend to serve as counselor, with whom the boy or girl might feel free to discuss the development of religious faith and the responsibilities of meeting membership.
A monthly meeting may accept as sojourning members persons maintaining membership in other Friends' meetings who wish to be associated with the local monthly meeting while residing temporarily within its area. Their wishes in this connection should be set forth by minutes or letters from their home meetings. It is expected of such members that they will share as fully as they conveniently can in all aspects of the meeting's activities, including meeting for worship, meeting for business, committee service, and financial support.
Such membership is not counted in statistical reports and ceases when the host meeting informs the home meeting that the sojourner has left the area of the meeting or has become inactive.