Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Join Us

RantWoman has been thinking lately of some questions, queries, quibbles, qualification, equivocations and querulous, queasy comments about themes related to membership in the Religious Society of Friends..

These questions have congealed as a result of two events. First a friend who is about to move away has requested membership in our meeting. Historically, this just ISN'T DONE, primarily one supposes because of the difficulties of maintaining community and connection from a distance. The more RantWoman considers this person's ministries, the clearer RantWoman becomes that this person is already unquestionably a Quaker and the only question is how best to recognize this, how best to nurture and help her develop real gifts and deep leadings.

RantWoman is clear that provision needs to be made to nurture the spiritual lives of people in this situation. RantWoman is less clear about her meeting's capacity to provide full community at a distance; however RantWoman is considering this Friend's unspoken ministry of sharing the workings of different meetings in ways that, well, cause her to be very grateful for her own Meeting. If RantWoman is unsure of her own Meeting's capacity in this area, RantWoman is also clear and not just self-congratulatory that her own meeting does a much better job of nurturing the ministry of attenders than others do.

The person who applied for membership and her wife are still in the moving around and getting credentials phase of life. It is likely to be a couple more years at least before they settle down and have a home in one place. To make matters worse, different meetings are either more parsimonious or more open-hearted about the extent to which they work to nurture the ministries of people who are not members. Also highly variable: the amount of hopping through baroque processes prospective members are subjected to.

To put it bluntly, RantWoman thinks both of these points may be silly! RantWoman is all for discernment, the good order of Friends and all that Quakerese that is supposed to ensure that decisions are well-considered, rooted in unity. However, it does not appear to RantWoman that the Religious Society of Friends is overrun with aspiring members. Nor does it seem to RantWoman that the society is in danger of getting carried off in the excesses of youth.

In fact, RantWoman notes concerns recently expressed both within her Yearly Meeting and in quick scans of materials from blogs based in other Yearly Meetings: Friends would like the incorporation of young adults who have grown up in Friends Meetings into adult roles to be much smoother and automatic than in currently is. RantWoman also notes vague concern about transfers of efforts to new generations, about renewal of energy, and numerous other cross-generational themes. In short, RantWoman thinks many meetings could do a much better job of incorporating new seekers into membership than is currently the norm. Conveniently, at least in North Pacific Yearly Meeting both youth and weighty Friends are raising questions related to this point.

RantWoman does find herself wanting to dispatch some of those exercised about these topics on a comparative religions research project.

What does membership mean and when does it occur for practitioners of other faiths?

What could Friends learn from studying this? What opportunities occur, quite regularly in RantWoman's meeting, for clumps of young visitors to provide dialogue about this topic, for instance in the process of doing their homework after attending Meeting for Worship?

Does membership involve reaffirming one's community only with others one feels connected to or should membership serve as a bond with a whole network one might or might not know at the time of one's commitment and might be willing or inclined to explore after joining?

Is it too plainspoken to speak of membership in a meeting the same way one speaks of driver's licenses? The assumption is that one gets membership geographically close to where one lives. One then joins the vast universe of drivers, not just 20-something drivers or teenage drivers or whatever but all drivers. There is no need for 20-somethings to invent a special multi-jurisdiction license for 20-somethings. They simply get their local license and move on.

Okay despite the risk of prejudging the conversation by weighing with the last point, RantWoman thinks there is indeed much to consider here and meanwhile she is glad the one Friend referred to here is now a member of her Meeting if only because RantWoman really enjoys having met in person the people whose blogs she reads regularly.


  1. Thank you for exploring this important topic.

    Since January, our meeting has been having small group discussions at the rise of meeting on "Frequently Asked Quaker Questions." The most popular topic so far was, "How do you become a member?"

    You wrote: "There is no need for 20-somethings to invent a special multi-jurisdiction license for 20-somethings. They simply get their local license and move on."

    Interesting thought experiment. Yet if you move, you have to tell the state your new address. And if you move to a new state, you're supposed to get a new license.

    Perhaps if one moves within the same yearly meeting, transfer of membership could happen automatically, upon request. And if one moves to another yearly meeting, then the transfer could happen with a slightly more formal exchange of correspondence, but without a lot of process unless there was a specific reason for it.

  2. The special driver's license bit refers to a proposal by some Young Friends in our Yearly Meeting to have some kind of membership at the Yearly Meeting Level. When Friends gather, people spend lots of time in age-cohort-specific activities. Also many Young Friends' only connection is to each other at large gatherings, not to a specific Monthly Meeting.

    RantWoman generally thinks that it is the responsibility of both ends of the generation gap to reach out: Young Adult Friends should reach out to ask what current convention is; older adults should reach out and have their eyes out and ears open for promising young people who might be interested in and likely also gifted at Quaker matters.

    No one is born knowing how to be a Quaker and cultivating the faith among people new to Quakerism for whatever reason is a special and important ministry.

  3. This is just my personal opinion, and my opinion may be based on the fact that I am a Convinced Friend vs. a Birthright Friend.

    I never understood the formality of membership to a Meeting. I understand the reasons for transfer of Membership and becoming a member just for the reason of record keeping, but the actual formality of clearness committees/membership committees and the whole idea of having to approve a new member's transfer from another Meeting.

    Two of the basic testomonies of Friends, Simplicity and Equality, are my main focus here. Simplicity....what is simplistic in having to gather a commitee to review an attender's wish to join Meeting? Or to submit a letter of transfer from one Meeting to another and be approved by the new Meeting, having to have the new Meeting decide if you were a member of good standing in the other Meeting(again, other than record keeping).

    Equality....who are we to question another member's or attender's Inner Light, their faith, their Leadings? We are all to be equal, yet a committee is gathered and meets with an attender who has requested membership in order to question their faith. Then it is decided whether they are worthy of membership. This is something that I totally disagree with. I feel that if an attender is genuine enough in their leading to become an actual member, then that should be granted without judgement. I'm not saying that someone off the street walks in and becomes a member, but if an attender has been active enough or attended several times and feels that Quakerism is their "fit", then that's wonderful. Afterall, seekers come to Quakerism, Quakers do not seek out members.

    Just my opinion.

  4. MaryJo, you raise an interesting question about questioning another's relation to the Divine. RantWoman alas is the sort of judgmental person who would quite freely and flagrantly question the relation of another to the Divine especially if this is someone she disagrees with and is having trouble imagining why God even bothers about.

    But seriously, the times when RantWoman's meeting has stumbled about someone's request for membership have been, in RantWoman's memory, over military employment (those Friends eventually decided they liked being Catholic better anyway), over bisexuality (RantWoman is still debating whether she needed to know despite the testimony on integrity), over atheism (cannot remember any holdup, but not sure), and recently about the Friend who will soon be moving.

    In general, North Pacific is a lot less into birthright membership than, RantWoman believes, other Yearly Meetings. I suspect that is partly Pacific YM / NPYM's historical "a plague on all your schisms" perspective. RantWoman's Monthly Meeting has junior membership and our current Oversight committee is fairly diligen about encouraging people approaching their 21st birthday to strongly consider their leadings to join and dropping them if they don't RantWoman thinks this makes for tidy accounting as far as things like Yearly Meeting dues and perhaps about attention to sense of connection, but RantWoman is definitely thinking about your "who are we to question another's relation to the divine:?" thoughts.

    I wonder whether the clearness process for membership is as much about discerning whether a given community can handle another Friend's particular relation to the Divine as about that Friend's actual relation to the Divine. Presumably, those who arrive from elsewhere and want to transfer their membership have already been found tolerable by other Friends and therefore the new Meeting might have reason to feel more at ease than with some kind of convinced rabble (RantWoman perhaps exaggerates) off the street.

    RantWoman herself got baptized by her Presbyterian grandfather and spent a good spell in her teenage years among Baptists who think everyone should explicitly make decisions to join and then get dunked about it too. RantWoman's family all joined the Baptist Church at once. We were all interlopers among some local dynasties anyway and RantWoman remembers being quite clear that once with the baptism was enough Thank you very much. RantWoman does not really remember the precise steps that persuaded the church simply to accept us all withouta mass dunking, but in light of her memories of her grandfather she is very grateful.