Committees of the Meeting

Meetings have found it useful to identify specific needs and assign them to committees. Committee responsibilities, as described below, include caring for the meeting’s members (and their spiritual development), its meeting for worship, its property and other resources, and its religious education, outreach and social action. Meeting committees, or their clerks, may occasionally meet together to assess the meeting’s programs and activities, recognizing both what has been done well and what needs to be completed or done better. (See Section VII. Guidelines for a Spiritual Self-assessment of the Meeting and the Meeting Checklist.)

In addition to fulfilling designated functions, committees also serve the meeting by preparing for decisions to be made at the monthly meeting for business. They identify the issues, gather useful information, and make seasoned recommendations. The meeting can then focus on the issues and, with divine assistance, discern what needs to be done.

Committees form the structure of the meeting and do the meeting’s work. The committees most commonly established by meetings can be identified according to the work they do. Larger meetings may further divide these tasks and add more committees, while smaller meetings may combine tasks and assign them to fewer committees, or to a “committee of the whole.”

Care for the Quality of Worship and Ministry A committee on worship and ministry nurtures the spiritual life of the meeting and its members attend meeting for worship regularly. The members of this committee are seasoned in Friends practice of worship and are good listeners, able “to hear beyond words.” The committee nurtures the spiritual gifts of members and attenders, with appreciation for the diversity of such gifts and also the diversity of prior religious traditions and experience often represented in a meeting’s membership. It encourages those who bring depth to vocal ministry and those who are hesitant to speak.

The committee encourages Friends to allow time for study, meditation, prayer and other preparations for worship, in order to become open to the leadings of the Spirit. Some meetings support their members’ participation in spiritual formation programs or the School of the Spirit to enhance the quality of ministry in the meeting for worship. (See Section V. School of the Spirit.) The committee can also provide loving guidance to those whose ministry does not appear to come from deep centeredness in the Spirit.

The committee recognizes and addresses repeated behavior that disrupts shared worship. The committee—not an individual—makes the decision to speak for the meeting with a person whose vocal ministry is not helpful. Such intervention requires sensitivity and an understanding of how difficult it is to receive an admonition. The committee intervenes for the sake of the well-being of the meeting as a whole.

The committee may also welcome the contributions of children and young people in meeting for worship and it may have a special role in recognizing their spiritual contributions. The murmurings of the very young and the bustle of children can enrich the meeting community.

The committee on worship and ministry:

  • Nurtures vocal ministry and the ministry of stillness—the committee gives appropriate attention to the quality of the vocal ministry and of the ministry of stillness that springs from centered silence. At times the committee may need to address those who speak frequently in meeting for worship to help them respond to divine promptings, not human habits.
  • Teaches by example—members of the committee teach by example as much as by precept. They are often chosen for the way in which Friends testimonies are reflected in their lives so that they may help others grow in faithfulness to the testimonies. They encourage members and attenders to be ready and obedient should the leading come to enter into vocal ministry or prayer. They help members and attenders understand that all who attend a meeting for worship share responsibility for drawing the meeting together in expectant waiting and prayer.
  • Attends to the needs of the young—the committee makes a special effort to understand the needs of the young and to encourage their spiritual development. Those who remain within the Religious Society of Friends as adults may well be strengthened by the memory that, as children, they felt well prepared for meeting for worship and were welcome there.
  • Addresses inappropriate conduct—the committee intervenes promptly and firmly with any member or attender whose repeated behavior disrupts meetings for worship or business. The committee also helps the meeting rise above occasional inappropriate conduct by a member or attender.
  • Represents the meeting on interfaith councils—members of the committee may be asked to represent the meeting on interfaith councils and to encourage active involvement of the meeting in interfaith activities.
  • Recognizes those in the meeting who exhibit gifts of the Spirit or engage in public ministry—some meetings provide nurturing support for those with a particular gift in vocal ministry or those who serve as a chaplain in hospitals, in hospice programs, or for persons incarcerated in the criminal justice system. A meeting may choose formally to recognize individuals with notable gifts of vocal or public ministry (as “ministers”) or those with sensitive care for the spiritual life of the meeting community (as “elders”). If ministers and elders are thus recognized and recorded, the committee on worship and ministry nurtures this relationship. The meeting’s recognition is an affirmation, based upon loving trust, that the individual will, in all humility, nurture and exercise the gift of ministry in order to nourish the meeting as a whole. Those so recorded trust that the meeting will encourage and sustain them, clarify the springs of their ministry, and lovingly and faithfully counsel them. Periodically the meeting reviews this recognition and may withdraw it when the designation no longer serves the individual or the meeting.
  • Reports to meeting—the committee reports periodically to the meeting for business.
  • Reports to other meetings—the committee may occasionally be invited to share its work with similar committees in the quarterly or yearly meeting.

Care of the Meeting Community and Its Members A pastoral care committee attends to the health and vitality of the meeting community as a whole and of its individual members. This committee meets regularly and is responsible for knowing the individuals and families in the meeting and becoming aware of their particular needs and challenges.

Members appointed to such a committee generally represent diverse ages, interests, professions and styles of communication. The committee often considers sensitive matters, and its members are expected to embrace confidentiality, discretion and tact as part of their charge.

The pastoral care committee develops a variety of approaches in order to attend to the needs of all members and attenders. The committee considers those new to the meeting, families with young children, teens and young adults, older Friends, those facing changes in family structure or financial security, those who are challenged by substance abuse or mental illness, and those with chronic or serious illness. When conflicts arise between individuals within the meeting, the intervention and support of the pastoral care committee can be a valuable service to the meeting as well as to the persons involved. In some situations, the committee may determine that needed care can be carried out more effectively by Friends not named to the committee and it may invite their help. This could include professional help such as that available through the Friends Counseling Service associated with Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.

Some meetings create pastoral care subcommittees to deal with such special circumstances as marriage, membership, youth, or loss and bereavement. These subcommittees are accountable to the pastoral care committee.

The pastoral care committee establishes a process to assist and encourage individuals requesting membership. The committee meets with applicants to explore their interest, understanding of Friends ways, and spiritual journey. Transfers of membership are facilitated by the committee, which also encourages members who live at a distance or have become inactive to re-evaluate their membership status. The committee maintains a list of members and active attenders together with their contact information, and regularly checks this list with that of the meeting recorder. (See Section VII for Procedures for Membership.)

While the pastoral care committee is responsible for the health and vitality of the meeting community as a whole, it may establish circles of care. This can enable members and attenders to provide loving, pastoral care for each other in a more direct and supportive manner than is possible for the pastoral care committee itself.

Religious Education A religious education committee provides all members and attenders with opportunities to enhance their understanding of the faith and practices of Friends. Religious education is a lifelong endeavor. It begins in the family when parents take responsibility for the religious development of their children. Friends meetings have a responsibility to bring children under their care into full participation in the life of the meeting.

Meetings are also expected to offer religious education programs for teens and adult members and attenders, drawing on the many resources available through the yearly meeting, Friends General Conference, and other Quaker and religious organizations. A thriving First Day School contributes to the life of the meeting and is a source of outreach to young families seeking to find a spiritual home or anchor. In addition to regular classes before or after meeting for worship, religious education programs can include study groups, worship sharing opportunities, conferences, retreats, and service projects. An accessible, up-to-date meeting library is useful for the entire religious education program. Religious education requires the participation and support of meeting members, including those with years of experience among Friends.

Meetings actively welcome opportunities to nurture the spiritual growth of their members and attenders. Meetings may offer support for such opportunities within the limitations of their spiritual, personal and financial resources. For instance, a meeting may provide financial assistance to individuals engaged in continuing education, whether at a weekend conference or for a term at a Quaker study center.

Outreach Outreach for a meeting involves being visible in the community—through effective signage, website and social media presence, and other publicity—and inviting all to worship. It includes sharing the unique message of Friends through informational and educational events the meeting hosts for the community, through printed and online material, through public witness and service projects in the community, and through collaboration with other faith groups on projects of common interest. Effective outreach involves the willingness of individuals to identify themselves as Friends and use accessible language in spoken and written communication. Friends can become more comfortable and confident in speaking about the Quaker way by periodically taking time in their meetings to share stories of their faith journeys, to study and discuss materials that invite deep reflection, and to seek common language that describes these experiences and the core beliefs and practices of Friends.

Welcome Meetings strive to ensure that visitors, attenders and new members feel warmly welcomed and part of the life of the meeting.  All in the community have responsibility to participate actively in this welcoming function.  This includes getting to know those new to the meeting and involving them in meeting activities. Meetings benefit from a periodic review of their practices, ideally seen through the eyes of those new to the meeting, to ensure that they are indeed welcoming. The use of nametags, clear invitations to join in activities, adequate descriptions of logistics, and a buddy system all can contribute to a hospitable environment.

Witness in the World A social concerns committee can help meeting members address a variety of issues in their community, state, nation, or world. The name of the committee may reflect work on issues of peace, social witness, racial justice, or environmental concerns. These committees:

  • Plan and carry out service projects.
  • Recommend particular actions to individuals and to the meeting itself as a corporate body.
  • Encourage members to participate in work for social change through established Quaker organizations such as the American Friends Service Committee and the Friends Committee on National Legislation, or to pursue their own leadings to engage in social actions consistent with Friends testimonies.
  • Support a member or members in seeking to bring a particular concern to the attention of the monthly, quarterly or yearly meeting.
  • Contribute services or financial support to enable a member to pursue a social concern as a “released Friend.”
  • Initiate consciousness-raising and skill-building activities that reflect Quaker testimonies and help to create a culture of anti-bias, peace and justice in new ways.

Care of Real Property A property committee or committee of trustees exercises oversight of the property owned by the meeting. This committee encourages the meeting to use the power of its ownership of property to enrich the spiritual life of the meeting, to enhance the integrity of the natural world, and to contribute to the welfare of the surrounding community. The committee also ensures that the meeting carries adequate insurance to cover loss, replacement and liability.

An important aspect of owning real property is holding title to the land. Four options are available for formal ownership of the meeting’s real property. The property committee may consult legal counsel before assisting the meeting in making a choice. Property may be:

  1. Held in the name of an unincorporated meeting.
  2. Held in the name of an unincorporated body of trustees appointed by the meeting. The meeting must take care that the roster of trustees is kept in existence by the timely replacement of trustees lost through resignation, current disability, or death.
  3. Held in the name of an incorporated meeting.
  4. Held in the name of an incorporated body of trustees appointed by the meeting.

Options 3) and 4) require at a minimum the adoption of bylaws and the holding of annual meetings of the corporation. Those activities should follow Friends procedures to the extent possible under state law. If there are directors of the corporation, they need to be sensitive to the desires of the meeting as they carry out their statutory responsibilities. Friends Fiduciary Corporation no longer holds title for properties of active monthly or quarterly meetings.

Care of Burial Grounds If the meeting has burial grounds and memorial gardens under its care, a committee of the meeting may be empowered to maintain these in good order and to devote to their upkeep any income from perpetual care endowments in the charge of the meeting. It may authorize interments of bodies or ashes or scatterings of ashes, keeping accurate records of the location of the interred and recording that ashes have been scattered on the premises.

Friends have traditionally expressed their commitments to simplicity and the equality of all persons by discouraging the use of elaborate grave markers. Graves are ordinarily marked by plain stones that bear only the name of the deceased and dates of birth and death. When opening a new section of a burial ground, a meeting may wish to require that stones be flush with the ground to facilitate maintenance.

Stewardship of Financial Resources A finance committee works with the meeting treasurer to prepare the meeting’s annual budget, to ensure that financial records are properly kept and monitored on a regular basis, and to oversee other aspects of the meeting’s finances including its investments. The committee is responsible for advising the meeting on how to use its economic resources responsibly and on how to finance its activities.

Economic Resources Meetings are encouraged to review regularly their policies and practices to ensure the socially responsible investment of endowments and working capital, the ecologically responsible management of real property, the caring management and equitable compensation of employees, and the socially responsible use of the power to purchase and consume. Meetings are advised to seek expert advice, when needed, in the areas of finance and accounting, labor and employment practices, property and real estate.

Financing Meeting Activities Meetings have broad discretion in the raising, custody and spending of money. They are encouraged to conduct their affairs so that money for routine operating budgets is raised from the current generation, without undue reliance on the generosity of past members. Meetings are also encouraged to take care that fund-raising activities spread the burden of financial support among members and regular attenders in accordance with their respective abilities to contribute.

Broad decisions about the raising, custody and spending of money are policy matters affecting the entire meeting community. Such broad decisions could include the development of a long-term financial plan that attends not only to the physical needs of the meeting’s property, but also to the programs of the meeting, financial support for members who are in need, and support of Friends testimonies. It is expected that the finance committee will season recommendations regarding the meeting’s budget but that financial decisions will be made at the meeting for business rather than by a less representative body.

Good order includes the keeping of careful financial records. This includes a system of financial controls to ensure the integrity of receipts and disbursements and a regular review of meeting accounts, including those of all committees and programs, by a committee appointed for that purpose. It is important that this committee report to the meeting for business and that the substance of its financial review be recorded in the minutes. Meetings may encourage institutions under their care to employ professional auditors and to ask that the audit report be a part of the institution’s periodic reporting to the meeting.

Meetings are also encouraged to use the investment management services of Friends Fiduciary Corporation for endowment funds. Meetings are expected to review and monitor their investment principles and performance on a regular basis and to establish their own “social responsibility” criteria for the investment of endowment funds not managed by Friends Fiduciary Corporation.

Meetings holding endowment funds established by gift or bequest are responsible to ensure that the corpus and the income are applied to the uses the donor has specified.

Care of Meeting Records A recorder maintains the records of births, adoptions, deaths, marriages, divorces and changes in membership. The recorder reports annually to the yearly meeting regarding any changes in membership. The recorder, or another person or committee specially designated, periodically publishes a directory of members and attenders of the meeting.

The recording clerk or another member of the meeting may be entrusted with the responsibility of preserving and appropriately archiving the minutes of the meeting for business and of meeting committees. It is expected that the minutes of meetings for business, when approved, will be preserved on acid-free paper, appropriately bound, held in safekeeping, and, when no longer required for current reference, archived in one of the Friends historical libraries at Swarthmore and Haverford colleges. Records of other meeting bodies and the meeting’s financial records may be treated similarly. Some meetings now use computers to record and retain their minutes and other documents. Meetings are encouraged to establish clear, straightforward polices for the retention of all documents.

Nominations to Involve Meeting Members and Regular Attenders The nominating committee discerns the gifts of meeting members and regular attenders; recommends individuals to serve as officers and committee members; and sees to their replacement at appropriate intervals by other well qualified Friends. Meetings give officers and committee members substantial autonomy in their areas of responsibility, so their wise selection is essential to the meeting’s welfare. To provide for a broad sharing of nominating tasks, meetings can specify short terms for nominating committee members, and choose an ad hoc naming committee to nominate people to serve on that committee. The nominating committee:

  • Establishes a procedure to identify, recruit, train and rotate meeting clerks. The office of assistant or recording clerk is often used as a training ground for the meeting clerk.
  • Creates a list of officer positions and of standing committees with job descriptions and the number of members needed in each committee.
  • Where warranted, forms a plan for staggering terms and regularly rotating members to serve in offices and on committees.
  • Develops a reporting procedure that allows the meeting to weigh nominations thoughtfully before final approval.

The meeting may explore various strategies for increasing the participation of members and regular attenders, including those with diverse backgrounds and experience. Meetings may determine which committees must be filled with members and which may include regular attenders. Meetings may identify some of their committees as open to all interested members and attenders and encourage participation even if not appointed by the nominating committee.

Friends have been reluctant to deviate from the tradition of volunteer service that has marked the Religious Society of Friends from its beginnings. As they work together for the meeting, volunteers often find their religious lives mutually strengthened, their sense of community deepened, and their commitment to the meeting affirmed. These dividends of participation diminish when they find themselves overcommitted. Some meetings have found themselves strengthened when they have employed staff to perform a few essential functions, such as child care, coordination of First Day School programs, secretarial work, and maintenance of buildings and grounds. But Friends do not ordinarily receive compensation for their service to the meeting without express authorization by the meeting in advance. Compensated service remains a limited exception to the presumption of volunteer participation and service.