Structures in Our Yearly Meeting

It is earnestly recommended that, as Friends tend to the affairs of our Society, we bear in mind always that we are about God’s work. We should endeavor humbly and reverently to conduct ourselves and our meetings in the wisdom and peaceable spirit of Jesus—with dignity, forbearance, honesty, and, above all, love.

–Source unknown

Where and How Decisions Are Made

In the beginning, the Religious Society of Friends mistrusted church hierarchies, believing that the path to the Divine is inward for each individual and worshiping group. Friends have kept the power of decision in religious matters as close as possible to the primary worship group and the individual. The monthly meeting (see pp. 177-190), accordingly, has a freedom of action and responsibility in matters of membership not given to either the yearly meeting (see pp. 193-200) or to a regional gathering such as a quarterly or half-yearly meeting (see pp. 190-193). On the other hand, there are some matters on which a degree of uniformity among neighboring monthly meetings is essential to the good order of the Society. There are also a number of functions that are more efficiently accomplished centrally.

By virtue of membership in a monthly meeting, Friends also become members of a regional gathering and the yearly meeting. All members have the privilege and the responsibility to participate in decision-making within each body. Monthly meetings often designate certain members to attend sessions of their regional meetings, annual or called sessions of the yearly meeting, and Interim Meeting (see pp. 194-197), although all members are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Within its own area of responsibility, each body is autonomous. Friends do not attend regional meetings and yearly meeting as instructed delegates of their monthly meetings but join others in worship and decisions that respond to the moving of the Spirit in that time and place. Monthly meetings may adopt and forward minutes expressing unity on issues coming before a regional meeting, Interim Meeting, or yearly meeting, but such minutes do not limit the freedom of the body assembled to adopt alternate courses.

Monthly meetings, regional gatherings, and the yearly meeting share the common task of encouraging and sustaining members in their obedience to the Truth revealed in work and worship. Members’ lives are made both harder and easier: harder, by the challenge to a higher level of commitment to a religious calling; easier, by the presence of a supportive structure within which that calling can be answered.

When presented with an urgent concern or proposal, whether by an individual under strong leading or by a group with a powerful sense of mission, bodies such as regional gatherings, yearly meeting, or Interim Meeting may be tempted to act precipitately. It is helpful in reaching a rightly ordered sense of the meeting to have in place a procedure for broad prior consideration in monthly meetings of such concerns or proposals.

Reporting, Oversight, and Guidance

Monthly meetings, quarterly meetings, Interim Meeting, and the yearly meeting prepare and disseminate written annual reports. Many of these bodies also report informally to members through newsletters at more frequent intervals. There is also a strong tradition of oral reporting to monthly meetings of the deliberation of other bodies.

Monthly meetings send to quarterly meetings two separate forms of annual report: an overall “state of the Meeting” and a report of the committee on worship and ministry. Quarterly meetings report annually to yearly meeting on the same two subjects, drawing on the reports of monthly meetings.

Quarterly meetings should make provision for careful review of both annual reports of monthly meetings to identify situations in which it may be appropriate to offer oversight or guidance. The yearly meeting has a similar responsibility as it reviews annual reports from quarterly meetings.

The yearly meeting asks each year for two administrative reports:

Membership statistics, provided by monthly meetings to both the quarterly and yearly meeting, for use in apportioning fair shares of yearly and quarterly meeting expenses, and for other purposes.

Names of officers of quarterly and monthly meetings. The monthly meeting report goes to both the quarterly and yearly meetings.

The yearly meeting also notifies quarterly meeting clerks of publication deadlines for inclusion of their annual reports in the Yearbook.

This pattern of reporting, oversight, and guidance offers, but does not mandate, outside assistance to monthly and quarterly meetings. It is deliberately designed to affirm their autonomy. The only body in the structure that is specifically accountable to a parent is Interim Meeting, which reports on its actions annually to the yearly meeting in session.