When a group of people have been drawn to Friends worship and testimonies but find no organized Meeting nearby with whom to worship, they may form a Friends’ worship group. The worship group can be as formal or as informal as is desired and can assume as little or as much structure as it feels is rightly ordered. It may not, however, present itself as an official body of the Religious Society of Friends or act in its name.
A facilitator or correspondent may help by maintaining contact among the worshipers, arranging for the time and place for worship sessions, and issuing whatever publicity the group may wish. Such leadership is especially helpful when a group draws its members from scattered communities, experiences a lull in its activities, or decides to broaden its activities and relationships.
Some Friends’ worship groups fulfill their purposes by remaining in a temporary state, meeting seasonally or only briefly. Those that have achieved some permanence may choose whether to remain informal or to seek a formal relationship with the Society of Friends.
The latter choice requires individuals to decide whether to apply for membership in the Society of Friends or, for those already members, to apply for a transfer of membership. For the group, the issue, decided in consultation with the regional meeting within which they reside and with neighboring monthly meetings as appropriate, is whether to apply to the regional meeting for status as a preparative meeting or as a monthly meeting.
Status as a preparative meeting serves as an intermediate step between that of a worship group and an established monthly meeting. It also serves the needs of a group wishing to have membership in the Religious Society of Friends but not ready to assume the full responsibilities of a monthly meeting.
A preparative meeting is a Meeting under the care of a monthly meeting, reporting regularly to it, yet holding its own meetings for worship and having its own officers and meetings for business. Insofar as it wishes, it may have its own committees and financial structure and its own programs and activities, including the holding of memorial meetings or funerals. It may own property and trust funds. A preparative meeting may not admit members or conduct marriages under its care or in other ways act as an established monthly meeting.
When a monthly meeting, with quarterly meeting approval, accepts the request of a worship group for status as a preparative meeting of that monthly meeting, it enrolls as its members those individuals in the group who apply and are accepted. Thereby the monthly meeting affirms its role as nurturer of these additional members and of this new Meeting and appoints a committee of oversight composed of Friends experienced in worship and business after the manner of Friends. The monthly meeting should promptly inform the yearly meeting of this change in status and of the names of the members involved.
Given that there may well be experienced Friends and different but valid customs in the new preparative meeting, an established Meeting has much to learn as well as to offer when called upon to assist a worship group. A tender and sensitive spirit must prevail in this process and consultations should be grounded in worship.