The monthly meeting is the fundamental spiritual community in the Religious Society of Friends. It is so called because its members meet monthly to conduct its business. It conducts meetings for worship weekly or more often, and is a caring community as responsive as it can be to the spiritual, social, educational, and material needs of its members. It may own and manage property, engage in significant social action, and operate schools or other institutions. It has sole authority to enroll or release members and to oversee marriages. It may undertake any action or assume any function consistent with the practices and principles of the Religious Society of Friends and not specifically the responsibility of some other body.
Governance, Officers, and Committees
Decisions are made by those gathered at regular monthly meetings for worship for business, or at special sessions called on reasonable notice by the clerk or by the committee of overseers. Such gatherings are meetings for fellowship and information sharing, as well as for worship and decision-making. Decision-making among Friends is discussed on pp. 21-26.
The entire range of a monthly meeting’s activities—the conduct of worship, the care of members, religious education, the management of property, decisions on membership, issues of social action, oversight of institutions—should be given regular attention at monthly business meetings. While carrying out the day-to-day functions is often delegated to committees or designated officers, the monthly meeting remains the responsible body for all activities undertaken by its decision or on its behalf.
Each monthly meeting appoints a clerk (see p.187), a treasurer, and a recorder (see p.186), and usually a recording clerk. An assistant clerk may also be appointed, if needed. All other delegated functions are normally entrusted to committees rather than individuals.
Members are expected to serve on committees of the monthly meeting unless distance or disability is a significant hindrance. Acceptance of appointment is a commitment to be diligent, loving, and responsive in carrying out the committee’s functions.
Committees serve the monthly meeting not only by carrying on routine delegated functions, but also by doing important background work in preparation for decisions at the monthly meeting for business. They examine designated matters in depth, identify the issues, gather the most useful information, and make seasoned recommendations for decision by the Meeting. When this work is done well, the monthly meeting in session is able to focus quickly on the matter at hand.
Monthly meetings should be clear about both what they expect of their officers and committees and what the limits are of their authority in performing those tasks. They should require full and timely reports. Such clarity and communication within an atmosphere of trust will liberate Meetings, officers, and committees to fulfill their respective tasks without wasteful duplication and frustration. Nevertheless, when good order requires, responsibilities and powers of decision delegated to an officer or a committee may be recalled and exercised by the Meeting.
The committees most commonly appointed by Meetings are mentioned under the function they perform for the monthly meeting.
The Individual and the Meeting
While the Religious Society of Friends accepts a variety of vocabularies for the expression of faith and encompasses a broad range of views on the way faith can be carried into action, there is a core of beliefs and standards of conduct which Friends hold in common. Monthly meetings, with the guidance of this Faith and Practice and supplementary sources have the on-going task of interpreting those beliefs and standards to prospective members, and may be called on to interpret them from time to time to experienced members as well. The individual should not hesitate to ask the Meeting for such interpretation.
A member under the weight of a spiritual or personal concern, or who feels a call to life-changing social action, may seek the assistance of the Meeting in testing this leading. The member may ask for individual counsel, or for a committee of clearness (see p. 29) chosen by the member or by the Meeting. Persons called to service on such a committee have a special concern to listen carefully, respond out of their own experience, and seek to promote individual and corporate faithfulness to spiritual leadings. Where no issue for Meeting decision arises, a committee of clearness will often have no need to report back to the monthly meeting.
Nurture of the Meeting Community
Members express their care for one another in many ways. They support one another’s spiritual journeys. They participate in the intimate joys and sorrows of birth, marriage, death, and other rites of passage. Members facing important decisions receive counseling, as in the case of those contemplating marriage or those who are facing decisions about the military. At times of distress, the Meeting responds with the appropriate support, and, if needed, makes referrals to professional care-givers. A Meeting assumes responsibility for helping members resolve their differences. It responds to the special needs of the young and the elderly, and of new members, prospective members, and members at a distance.
All members share the duty and privilege of caring for one another. But except in small Meetings that act in all matters as a “committee of the whole,” Friends have found it useful to identify specific duties and responsibilities and assign them to committees. A common practice is to assign pastoral care to a committee of overseers, care for the meeting for worship and members’ spiritual development to a committee of worship and ministry, and oversight of programs for religious education to a religious education committee. The work of these committees is closely linked. Small Meetings often have a combined committee on ministry and oversight.
If separate committees are maintained, it is recommended that they meet together occasionally to assess the Meeting’s programs of nurture, identify tasks undone or done poorly, and recognize those done well.
Monthly meetings should evaluate from time to time their effectiveness in nurturing members. If improvement is needed and continuing earnest attempts do not bring it, members may conclude that the Meeting either lacks sufficient numbers to do all that is necessary, or that its numbers have become so great that a sense of loving community is endangered. In either event, thought should be given to fundamental change, whether by merging with a neighboring Meeting or by dividing into two Meetings.
Meetings should view the division of the following duties described as illustrative, not prescriptive.
Committee on Worship and Ministry
(See also the section on Worship and the Meeting for Worship, pp. 17-21; queries on worship and ministry, p. 182-183)
The Committee on Worship and Ministry should be open to participation of members of all ages who are concerned for the spiritual life of the Meeting. It should include Friends in close fellowship with frequent speakers in meeting, ready when needed to help them keep sensitive to divine promptings. It should also include some Friends who are looked to as helpful counselors, to whom persons go for understanding and loving guidance. The vocations of ministry and of counseling are interwoven, and Meetings should encourage Friends to respond to a call to either service.
Giving Counsel Those who are asked to give counsel should remember that often the best service is to be a good listener. When advice is given it should be offered in love and grounded in the Light.
Teaching by Example Members of the committee teach by example as much as by precept and should therefore be chosen with consideration for the way in which Friends’ testimonies are reflected in their lives. As they feel the call to be true to the essential testimonies of Friends, they help others to grow in loyalty to these 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 the meeting for worship share responsibility for drawing the meeting together in expectant waiting and prayer.
Needs of the Young The committee may need to take special pains to accommodate the needs of the young. Their interest in remaining Friends in later years may well be strengthened by the memory that as children they felt well prepared for meeting for worship and welcome there. Meetings fortunate enough to experience the murmurings of the very young, or the bustle of a group of children entering late or leaving early, should call themselves blessed.
Vocal Ministry and the Ministry of Stillness Committee members should nurture the meeting for worship by giving appropriate attention to the quality of the vocal ministry and of the ministry of stillness that springs from centered silence. All Friends should be encouraged to give adequate time to study, meditation, prayer, and other ways of preparing themselves for worship. Sympathetic encouragement should be given to those who show promising spiritual gifts or who are timid or young in the ministry. Loving guidance may be needed by those whose ministry does not appear to come from deep centeredness in the Spirit. Some Friends may need to be counseled to avoid advance plans to speak on a specific topic in meeting for worship, thus closing themselves to the leading of the Spirit. Friends sometimes need to be counseled against self-centered activities that isolate them from the worship group. Both listeners and speakers may occasionally need guidance to assure that diversity of religious expression is enriching, not divisive.
Inappropriate Conduct The committee should help the Meeting both to rise above occasional inappropriate conduct and to deal firmly with repeated behavior disruptive of corporate worship or business. The committee, not an individual, should make the decision to speak for the Meeting with a person whose vocal ministry is not acceptable. Committee members may praise or caution as individuals, but it should be clear that in doing so they are not speaking for the committee.
Interfaith Councils The Committee on Worship and Ministry is often assigned the task of representing the Meeting on interfaith councils or ministeriums, and encouraging active involvement by the Meeting in ecumenical activities.
Recording of Ministers Philadelphia Yearly Meeting no longer follows as a general practice the granting of formal recognition as “recorded ministers” to those with special gifts in the ministry. During the early years of this century the formal recording of ministers and elders was largely discontinued, first in London and then in Philadelphia, as a practice that had lost its usefulness. Nevertheless, some Meetings have continued its observance as a nurturing support to those individuals with unusual gifts in the ministry. Although Friends’ practice of a free ministry is based upon the experience that the gifts of the Holy Spirit may be bestowed upon anyone at any time, a monthly meeting may, upon the advice of its Committee on Worship and Ministry, record as ministers those members who are recognized as having a clear leading to vocal ministry and prayer or counseling of individuals.
This recognition is not one of status or privilege and should be reviewed periodically. It is an affirmation based upon loving trust. The Meeting’s trust is that individuals so recorded will, in all humility, diligently nurture and exercise the gift of ministry in order that the Meeting as a whole may be nourished. The individual’s trust is that the Meeting will on its part encourage and sustain them, and not only liberate them to undertake the disciplines of prayer and study and retreat that help clarify the springs of ministry but also lovingly and faithfully counsel them. Such nurture and encouragement and discipline are of special significance for younger members who, out of diffidence or unawareness, may discount their gifts and let them wither.
The gifts of the Spirit are diverse, and Friends’ ministry includes pastoral care in settings such as hospitals and prisons. Friends’ work in these areas may be especially benefited by the recording as ministers of those so gifted.
Reporting by Monthly Meeting Worship & Ministry Committees
The Committee on Worship and Ministry reports periodically to the monthly meeting for business. Also, in consultation with the monthly meeting, this committee submits a written report to the meeting on Worship and Ministry of PYM and to the quarterly meeting Committee on Worship and Ministry where such a group is active. In preparing these reports concerning the spiritual life of their meetings, monthly meeting committees on worship and ministry may be guided by the following queries that have been developed by the PYM Meeting on Worship and Ministry.
Concerning meeting for worship
- In what ways does our meeting encourage members and attenders to prepare hearts and minds for meeting for worship?
- How are we nurturing the sense that our meetings for worship are held in expectant waiting—joyfully patient to feel God’s Spirit?
- How are we helping Friends to find God’s presence both in the silence and in the spoken ministry?
- How are children and newcomers introduced and welcomed into meetings for worship?
- What opportunities does our meeting provide for additional group worship to suppplement the main meeting for worship?
- What problems do we perceive with our meetings for worship? How might we work to alleviate the problems we have identified?
- What evidence is there in our meetings for worship of vocal ministry that springs from obedience to the Living Spirit? How does our meeting nurture and support such ministry?
- If our meeting experiences inappropriate ministry, how do we address it?
- Have any of our members or attenders been called to a particular ministry within or beyond the meeting? If so , how has our meeting helped with discernment, encouragement, and support?
- Have any of our members or attenders suffered while trying to live their ministry? If so , what has our meeting done to help?
Concerning Spiritual Community
- How does our meeting nurture the spiritual lives of individual members and attenders, both adults and children?
- What evidence is there of God’s presence in our meeting community?
- What are visitors to our meeting looking for in worship and in the spiritual life of the meeting? What causes visitors to stay or leave?
- What evidence is there in our meeting of lives transformed by the Spirit of God?
Committee of Overseers
A Committee of Overseers is appointed to assume leadership in maintaining a caring community, helping all members to find their right roles as nurturers of others. Its tasks may be shared with other committees.
Pastoral care and counseling are the special responsibility of the members of this committee. They should take a personal interest in the spiritual and physical welfare of each member of the Meeting. Membership on this committee calls for dedication, tact, and discretion. It should be entered into prayerfully, with an alert willingness to be of service. Overseers should meet together regularly and carry on their work in a spirit of consecration and love.
While the Meeting places special responsibilities and duties on this committee, others should also be conscious of their duty and privilege of caring for the members of the Meeting. In some cases pastoral care can be carried out to better advantage by Friends who are not on the Committee of Overseers. Also, especially in small meetings, the resources of the yearly meeting can be used where the action could not appropriately be performed by any Meeting member.
Responsibilities of overseers for the Meeting as a caring community include:
Care of the Meeting family Overseers should become acquainted with Meeting members, should visit them in their homes, if possible, and should maintain contact with all members and attenders in a spirit of affectionate interest.
Care of young people The members of this committee should be aware of and foster influences that develop the religious life of the children and young people of the Meeting, whether members or non-members, and should assist in giving them an understanding of the principles and practices of Friends. Overseers should seek to strengthen the work of the Committee on Religious Education or other committees seeking similar ends. Young people desire and need to have a creative part in the life of the Meeting; Friends should recognize the contributions that young people can make.
New members Overseers should pay special attention to new members, making them feel welcome, introducing them to other Friends, and offering them means of deepening their knowledge of Friends’ beliefs. This special attention should continue for some months or years, if necessary.
Marriage Overseers see to it that the Meeting responds in good order to requests to be married under its care (See details under Marriage Procedure, pp. 47-54). Overseers should also take the lead in bringing into the fellowship of the Meeting the nonmember Wanc/(e)s or spouses of members.
Divorce When a couple within the Meeting has decided to divorce, the overseers should first explore the possibility of reconciliation. If the effort fails, overseers should encourage an equitable, non-adversarial separation, and seek to maintain the Meeting’s connections with both individuals.
Differences If differences arise among members of the monthly meeting, members of the Committee of Overseers should take steps to provide a framework for reconciliation, perhaps seeking help from other Meeting members, from the quarterly meeting, Interim Meeting, or conflict resolution services within the yearly meeting. If all such endeavors fail to bring disputing members together to work out a resolution, and a third party would be helpful in resolving the dispute, overseers should endeavor to persuade the parties to find a mediator rather than go to court.
Members in material need Overseers, or a committee especially appointed for the purpose, should provide for those members in need of financial assistance. Meetings are advised to exercise tactful and watchful care in ascertaining and meeting those needs. Such care may involve aid in finding employment, in establishing eligibility for public income maintenance programs, in defraying the living expenses of individuals or of families, and in providing for the education of young people. Friends are urged to be open-hearted and liberal in providing funds for these purposes but are cautioned not to expose unnecessarily the names and conditions of the fellow members assisted.
Visiting in case of illness or other trouble Visiting the sick and extending sympathy and assistance to families in time of serious illness, bereavement, or other trouble are important services.
Funeral and memorial meetings Overseers assure that a memorial meeting or funeral is held upon the death of a member, and may offer to do so upon the death of a nonmember. (See Death & Bereavement and Memorial Meetings, pp. 58-59.)
Yearly meeting and other resources Overseers should know when and where to seek professional help in care and counseling, whether from services of the yearly meeting or from community agencies.
Responsibilities of overseers for the Meeting as a body of members include:
Inquirers The overseers should give information to persons interested in learning about the Religious Society of Friends. Attenders at meeting for worship should be given loving attention and invited to consider applying for membership when they become convinced of the principles of Friends. (See Membership, pp. 34-39.)
Application and transfer of membership: The Committee of Overseers should receive all letters of application for membership and all requests for transfer of membership to or from other Meetings within the Religious Society of Friends. Both new applications and transfers should receive careful consideration before being brought to the monthly meeting. (See details under Membership, pp. 39-40)
Membership list This committee should keep an accurate list, with addresses and telephone numbers, of all members of the monthly meeting. This list should be compared annually with the recorder’s list, before the Checklist for Monthly Meetings (p. 190) is answered. Endeavor should be made to keep in touch with all members. Letters should be written to those who are nonresident to give them news of the Meeting and its activities and to let them know that the Meeting is interested in their welfare. When appropriate, such members should be urged to consider the advantages of transferring membership to a Meeting closer to their residence. A list of non-members who attend with some regularity should also be kept.
Delinquencies or lack of interest Members who neglect the obligations of membership should be cautioned by overseers in a loving spirit and with the hope of restoring their interest in the Meeting. If this proves unavailing, overseers should follow the guidance in the section on membership (pp. 41-43).
Religious education is a lifelong endeavor. It begins in the family, as parents take responsibility for the religious education of their children. Monthly meetings have a special responsibility to bring children under their care into full participation in the life of the Meeting and into an understanding of the beliefs and practices of Friends.
Meetings are expected to offer religious education programs for young and adult members and attenders, drawing on the many resources made available by the Religious Education Committee of yearly meeting, Friends General Conference, and others. A thriving First Day School has proven to be important to the life of many Meetings. Religious education programs can also include study groups, conferences, retreats, service projects, and libraries.
By extending a welcome to people in the community and interpreting our faith to them, we practice a traditional form of Quaker ministry. In larger meetings, an Outreach Committee can assist the overseers in the care of seekers, attenders, and new members, helping to include them in the life of the Meeting and encouraging them to join in membership.
Peace and Social Justice
Meeting members may feel a responsibility to address a variety of issues in their community, state, nation, or world. Common ways of giving life to these leadings include:
- Planning and carrying out service projects as corporate activities of the Meeting.
- Maintaining a committee to address peace and social justice issues. This committee may recommend particular action to individuals and to the Meeting itself as a corporate body.
- Encouraging members to participate in the work for social change of larger Quaker groups or other bodies, or to independently pursue leadings to social actions consistent with Friends’ testimonies. Members who appear to be moved by a genuine prompting of the Spirit may be supported in leadings that not all share.
- Supporting a member or members in seeking assent to a particular expression of social concern by a quarterly meeting or yearly meeting (see pp. 65-67).
- Contributing services or money to help free a member to pursue a social concern as a ‘released Friend’.
Property and Finance
Monthly meetings may hold and maintain real property; hold and maintain trust funds; solicit, maintain, and disburse operating funds for their own purposes; and raise funds for a quarterly meeting, yearly meeting, and other such bodies as they may decide to support. These tasks and responsibilities are entrusted to a treasurer, trustees, and, if needed, committees charged with such functions as property maintenance, graveyard management, fundraising, and investment management. The books of those holding funds are audited at least annually, usually by a committee of Meeting members. For guidance in property matters, including an expression of Quaker attitudes toward the exercise of economic power, see pp. 80-81.
A recorder keeps records of births, adoptions, deaths, marriages, divorces, and changes in membership (see pp. 35-43). The recorder, or another person or committee specially designated, periodically publishes a directory of members and persons associated with the Meeting.
Care should be taken that minutes of monthly meetings for worship and business, when approved, are recorded on acid-free paper, appropriately bound, held in safekeeping, and, when no longer required for current reference, deposited in one of the Friends’ historical libraries at Swarthmore and Haverford Colleges. Records of other meeting bodies may be treated similarly, if desired.
Guidance of Meeting Affairs
The Clerk as Manager
The clerk conducts business sessions (see pp. 24-28) and, with the assistance of a secretary or assistant clerk, sees to the management in good order of the affairs of the Meeting. The clerk carries out the instructions of the Meeting on all matters pertaining to the accomplishment of its business. In addition, the clerk is often in the best position to identify weaknesses or failings in the committee structure and to initiate corrective action. The annual reporting process (see pp. 188-190) is supervised by the clerk and provides an occasion for assessment and correction as needed.
The Nominating Committee
Monthly meeting officers and committee members are given substantial autonomy within their areas of responsibility, so their wise selection is essential to the Meeting’s welfare. The Nominating Committee bears the important responsibility of discerning the gifts of members, recommending the right people for these and other services to the Meeting, and seeing to their replacement at appropriate intervals by others equally well qualified. To provide for a broad sharing of the nominating functions, Meetings are encouraged to specify short terms for Nominating Committee members, and to choose an ad hoc “naming” committee to nominate people to the Nominating Committee. At a minimum, a Nominating Committee can offer:
- A procedure for the identification, recruitment, training, and rotation of clerks. The office of assistant clerk or recording clerk is often used as a training ground for clerks.
- A roster of officer positions and standing committees of the Meeting, with job descriptions and numbers of members in each committee.
- Where warranted, a plan for the staggering of terms and the regular rotation of members serving in various offices and committees.
- A reporting procedure which permits the Meeting to weigh nominations thoughtfully before final action.
Volunteers and paid staff
Friends have been reluctant to deviate from the tradition of volunteerism that has marked the Society from its beginnings. Volunteers, as they work together for the Meeting, often find their religious lives mutually strengthened, their sense of community deepened, and their commitment as members affirmed. These dividends of volunteerism diminish when volunteers find themselves overcommitted. Some Meetings have found themselves strengthened spiritually when they have employed staff to perform a few essential functions, such as child care, general secretarial work, and maintenance of buildings and grounds.