Regional gatherings of Friends were first advocated by George Fox in 1666 when he also established monthly meetings, realizing that the Society of Friends had thus far been held together mainly by the leadership of a few traveling ministers. Groups of neighboring monthly meetings within Philadelphia Yearly Meeting have likewise felt strengthened by joining to form quarterly or half-yearly meetings. These bodies traditionally have met two to four times a year as occasions for Friends to encourage and strengthen one another through worship, and to deal with matters of regional concern. Today the importance of some of these gatherings has diminished, and their benefits are felt to be better supplied by the yearly meeting. Others have found new roles that have given them new vigor. Members of each regional meeting decide how often they will gather for worship, business, and mutual support.
Such a regional meeting is composed of all the members of its constituent monthly meetings. It may be established upon the initiative of the yearly meeting; or when the yearly meeting approves a request from one or more monthly meetings; or when a regional meeting wishes to divide. In all cases the yearly meeting should appoint a committee to be present and assist in the organization. With the consent of their constituent monthly meetings, two or more regional meetings may merge. (See p. 203)
Sessions of a quarterly meeting, thoughtfully planned, can provide religious fellowship, spiritual enrichment for Friends, and a forum for cooperation and exchange of information and ideas among the members of the constituent monthly meetings. Those gathered may develop plans to deal regionally with broader issues and special concerns and may also test concerns that a monthly meeting wishes to bring before the yearly meeting. Those named as monthly meeting representatives should be faithful in reporting to the members of their monthly meeting the proceedings of such gatherings.
Functions and Organization of Quarterly Meetings
Some quarterly meetings within Philadelphia Yearly Meeting have substantial institutions under their care, are custodians of property, employ paid staff, and have active programs in matters of ministry and worship, peace and social concerns, and youth. These activities are usually overseen by committees whose members are nominated by constituent monthly meetings.
Quarterly meetings maintain a structure of administrative officers and committees. These include at a minimum a clerk, a recording clerk, and, when financial matters are addressed, a treasurer. There may be committees to assist the clerks, to plan gatherings, to conduct routine business between sessions, to prepare the annual budget, and to provide sensitive oversight of staff.
- A nominating committee nominates the officers as well as the quarterly meeting’s appointees to the yearly meeting Nominating Committee (see p. 199). It oversees the process by which the quarterly meeting committee members are nominated by monthly meetings; or, where appropriate, it makes the nominations. A quarterly meeting should give periodic attention to the structure of its on-going bodies to assure that they are appropriately representative and suited to its needs. (For the roles of the Clerk and Recording Clerk, see pp. 24-28).
- The treasurer receives, holds, invests, and disburses the quarterly meeting’s funds in accordance with that meeting’s instructions. The treasurer receives the covenants from its constituent monthly meetings to provide for the quarterly meeting’s expenses and to be used toward developing the income budget of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Auditors, appointed annually, should audit the treasurer’s books, submit a written report to the quarterly meeting, and guide the treasurer as needed in good accounting practices.
- A committee on worship and ministry can enrich the lives of the members of the quarterly meeting. It may also respond sensitively when a monthly meeting is in need of special nurture.
- A committee focussing on peace and social concerns can enable members of different monthly meetings to coordinate more effectively their public witness or service.
- A committee concerned principally with activities may provide programs such as retreats, service projects, and workshops for adults and youth. In addition to its own resources and help from the yearly meeting, with monthly meeting consent this committee may employ staff to assist in giving vitality to its regular meetings and to the ongoing social and religious life and activities—especially of the younger members of its constituent monthly meetings.
- A quarterly meeting which has a school, health facility, or other institution under its care should appoint to the governing body members with dependable commitment and proven qualifications. The quarterly meeting should entrust operating responsibility to those appointed and seek through legal means to limit the Meeting’s liability for their actions. It has the obligation to offer encouragement and spiritual nurture to the governing body and to intervene if the viability of the institution is in question. It should maintain a regular reporting process from the institution to the quarterly meeting that will promote diligence in management, good stewardship, and regular attention to maintaining the Quaker character of the institution in all aspects of its policies and operation.
- A property committee or trustees can assume responsibility for property such as meetinghouses or burial grounds under the care of the quarterly meeting.
Oversight and Assistance
Quarterly meetings may guide individual monthly meetings through transitional stages and on request provide assistance for specific need. When a monthly meeting faces difficult problems, needs encouragement, or wishes guidance in making decisions concerning membership, it may ask for the quarterly meeting’s assistance; or the quarterly meeting may take the initiative in offering assistance. Interim Meeting may also be of assistance in such circumstances.
To assure such support, the quarterly meeting should establish its schedule of regular annual reports from each of its constituent monthly meetings as a means of constructive self-assessment. When a quarterly meeting for whatever reason cannot fulfill its functions of oversight or assistance, or is unable to receive and forward Meeting reports and funds, the condition should be reported to Interim Meeting for its advice and assistance.