Friends have developed a number of procedures to assist Friends meetings as they form, expand and contract over time.
Establishing a New Worship Group When a group of people have been drawn to Friends worship and testimonies but find no organized meeting nearby, they may form a Friends worship group. This gathering can be as formal or informal and can assume as little or as much structure as seems helpful and appropriate.
A facilitator or correspondent may maintain contact among the worshipers, arranging and publishing the time and place for worship sessions, and attending to other needs of the group. Such leadership is especially useful when a group draws its members from scattered communities, experiences a lull in its activities, or decides to broaden its activities or 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 decide whether to remain informal or to change their status. The worship group will need to decide, in consultation with the local quarterly meeting and with neighboring monthly meetings as appropriate, whether to apply to the quarterly meeting for status as a preparative meeting under the care of an existing monthly meeting or as a new monthly meeting. (See Monthly Meetings under “Changes in Established Meetings.”) If the decision is made to become a monthly meeting, those who are not already members of the Religious Society of Friends will need to decide whether to apply for membership in the new meeting, and those who are already members of another meeting will need to apply for a transfer of membership.
Becoming a Preparative Meeting Status as a preparative meeting can serve as an intermediate step between a worship group and an established monthly meeting. It enables a worship group to create new ties with a particular monthly meeting and the quarter until it is ready to assume the full responsibilities of a monthly meeting.
A preparative meeting is 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 is able, it may have its own committees and financial structure and its own programs and activities, including the establishment of a First Day School and the holding of memorial meetings. 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; nor does it have a direct relationship with the quarterly and yearly meetings.
When a monthly meeting, with quarterly meeting approval, accepts the request of a worship group for status as a preparative meeting under its care, it enrolls as 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. It may also appoint 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 also 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 with consultations grounded in worship.
Forming a Monthly Meeting When members of a worship group or of a preparative meeting decide to form a monthly meeting, they should first consult with the monthly meeting under whose care they have been preparing (if a preparative meeting) and the quarterly meeting. If it is evident that the group is fully aware of the responsibilities of an established monthly meeting, a formal minute should be prepared and forwarded to the parent meeting. If the monthly meeting approves this minute, it is forwarded to the quarterly meeting. When the quarterly meeting gives approval, it may appoint a committee of oversight to assist in matters of membership and responsibility for finance and property. The quarterly meeting should also inform the yearly meeting of such a change in status along with the names of the members involved.
A large established monthly meeting, in order to meet its members’ needs more fully, may wish to divide; or a monthly meeting, feeling itself to be too small to fulfill its various obligations of property, finance and spiritual nurture, may wish to become a preparative meeting of another meeting, or to combine with it. The meetings involved should minute their intentions and seek the approval of the quarterly meeting. If the proposal is approved, the yearly meeting should receive prompt notice of the change and of the names of the members involved.
Changing Quarterly Meeting Affiliation For reasons such as convenience of attendance, a monthly meeting may request transfer of affiliation from one quarterly meeting to another. The parties who are then involved (the two quarters and the monthly meeting itself) should consult carefully and, if they approve the change, report the matter to the yearly meeting for its approval.
Similar consultation and discernment is essential when two or more monthly meetings wish to form a new quarterly meeting, when a large quarterly meeting feels it right to divide, or when smaller quarterly meetings wish to join into one. In such cases, a committee from the yearly meeting should be party to the discussions and assist as needed. Final approval rests with the yearly meeting.
Combining Meetings In such a situation, all property both real and fiscal of the bodies involved becomes the property of the newly established body. Special care may be required if some or all of the combining meetings have been previously incorporated. Meetings are cautioned to prepare proper minutes to take care of all legal matters involved in the merger.
Discontinuing Meetings If the members of a meeting believe it desirable either to lay the meeting down or to unite with another meeting, they should make their request to the quarterly meeting to which they regularly report. If approval is granted, the quarterly meeting should appoint a committee to assist in making the necessary arrangements. In the case of the closing of a monthly meeting, this committee should arrange for the transfer of individual memberships to another meeting. Notification of such action should be forwarded promptly to the yearly meeting.
In laying down a preparative, monthly, or quarterly meeting, all rights and responsibilities of property vested in it and all responsibility for records shall be transferred to the larger meeting of which it has been a part.