The Religious Society of Friends has always mistrusted church hierarchies, believing that the path to the Divine is inward for each individual and worshipping group. Friends have kept the power of decision-making in religious matters as close to the primary worship group as possible. The monthly meeting, accordingly, has a freedom of action and responsibility not given to either the quarterly or yearly meeting. On the other hand, there are some matters on which a degree of uniformity among monthly meetings contributes to the good order of the society, and likewise there are some matters that invite attention and support at the quarterly or yearly meeting level.
By virtue of membership in a monthly meeting, Friends also become members of the quarterly and yearly meeting. Monthly meetings may designate certain members to attend quarterly or yearly meeting sessions as representatives, although all members are welcome and encouraged to attend. Appointed representatives serve as a vital communications link between the yearly and quarterly meeting and the monthly meeting. However, they do not attend quarterly or yearly meeting as instructed delegates of their meeting, but join others in worship and decision-making that respond to the moving of the Spirit in that time and place.
Monthly meetings may adopt and forward minutes of concern, proposals for action, or expressions of unity on issues they wish to bring before quarterly or yearly meeting for consideration, but such minutes do not limit the freedom of the body assembled to adopt alternate courses. It is helpful for the quarterly and yearly meetings to have in place a procedure for broad prior consideration and seasoning of such concerns or proposals.
Monthly meetings, quarterly meetings and the yearly meeting share the common task of encouraging and sustaining members in their obedience to the Truth. This makes members’ lives both harder, because of the challenge to a higher level of commitment to a religious calling, and easier, because of the presence of a supportive structure within which that calling can be answered.
Monthly meetings, quarterly meetings and the yearly meeting prepare and disseminate various written reports on topics of mutual interest. Annual budgets and other reports are reviewed and discussed at a meeting for business. These meetings also report informally to members through newsletters. There is a strong tradition of oral reporting to monthly meetings of the deliberations and decisions of the quarterly and yearly meeting.
In the past, monthly meetings sent to their quarterly meeting two separate forms of annual report: an overall state of the meeting and a report of the committee on worship and ministry. Quarterly meetings in turn submitted annual reports on the same two subjects to yearly meeting, drawing on the reports of monthly meetings. Some quarterly meetings have restored the practice of asking their constituent meetings to prepare a state-of-the-meeting report. Such reports can help the quarterly and yearly meetings identify situations in monthly meetings where assistance from others might be helpful. (See Section VII. Guidelines for a Spiritual Self-assessment of the Meeting.)
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting still asks monthly meetings to provide an annual report of membership statistics, and it asks both monthly and quarterly meetings to submit a list of current officers.
Such sharing of information among meetings, as well as with the quarterly and yearly meeting, can be beneficial for all involved and is a practice that might well be revived or enhanced in the future.