The monthly meeting is the final authority in all matters concerning membership, and all membership occurs in the monthly meeting. A person joining a particular Friends meeting becomes thereby a member of a quarterly meeting, the yearly meeting, and the Religious Society of Friends.
Membership establishes a mutual commitment between members and their Friends meeting. On the one hand, membership commits the meeting to provide a spiritual home for its members and corporate support for their efforts to live in harmony with the faith and practices of Friends. Many meetings establish scholarship funds for members to attend workshops, retreats and other opportunities for spiritual nourishment, as well as scholarships for members’ children to attend Friends schools. Meetings also support members faced with difficult, potentially life-changing decisions by forming clearness committees to assist them in their discernment process. Meeting support may also extend to elements of a member’s life, such as economic insecurity, that could interfere with full and active participation in the meeting. Most important, the meeting provides regular opportunities for corporate worship, spiritual growth and other activities that enable the meeting to be a genuine community of faith for its members.
On the other hand, membership commits members of the meeting to live in spiritual unity with each other and to engage as fully as possible in the life of the meeting. Specifically, this means regular participation in meetings for worship and for business, financial support of the work of the meeting, and service to the meeting as an officer or on one of its committees. Membership also entails giving time, skills and material support to the meeting and its activities such as religious education, pastoral care and witness to the broader community. In Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, responsibility for the full range of monthly, quarterly and yearly meeting activities rests with the membership.
People from other religious backgrounds or with no religious ties often visit Friends meetings. Meetings welcome all visitors, giving continuing attention to those who return frequently. Meetings may provide these regular attenders with spiritual support and guidance as they seek to learn more about Friends faith and practice. Regular attenders may be encouraged to attend business meetings and, at the discretion of the meeting, to serve on committees. These individuals can then witness Friends particular approach to worship and the conduct of meeting business, as well as the structure, finances and witness of the meeting. Regular attenders are invited to attend sessions of quarterly and yearly meeting and the annual summer gatherings of Friends General Conference. Meetings provide regular attenders with a copy of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s current Faith and Practice, and with information about the major spiritual writings of Friends and the history of Friends, as well as information regarding Friends organizations. (See Section V. Friends and Some of Their Organizations.)
Those attenders who participate regularly in meeting activities, especially meeting for worship, and who demonstrate a growing understanding and appreciation of Friends faith and practices are encouraged to apply for membership. (See Section VII. Procedures for Membership.)
As noted above, membership entails a major commitment to participate in a particular community of Friends. Friends understand that membership is located in a single monthly meeting and have developed procedures so that individuals may easily transfer their membership from one meeting to another, or may become sojourning members during lengthy periods of visitation. Friends recognize that fulfilling the commitments of membership in two different faith communities at the same time is usually impractical. Should an applicant for membership in a monthly meeting wish to maintain membership in or affiliation with another religious body, the clearness committee established to review the application for membership will explore with sensitivity the reasons that underlie this desire.
Children Friends consider children from birth to maturity to be full participants in the life of the meeting, to be nurtured in their spiritual development and understanding of the faith and practice of Friends and guided and encouraged into Quaker adulthood. The meeting can help children prepare for the decisions they must make about friendships, peer pressure, recreation, education, career, and military or alternative service. As they mature, those who have received this care from their meeting will become increasingly conscious of the full meaning of membership in the Religious Society of Friends so as to make their own decisions regarding membership. The meeting provides an atmosphere of inclusion, care, love and recognition—in short, a spiritual home—for all young people in the meeting, regardless of their membership status or that of their parents.
A person of any age may apply for membership in a Friends meeting. Some people are spiritually ready for membership early in their lives; others are ready only as adults. Meetings are encouraged to respect parents’ sense of what is best for their children regarding membership. Parents who are members may, at the time of their child’s birth or adoption or later:
- Request membership for their child;
- Request associate membership for their child (see below);
- Not request any enrollment for the child.
Parents who are members of different meetings must decide which meeting records the membership of the child. When only one parent is a member, children may be recorded upon the request of that parent and with the permission of the other or, under unusual circumstances, upon the request of only one parent. Where there is only one legal parent, that member may request membership or associate membership for the child. Meetings are urged to recognize the diversity of family patterns, with sensitivity to the concerns of all involved.
Parents requesting membership for their child are expected to raise the child as a Friend in the meeting community. The parents and the meeting can then help the child to grow gradually into the responsibilities of membership and encourage the child when ready to take on specific responsibilities—such as service on a meeting committee. The meeting has an obligation to those recorded as members at a young age to ensure that as they reach adulthood they will thoughtfully consider their own commitment to membership.
Many meetings offer associate membership for children, with the full responsibilities and privileges of membership up to their adulthood, that age to be determined by the meeting. (For yearly meeting statistical purposes associate members will not be recorded after their 21st birthday.) Associate members may request full membership when they are ready, and the Friends meeting’s role is one of active encouragement.
In the past, many Friends meetings automatically recorded as members (called “birthright” Friends) all newborn children whose parents were members, but this practice is inconsistent with the goal of a religious society of convinced Friends and has been abandoned.
Transfer of Membership A Friend who moves to a new area or is drawn to worship with another Friends meeting may request a transfer of membership. The transfer process entails specific responsibilities for both the sending and the receiving monthly meetings. (See Section VII. Procedures for Membership.)
Sojourning Members Friends may attend a meeting because they have moved temporarily into its vicinity, but may not wish to give up membership in their home meeting to which they expect to return. In such a case, a Friend may ask their home meeting to send a letter to the meeting attended, asking it to recognize the Friend as a sojourning member. Sojourning Friends may accept all roles that the host meeting sees fit to assign to them. However, they are not counted in the statistical reports of the host meeting and their sojourning membership ends when they leave that area.
Joining Other Religious Bodies If a member wishes to leave the Religious Society of Friends to join another religious body, they are expected to notify their monthly meeting. The meeting may give them a letter stating their good standing in the Religious Society of Friends. The meeting records the resignation in the minutes of the meeting.
Membership Records In Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, it is the practice for monthly meetings to maintain records of their members, including transfers of membership to and from the meeting, resignations, and new members. The recorder of each meeting keeps accurate information on the membership status of each active member and shares it with the quarterly meeting and yearly meeting as requested.
Inactive Members Some individuals may wish to retain membership in the Religious Society of Friends even though they have not been active in any Friends meeting for many years. At its discretion, a meeting may carry inactive persons on its membership rolls. Long-term nominal membership is generally discouraged, however, except when active meeting participation is not possible because of poor health, when residence is so far from any meeting (so that transfer of membership or sojourning membership is not feasible), or for some other compelling reason.