Notwithstanding efforts to improve the outreach and in reach of Friends meetings, the membership of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting has declined over the years. It had some 30,000 members in 1775, but about half that number by 1925, unevenly divided between the two yearly meetings. The 1955 reunification brought together 5,537 Orthodox and 11,633 Hicksites Friends, or about 17,000. By 1994, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting had just 12,100 members. Since then, the membership has remained relatively stable with some meetings experiencing an influx of active attenders while other meetings with few and aging members continue to decline.
Though other denominations also experience declining membership, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting seems to face challenges that may be peculiar to its faith and practice. The pace of life that most individuals and families experience appears antithetical to reflective meditation practices and to regular, continuous participation in the life of a meeting. Increased mobility and evolving ideas about membership seem to create a decreased emphasis on establishing a formal and lifelong membership arrangement with a particular meeting. For some, the restrained and at times overly intellectual nature of many meetings does not provide spiritual fulfillment. For others, the Quaker culture itself, perhaps unrecognized by those formed within it, appears unwelcoming and uncongenial.
Even so, our monthly, quarterly and yearly meetings and Friends institutions continue to offer a vital experience of worship and opportunities for active service to members and attenders. And Philadelphia Yearly Meeting is working deliberately to nurture new leadership, to articulate our faith and practice, to undo racism within the yearly meeting and the larger society, and to respond to climate change and environmental degradation. In addition, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting contributed significantly to the renovation of Friends Center at 15th and Cherry Streets in Philadelphia, which was recognized officially as a model green building. It supported the renovation of the Friends meeting house in Ramallah and the establishment of a peace center there. And in 2009, it joined other historic peace churches in sponsoring a national ecumenical conference at the meetinghouse at 4th and Arch Streets in Philadelphia, “Heeding God’s Call: A Gathering on Peace.” This conference included a witness for handgun violence prevention in the city of Philadelphia. We continue to recognize these and other challenges and to address them in ways that support the leadings of our vital and growing community of Friends.
We value the continuity in worship practice that has been our hallmark from the 1680s and continues to offer a radical simplicity today. We are strengthened by the sense of a gathered community as we seek and experience the Inward Light. As Friends, we remain committed to a life of obedience to the Spirit and seek to be faithful witnesses to Truth.