by Jenifer Goetz
Quakerism offers a religion based on experiencing a loving inward Presence or Inner Light which opens us to truth, freedom and peace. Quakers worship in stillness without ritual and have no outward sacraments. Through this worship a number of practical principles for living have been found which are seen as testimonies to the presence of Spirit throughout this created world.
Attending a Friends Meeting is an opportunity to sense the deep spiritual power of a meeting for worship when there is a gathering of those present into something greater than themselves. You may already be in accord with the ways of simplicity, honesty and the wholeness of integrity which Quakers pursue. Quakers invite all to join in developing a world of peace, social justice and equality of all persons through efforts guided by non-violence and reconciliation. You may be searching for something more vital in a religious community which makes living your religion or a “transformed life” more possible. We too search for more depth in our spiritual lives, opening ourselves to our creator and striving to order our affairs by a guidance that is beyond us, felt within us.
Friends offer no theological formula or creedal statement. The Society took form in 17th century England in the midst of great controversies among Christians. Today we use a diversity of words in expressing experiences which emanate divinity including a vocabulary from our earliest history which conveys best for us the immediacy and tenderness we find in encountering God. Friends strive to respect the integrity in personal beliefs. Freedom is essential to the search for truth and it is in living in accord with our truth that we find our discipline.
George Fox, the founder of our religious society, wrote a journal of his spiritual life in which he said he came to “know God experimentally” (in direct experience) through an Inward Light or Seed or Christ which is in every human heart as it was in his. Every human being can know God directly and can find and share truth and love from that source. Out of this understanding have grown the practices which characterize Friends. They are described in the book of Faith and Practice for the yearly meeting of which the monthly meeting is a part. Friends regularly examine themselves through “queries” printed in Faith and Practice, which also contains selected writings from three centuries of Friends. Through prayer and meditation these words become part of a religious background and the readings suggest which larger texts might “speak to the condition” of the reader.
You already know or will find out that, as an attender, you can take part in the life of the Meeting without being a member. Perhaps no one will ask you if you are considering membership. We hope desire for membership, though we share it, will be so clear to you that you will speak of it when you feel ready. We sometimes miss a chance to be encouraging in this choice, so do not hesitate to ask anyone to share thoughts or information with you.
An unprogrammed (silent) meeting often represents a broad spectrum of beliefs including expression in Christian and non-Christian words. There is both freedom and dismay in this. The history of Friends is an important influence in understanding our present and it will help you to know some of it. Activism and spirituality are found in different degrees in each Friend and characterize each monthly meeting differently. Visits to more than one meeting are informative, even among Friends, and worth it even if only one meeting is near enough to join. Meetings exist because their members do all their work—most often through committees—provide financial support and participate in wider Quaker affairs to the enrichment of all Friends. We invite you to consider commitment with us, to our ideals, our experience and our way of life.
A person joining a monthly meeting becomes thereby a member of a quarterly meeting, the yearly meeting and the Religious Society of Friends. There is no membership in the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting other than membership in a particular monthly meeting.
The Application Process
Becoming a member is a shared process of finding the way clear to do so. After you have attended meeting for worship for a period of time, done some reading in Faith and Practice and the history of the Society, become acquainted with some members, attended some meetings for worship for business, and if you feel this is a place where your spiritual needs are being met and your gifts can develop and be used, then you begin the search into membership by writing a letter to the clerk of the monthly meeting. Explain your desire to join and how you have arrived at this point. The letter is as short or as long as you need it to be. The letter will go to the Overseers Committee. A member of overseers is a good person to consult if you have questions about writing this letter.
The committee will appoint two or three persons who will arrange a visit with you. During the visit you and they will discover together if the basis for membership is sound or if there are important areas, such as a testimony, or a part of your previous faith, which need more time for examination and clarity. Applicants who still belong to another religious body are expected to give up that membership when they join a Meeting. Anyone can belong to the Wider Quaker Fellowship and receive three mailings of Quaker interest a year, but joining a Meeting is a commitment to a unique community and not a form of ecumenism. Your questions on this or other matters are important, as is your leading, and the committee gains from what you bring up as well.
You probably will be asked how your family regards your choice and whether application for any children is desired, whether as associates or full members. People may apply for membership on their own at any age, taking into account the uniqueness of each person’s spiritual growth and the goal of the Society to be made up of members by mature convincement. It is part of the care by overseers to know how your membership will be regarded by those close to you; we know that such a change sometimes can raise critical questions.
The visiting committee will report its recommendation of acceptance or delay to overseers, who usually meet once a month. If overseers agree with the acceptance, the decision is forwarded to the monthly meeting for worship for business (from which the monthly meeting gets its name) where the final action is taken. A meeting may wait another month before final action in order that Friends may get better acquainted with you.
As a new member you will again be visited to be welcomed, to have committees described to you and for you to give information for the Meeting records. You should ask if you will have an overseer who can offer friendly advice and information when needed. Assigning Overseers to members differs in practice in each meeting.
If you will be moving far from the Meeting for a period of time you will not be able to grow in the community in the way we consider membership to mean. You should seriously consider the Wider Quaker Fellowship, 1520 Race Street, Phila., PA 19102 and its meaningful materials and a subscription to the Meeting’s newsletter if that is possible. For an annual fee you can join the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Library and its mailing service from 1515 Cherry Street, Phila. PA 19102.
Whether you join us or journey with us we welcome you to our meetings and encourage you to hear and respond to the loving word of the Spirit within your heart whenever and wherever it comes to you.