So you want to be a Quaker!

[First draft text of a brochure that an unprogramed meeting could publish about joining! Inspired by a new attender at our meeting.]

You have attended Friends meeting for a time and now you would like to know about becoming a member. Great! It sounds like you are ready.

So now you might ask yourself if you are prepared.

Here are some suggestions for further reflection and action on the path toward joining our meeting:
  • Read the section about membership in Faith and Practice of Pacific Yearly Meeting. Better yet, try to browse through the whole book. It has advices and queries for individual and corporate reflection, as well as practical information about things like membership, marriage, memorials, what Quakers believe. It's sort of a User's Manual for Quakers.

  • Begin attending monthly meeting for business. The Quaker process of seeking unity with God's will in our decision making is one of the core practices of Friends. It is worth experiencing it just as you experience our weekly meeting for worship.

  • Read some more about Quaker history, or better yet, ask one of the longtime members of our meeting to tell you more.

  • Spend some time in personal reflection and prayer. Is this the right community and faith tradition for you?

  • You might want to read through the monthly magazines Friends Journal and Friends Bulletin for topics that are current among Friends. Both are available in our library. Similarly, a number of Quaker websites and blogs contain interesting information and discussions.

  • Above all, remember that we are human! You will encounter discomfort, mistakes, and pain here just as you would in any human community. With any luck, we will all remember to act out of love and support when we hit the rough patches. And sometimes we won't, and that will hurt. Yet with grace, we will have the strength and courage to admit our failings to one another and step into forgiveness together. It takes work to forge community, especially in this consumer culture where everything seems to be disposable, including relationship. Community takes time. It's an investment.

  • When you're prepared, you can write a letter asking to become a member. It can be one sentence, or it can be two or three pages about your spiritual journey. Be aware that it will be read out loud in the meeting for business. Then the ministry and oversight committee will appoint a clearness committee to meet with you, learn more about what brought you to us, give us a chance to share some of our own experience, and provide clearness about your membership application itself.
That's about it. We're here if you have any questions. Just let us know. Thanks for asking!
- - - - - -

Does your meeting have anything like this? I've seen some of the pamphlets from Northwest Yearly Meeting; it's no surprise that evangelical Friends are better at this than unprogrammed Frieds. I'd sure like our meeting to have something besides a response such as, "Well, stick around a few years and you'll know"! I don't know that's the kind of thing people at my current meeting say, but that's the general sense I have had at meetings I've attended. What's your experience?


Anonymous said...

I think a seeker is likely to pick this pamphlet up because she or he is wondering what membership means & entails -- and if she does so, she will go away baffled & frustrated, because the pamphlet offers no answers.

Anonymous said...

i really liked this a lot-- but maybe that's because it directly answers specific questions i've had (and asked). i am obviously not everybody, but if i was, this would be awesome.

Chris M. said...

Cubbie: Thank you! I'm glad it answered some questions you have. I'm sure you'll have more. Don't hesitate to ask us.

Marshall: I drafted the post originally as an email in response to a question from a new attender. He seemed satisfied with the answer, rather than frustrated, and so I expanded it for the post.

I was answering the question, "How do I join?" That requires a relatively straightforward answer about process.

You're right, there are other important questions, such as "What is the meaning of membership and what does it entail?" (And I know our attender is also asking these questions, too.) These are more complicated, and deserve not only a second brochure but also exploration within the clearness process itself. And thereafter, too.

I'll leave such a text for another time or for someone else to do.

Meanwhile, I would like my meeting to be more explicit about how to join. If we respond to a question about mechanics with an answer about meaning, I think we risk baffling new people who just want to start with, "How do I join?" I am also worried that if people in my meeting are vague or uncertain, we risk coming across as an exclusive social club more than a religious society.

Robin M. said...

Our Meeting already has some packets of reading material for new attenders (called "Seekers Packets") available in our library, and announced regularly after meeting for worship. I put another folder together a few years ago that I labeled "For couples considering marriage under the care of San Francisco Monthly Meeting." It has a few pamphlets and a photocopy of the relevant pages from PacYM's Faith and Practice. It's not a substitute for a clearness committee, it's a resource for Friends who are considering a big decision that they may not be ready to publicize yet. It is also a resource for the clearness committee, because it has some helpful questions and ideas for process so that the Friends asked to serve on the committee can brush up on the issues to cover.

Maybe we need another packet for attenders considering membership in SFMM. It could include this brochure like Chris has outlined, a photocopy of the relevant pages of F&P with a note on how to get your own copy, i.e. where to look in our specific meetinghouse and who to ask about it, and maybe a couple of pamphlets like Thomas Gates's Members One of Another and one on Quaker decision making process. Maybe it would also include a list of the Meeting's committees and a copy of the annual budget of the Meeting. This would give any reader a broader picture of membership, whether they are brand new or long time attenders.

The first question I usually hear is "how do I become a member?", or as someone said just yesterday, "how do I register?" The answer, I think, should say how, express gladness that the person inquired and also ask "why?" not in a manner of disbelief or discouragement, but as an engagement with the inquirer's interest and enthusiasm.

Chris M. said...

Robin: Thank you for the suggestions. That's a great idea -- combine the practical "how to join" in the context of "here's what you need to think about and what membership entails." The Gates pamphlet is an excellent resource. (Maybe Ministry & Oversight could put together a packet such as you outline. :)

Anonymous said...

Chris, your pamphlet title says, "So you want to be a Quaker!" -- not, "How do I join?"

Would you be willing to consider changing that title?

Chris M. said...

Marshall: Consider? Sure. At this point, though, I haven't even asked my monthly meeting if they would even consider this idea for publication. So for now, it's just a post on my blog. If it gets closer to reality, they can help with the discernment. Thank you for taking this idea seriously enough to comment twice.

I'm about to be away from the computer for a while, so I likely won't respond to further comments for a while.

Heather Madrone said...

Friend Chris,

Your questions are deep, and I was reminded of the searching questions I asked myself during my membership process.

In my Outreach work, however, I've come to wonder how many people turn away from our doors because our processes seem too forbidding and the bar for Quakerness too high.

At this point, I think that there is enough work in the world for lots of Quakers, and I'd like to see us as a society looking for ways to encourage more people to join us.

In our Welcome to Santa Cruz Meeting pamphlet, we include a short section on membership (following the section on Getting More Involved that covers Meeting for Business, committees, prayer groups, and ongoing adult religious education) that goes like this:

Becoming a member

If you've been attending Quaker Meeting for some time, you might wonder why no one has suggested that you become a member.

Membership in a Meeting is a deep commitment. Quakers respect each individual's process in coming to membership, and no one wants to rush new attenders.

When you are convinced that you are a Quaker and that you would like to join the Meeting, all you need to do is to send a letter to the clerk of the Meeting saying that you would like to join the Meeting. It is customary to include a little background information on how you came to this decision.

The clerk reads letters requesting membership at the next Meeting for business and then forwards the letter to the clerk of the Oversight committee. The clerk of Oversight then appoints a clearness committee for the prospective member. After the clearness committee has met several times, the new membership is sent back to Meeting for business for approval by the Meeting as a whole. The membership is then seasoned for a month.

Finally, we celebrate our new member.

I'm very aware right now that the membership process is not one-size-fits-all. I served on two Membership clearness committees last spring:one for a middle-aged man who had studied religion extensively and another for a 17-year-old Friend who was raised deep in the heart of Quakerdom. The work of the two committees was very different. My 18-year-old daughter recently went through the clearness process for her membership.

I'd love to see your Meeting's Outreach/Adult Religious Education materials as you develop them. It seems to me that this might be an area where PYM Meetings could help one another.


Anonymous said...

Hi Chris, Heather (!!), et al:

I haven't had a lot of time, since coming here to ESR, to be hanging out in BLOGland but, I recently tuned in to the conversations to see what Friends are saying about Membership.

The subject of membership, and particularly membership for Friends who are mobile, is much on my mind.
I know this is not the topic of your brochure, Chris, but -- I too wonder, so what does membership *mean*? Or what qualifies you: relationships that are active or proximity?

PhilaYM says:

"Members express their care for one another in many ways. They support one another's spiritual journeys. They participate in the intimate joys and sorrows of birth, marriage, death, and other rites of passage. Members facing important decisions receive counseling, as in the case of those contemplating marriage or those who are facing decisions about the military. At times of distress, the Meeting responds with the appropriate support, and, if needed, makes referrals to professional care-givers. A Meeting assumes responsibility for helping members resolve their differences. It responds to the special needs of the young and the elderly, and of new members, prospective members, and members at a distance.

"All members share the duty and privilege of caring for one another."

While our own PacYM states:

"Membership establishes a commitment between the individual and the Religious Society of Friends within the framework of a particular Monthly Meeting. Membership implies that, for each member, the Religious Society of Friends provides the most promising home for spiritual enlightenment and growth. It commits a person to the daily pursuit of truth after the manner of Friends, and commits the Meeting to support the member in that pursuit. Membership represents the outward recognition of unity with other members of the Religious Society of Friends and a commitment to cherish and share in the living tradition. "

Here's the source of my question: Callid and I just sent a letter requesting that our Meeting/s form a committee to sit with us regarding marriage clearness. We sent it to Rochester MM (NYYM) and to Humboldt MM (PacYM). Realistically, these meetings are Thousands of Miles Apart! How do they jointly "take us under their care"? I have not been resident in Humboldt for years. I have spent more time worshipping with Rochester and have been offered support for discerning emerging ministry that Callid and I share.

In the PhilaYM definition - ROC is more of a Meeting Community of accountability and care. I don't fit any of PacYM's geographic qualifications with Humboldt. Do I transfer my membership?

I realize I am going on and on. Maybe I can get someone to start a membership dialogue on their BLOG (Rebecca? Carl?) so that I don't use all of your comment space to explore my pet issue. Does anyone know of other discussions on the relevance of geography vs. active accountability on membership and spiritual home?

Much Love -- Kristina

Anonymous said...

i am getting so much out of you having even posted this on your blog, reading the comments and such.

i just noticed that in seeker's packet d, which is where i am, and by far the longest of them, there is a pamphlet about membership at the very end. (i am wondering lots about those seeker's packets-- how they came about, how the pamphlets got chosen and put into order. in a lot of ways they seem totally perfect, but there are a few things that could be changed (there's a lot of the same history over and over again in the first two, without some of the inward stuff that gets brought up later, and i think that could be switched around. two pamphlets or quaker terms right after each other didn't help me learn them...) and i'm just very curious about the whole process and the rationale and everything.

(meanwhile, ps, i've been posting like mad over on my blog-- all kinds of... really vulnerable hard things, and it's sort of like... there are crickets chirping. and, um, yeah, take your time getting over there and all that, but... i'd like you to, sometime, please.)

Mathilda said...

Heather: the blurb you quote implies that everyone who applies for membership is accepted. But there are 3 possible outcomes: Yes, No, and Not Now. With Not Now, the meeting should advise the applicant of specific things to do to become ready--attend business meeting, read certain materials, or whatever is appropriate.

Mathilda said...

Chris: This is great! May I edit it and use it?

Chris M. said...

Mathilda: Yes, please feel free to edit and use it, and I hope you will take into account the various comments made here.

Heather: Thanks for printing your meeting's summary of "becoming a member." I will look at it more closely once we're unpacked from Thanksgiving.

Cubbie: I'm sure the seeker's packets could stand to be reviewed again. As I recall, they were pretty much put together by the late Robert Kohls. I'll pass that on to the resident member of M&O here... :)

Kristina: I'll email you separately, and will comment here as well in case you're checking back. First, congratulations on you and Callid seeking clearness! That's great to hear. Second, my take is that one should transfer membership once one moves... though that's hard when you don't know how long you'll be somewhere or if you think you'll be there just a year or the like.

Would you be willing to let me "lift up" your comment as a guest post? I'd be happy to have an "open thread" on the topic here.

-- Chris M.

Anonymous said...

actually, i wound up asking around and finding out that they were made by robert. which makes them feel-- untouchable in a way-- especially by me, where i am. i wound up rambling, probably too much, at the last study group, about how weird it is to want to have a dialogue with this person who i've never met, who i won't ever meet.

also, it turns out that the "moving to membership" article is actually basically, "so-- you are a british meeting. let's explore your process of membership."

Anonymous said...

more about the seekers' packet-- the brochure about "moving into membership" does have some sample "so you want to be a member" brochures. they touch on some of the nuts and bolts-- things that were answered before i asked my question. hmm...