Guest post: Kristina's queries on membership in the RSOF

Kristina Perry gave me permission to lift up her comments on my post "So you want to be a Quaker!" to be a guest post. I invite your answers to her questions, as well as your broader thoughts and responses on membership, especially in your own experience. -- Chris M.
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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?

Does anyone know of other discussions on the relevance of geography vs. active accountability on membership and spiritual home?

Much Love -- Kristina


Anonymous said...

Post Comment-Post Comment:

After a visit to Richmond by two members of the Anchor Committee, we have continued to talk about membership as a function of geography or active spiritual relationship.

Besides consulting many books of Faith and Practice about the issue I checked out a Pendle Hill Pamphlet on the subject. In the PHP "Members of One Another" Thomas Gates speaks of four levels/concentric circles of membership (simplified for brevity):

2)Shared Values;
3)Transformation; and
4)(Holy) Obedience.

I experience the first three as a function of membership in the Religious Society in general, and the last as allowed by relationship to a particular meeting. In fact, I experience that the relationship I have to ROC Meeting and to the Anchor Committee in particular, has enabled me in this recent period to be more faithful, more obedient to God's will. This further calls the question: where does my membership belong? And why?

Liz Opp said...

What a great conversation this is and has been! Thanks to Chris and Kristina for lifting it up.

A few thoughts and reflections--and a bunch of warm fuzzies--rise for me as I consider this post.

1. Like you, I am keen on Gates' pamphlet and still refer to it, more than a year after having read it.

2. My take on transferring membership in terms of mobility is this: It is important for there to be a sense of "being known" by a critical mass of Friends within the current meeting--and also of knowing a certain number of Friends--in That Which Is Eternal.

Spiritual care for one another and mutual accountability, as well as an ability to serve the Spirit (such as through committee involvement) all speak to me of a Friend's readiness to engage in the life of the meeting, as well as the readiness of the meeting to take the Friend's spiritual well-being under its care.

If those pieces are not in place, perhaps Way is not open and the Friend may continue to sojourn there. But it also seems to me that a clearness committee for membership doesn't require a Friend to be clear. It merely requires that a Friend be seeking clearness.

3. Ah, weddings! Six years ago, my partner and I pursued being wedded under the care of the yearly meeting, and when that didn't work out--for one thing, the YM didn't have an M&C/M&O to move the process along--we pursued being wedded under the care of our respective meetings, which also didn't work. And our meetings were only 300 miles apart, not a few thousand!

Here's how I see it:

Similar to membership, the care of the relationship before, during, and after the MfW for marriage/wedding is (perhaps) best provided for by a single meeting that knows the two individuals and their coupleship well. Like membership, it requires a certain level of commitment, both for the meeting towards the couple and for the couple towards the meeting.

In my case, because I had relocated and was worshiping regularly in the city where my partner was living, my partner's meeting took our relationship under its care.

When we requested a clearness committee for marriage, we asked if two dear Quaker friends of ours from the yearly meeting could serve on it, which was accepted.

When it was time to identify a Friend to clerk the Meeting for Worship itself, we asked another dear Quaker friend to do so. She was a Friend from the meeting where I had attended before moving, so in a way, with God's grace, we were able to have our cake and eat it too.... just not in the way that we ourselves had imagined!

I think the topic of membership is an important one, and for sure I have more to say. BUT-- it's late as I'm writing this, so I'll plan to check back another time to see what other folks maybe will have added to the conversation here.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Rebecca Sullivan said...

I resonate a lot with what Liz has said that you have to be known in a meeting before you are able to transfer your membership. My family is dealing with where we should worship and my parents are wondering where their membership is. Although for me I am clear I want to keep at Santa Cruz until I am out of college. It is clear to me that I am part of that community and that I want to keep being an active community member. It will be hard to be on committees but I will be willing once school is done to end up in California again and continue my spiritual journey there - but will keep it up to God.

More later as for I need to go to school.


Anonymous said...

these descriptions of membership are why i get confused about the difference betwee that and what i'm doing. i've decided to wait a year, because someone said that waiting a year is the only way to see all the seasons, and that makes sense as far as making sure i know what i'm getting into-- but i want to be part of the community in so many ways already, and i also feel like i already am-- and so there is the bafflement about why or why not to make it official.

Rebecca Sullivan said...


you can both wait a year and be part of the community. you can be on most committees and then you will get an idea about committee work and how quaker process works at the lower levels.

Anonymous said...

i DID say i was confused. look at that! but it's not a... big confusion... or a new confusion... or increase of confusion. but just that what confuses me was put into better words than i've been able to do.

Martin Kelley said...

The whole membership question is a can of worms for a younger generation of Friends that often move about a lot. For birthright Friends, membership in a meeting a thousand miles away that you haven't visited in years is kind of ridculous. For convinced Friends it's hard to put down roots if you know that jobs/relationships/etc. might send you away.

If we want our religious society to grow then meetings must start becoming better at providing pastoral care (including clearness committees) to whoever shows up at their door--whether members there or anywhere, whether lifelong Quakers or month-long seekers. Sure it takes time from meeting members but our purpose is to spread the good news and expand the blessed community on earth.

I've noticed that some meetings now seem to prefer couples that live together and are both involved with the same meeting. The meeting is essentially only recognizing an already-existing common law marriage. Scenarios where the couple hail from different meetings should be common and I think they once were.

My understanding of the traditional process is that the groom's meeting meets with him tp give him a clean bill of health so to speak (i.e, assure that there are no outstanding marriages out there!), with the marriage clearness itself handled by the bride's meeting (to more carefully watch out for her best interests, presumably).

I wonder if the model would work for Kristina and Kallid? We've certainly outgrown the gender distinctions. From the sound of it I wonder if it would make most sense for Humboldt to give Kristina the clean slate award so that the clearness could happen in Rochester?

Chris M. said...

Martin, Cubbie, Kristina, Rebecca: Thanks for commenting.

Martin, you wrote: "If we want our religious society to grow then meetings must start becoming better at providing pastoral care (including clearness committees) to whoever shows up at their door--whether members there or anywhere, whether lifelong Quakers or month-long seekers."

Indeed! I'm happy to say that our meeting's ministry & oversight committee created a pastoral care subcommittee this year. It may not be perfect, and it may make responsibility land too much on the same people's shoulders, and yet it's a good start.

-- Chris M.