2. Membership

Friends accept into active membership those whose declarations and ways of life manifest such unity with Friends’ views and practices that they may be expected to enter fully into religious fellowship with the meeting. Part of the essential genius of the Society is the experience of growth through common worship and the loving acceptance of an individual by the group. It is an open fellowship that recognizes that of God in everyone.

Those inclined to join us should review carefully this entire book of Faith and Practice and other Friends’ literature so as to gain an understanding of the basis of the Quaker faith, mode of worship, and manner of transacting business. They should attend meetings for worship and for business for a sufficient period of time to become convinced that membership will nourish and enrich their continuing growth in the life of the Spirit. They should be aware that this growth may entail changes in every aspect of their lives. Membership in a monthly meeting includes membership in the quarterly or equivalent meeting, the New York Yearly Meeting, Friends United Meeting, and Friends General Conference. Prospective applicants for membership should also have knowledge of the Wider Quaker Fellowship, the Friends World Committee for Consultation, the American Friends Service Committee, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation. They should discuss any questions or doubts with members of the meeting, particularly overseers or members of ministry and counsel.

Membership is a privilege and entails a corresponding responsibility. Members should be prepared to give bountifully of their resources of time and money. The shared ministry of the Society and the importance of the proper functioning of committees and meetings demand participation and cooperation. Membership is a commitment to enter wholeheartedly into the spiritual and corporate activities of the Society and willingly to assume responsibility for both service and support as the way opens.

Only monthly and executive meetings have the power to admit individuals to membership in the Religious Society of Friends.

ADULTS. Membership may be extended to adults by individual application or by certificate of transfer from another monthly meeting.

CHILDREN. Friends have a particular responsibility to bring children under the loving care of the meeting. Friends should be sensitive to the needs of these young people, nurturing their spiritual well-being and helping them grow into mature and concerned members.

Meetings differ in the ways in which they encourage children’s participation. Some monthly and executive meetings record children as members at birth or adoption when both parents are members, unless parents request otherwise. Meetings may also extend membership to children under age 18 a) by written request of both member parents, b) by request of a member parent and written consent, if possible, of the nonmember parent, c) by request of a guardian, d) by request of the child upon recommendation of the overseers or the meeting on ministry and counsel. Some meetings record children as associate members.

[It is] our desire that all persons on whom involuntary membership has been conferred, either by birth or through entrance of parents into membership, be reaffirmed by commitment at an age which would make this appropriate.
– Yearly Meeting Minute #13, 1976

All members age 18 and over are considered adult members for statistical and financial purposes.

SOJOURNING MEMBERSHIP. Friends who expect to be residing temporarily within the limits of monthly meetings not their own may request from their own meetings recommendations of sojourning membership. If their meetings approve, they may issue certificates commending these Friends to the other meetings and stating the lengths of time during which the sojourning memberships are to be effective. This temporary residence may include intermittent periods, such as that of students attending school or college or of Friends working under concerns that take them from home.

Following the general procedures for membership applications, the meetings with which they wish to associate may accept Friends into sojourning membership, according them the same privileges and responsibilities as full members but not including them in the total membership of the meetings for statistical reports.

A certificate of sojourning membership does not terminate the membership in the originating meeting.

APPLICATION. An applicant for membership should address a letter to the monthly meeting, stating the reasons for wishing to join the Religious Society of Friends and indicating the extent of unity with its principles and testimonies. This letter, addressed to the monthly meeting, is sent to the overseers or the meeting on ministry and counsel, who should acknowledge it promptly.

The meeting on ministry and counsel or the overseers will appoint from among their members a clearness committee, which has the responsibility to evaluate an applicant for membership. Monthly meetings without a meeting on ministry and counsel or overseers will undertake this responsibility directly. Although not requiring acceptance of any specific statement of faith or theological formulation of belief, the clearness committee should ascertain by personal visits the religious background and views of the applicant and the person’s knowledge and acceptance of Friends’ principles and practices. In particular, the applicant should be acquainted with the varieties of religious interpretation existing throughout the Society and with its emphasis on the loving spirit and teachings of Jesus. The applicant should discuss frankly with the clearness committee any reservations concerning Friends’ beliefs and practices.

The clearness committee will explain the responsibilities and opportunities inherent in membership. These include faithful attendance at meetings for worship and business, service on committees, sharing in financial support of the meeting, and involvement in regional and yearly meeting activities.

The clearness committee will report to the monthly meeting on ministry and counsel or overseers, who will then make a recommendation to the monthly meeting. If the overseers or the meeting on ministry and counsel report that they find no obstruction, the monthly meeting may immediately receive the applicant into membership. If the overseers or ministry and counsel feel that the applicant is not yet ready for membership, they may postpone recommending action until a subsequent meeting. It is then their responsibility to become better acquainted with the applicant and to offer such instruction and guidance as seem appropriate.

When the monthly meeting accepts an applicant into membership, the clerk records the action and furnishes the new member a copy of the approving minute. The meeting may appoint a welcoming committee.

Each meeting has a corporate personality of its own so that it is inevitable that there will be local coloration in the interpretation of membership requirements. This should not be construed, however, as license to impose additional requirements for membership or to set aside the guidelines in this Discipline. The receiving meeting must be mindful of the fact that it acts not only in its own behalf but in the name of the Religious Society of Friends in its entirety.

ATTENDERS. Attenders are those who manifest a continuing interest in the life of the meeting. Friends should welcome their participation in activities of the meeting, but they may not serve as clerks of the meeting, treasurers, overseers, elders, trustees, or members of ministry and counsel, or on the Finance, Advancement, or Nominating Committees, and they should know that it is the members who must make the decisions in the meetings for business.

WIDER QUAKER FELLOWSHIP. This is an international group who desire Quaker fellowship without formal membership in the Religious Society of Friends. Further information is available from the yearly meeting office.

TRANSFER OF MEMBERSHIP. When a monthly meeting receives a request for transfer from one of its members, the overseers or the meeting on ministry and counsel should carefully inquire into the condition of the member’s religious and temporal affairs. If, on such inquiry, it seems proper to do so, the meeting should direct its clerk to issue a minute of transfer and promptly forward it to the monthly meeting to which transfer is desired. Transfer minutes for those recorded in the gifts of ministry should so state. If objection to a transfer appears, the clerks of the meetings involved should confer.

When the meeting to which the member wishes to transfer receives the minute, its clerk should refer it to the overseers or the meeting on ministry and counsel. Unless objection appears, the meeting should accept and record the Friend as a member. Until this is done, the Friend remains a member of the former meeting. The clerk of the meeting accepting the transfer should notify the former meeting of that action. One or more Friends should be appointed to visit the transferred member and extend a welcome.

JOINING OTHER DENOMINATIONS. If a member wishes to join another religious denomination, the monthly meeting may grant a letter of recommendation and remove the individual’s name from membership. When any member has joined another denomination without requesting a letter of recommendation, the monthly meeting should remove the individual’s name from the list of members, the clerk sending notice of this action to the person concerned.

RELEASE FROM MEMBERSHIP. When a member requests the monthly meeting to release her or him from membership, the monthly meeting or overseers should appoint Friends to visit (or write to) the member and to inquire sensitively into the matter. If the member does not reconsider, the meeting should release that Friend from membership. The clerk should write to the former member, quoting the minute of release. For reinstatement, the applicant must follow the usual order of application for membership.

DISCONTINUANCE. After having made sustained and diligent efforts to reclaim the commitment of those Friends who have lost touch with meetings, monthly meetings may discontinue their membership. Before taking that action, the meeting should have sent letters of loving inquiry to such members at least once a year for a period of three years. Having received no satisfactory replies, the monthly meeting clerk may make a minute discontinuing membership and so inform the persons concerned.

DISOWNMENT. A monthly meeting should not disown a member until every method of reconciliation has been exhausted. Formal complaints against a member should be considered prayerfully by the meeting on ministry and counsel or the overseers. A committee appointed to confer with the member should labor in love to try to resolve the problem. Care should be taken to distinguish between the deed and the doer. If the committee is unable to restore the member to fellowship with the meeting, the matter should be brought before the monthly meeting which will, if it still be unresolved, prepare a minute of disownment. The member shall be given a copy of the minute and the membership records corrected accordingly.

A disowned member may appeal the disownment to the quarterly meeting within six months for a review. If the quarterly meeting upholds the decision of the monthly meeting, the individual can still appeal to the yearly meeting.

When there is a review before a quarterly or the yearly meeting, a committee of three should be appointed to represent the meeting from which the appeal is taken. Review may, by common accord, be conducted before a judicious and representative committee appointed by the meeting to which appeal is made rather than before the entire meeting.