Becoming a Member of the Religious Society of Friends
Compiled by Maida Follini and based on the Canadian Yearly Meeting “Organization and Procedure”; “Christian Faith and Practice in the Experience of the Society of Friends” [London Yearly Meeting, 1960]; “Faith and Practice of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends” and “Faith and Practice of New York Yearly Meeting”.
“Now the Lord God hath opened to me by His invisible power how that everyman was enlightened by the divine Light of Christ; and I saw it shine through all…” George Fox, recalling his experiences in 1648.
Membership in the Religious Society of Friends is offered to those who wish to share in the search for divine guidance, according to the manner of Friends. Meeting in worship, Friends gather to experience communion with God. Believing that God speaks directly to each person, worshippers are Listeners, ready to receive God’s message. The call to a vocal ministry may come to any worshipper. Membership in the Society of Friends includes the responsibility of attending meetings for worship and for business, sharing in the religious life of Friends, and in the practical expression of our religious faith through our care for each other and service to the wider community.
Seekers after attending Meeting for Worship, talking with Friends or reading Quaker writings, may have a desire to enter joyfully into the worship, fellowship, and activities of the Society. We encourage applications for membership from those who, after a period of attendance and study, desire to join the Society.
Having come to a decision to join, the person writes a letter of application to the Clerk of the Monthly Meeting. The letter of application does not have to be lengthy, but will usually express the person’s spiritual state and reasons for seeking membership in the Friends.
The Clerk will acknowledge receipt of the application, and will appoint a Clearness Committee, made up of two or three Friends, who will arrange to visit the applicant. The visitation may take place at the applicant’s home, or at the home of one of the Committee members, or in a meeting room, outdoor setting for meditation, or any appropriate location providing quiet and privacy for the serious discussions which will take place. The purpose of the visit of the Clearness Committee is to ascertain how far the applicant unites with the views and practices of Friends and with the understanding that Quaker beliefs are based on faith in the spirit of God as manifested in the life and teachings of Jesus and as a light in the hearts of humankind.
The distinguishing testimonies of the Society of Friends arise out of our experience of listening to the Holy Spirit, and the testing of individual messages with the witness of the Meeting as a whole. Complete agreement with us in all respects, whether of formal belief or practice, need not be asked, but unity is essential on the reality of direct divine communion, the presence of the “Inner Light” or that of God in every person, and the spiritual values of the Christian tradition, as experienced through Quaker witness, in a continuing search. The members of the Committee will discuss with the applicant his or her reasons for wishing to join the Society of Friends, and can explain further, if necessary, Friends principles and practices. The Clearness Committee will realize that the search is not complete for any of us. Current members and applicants each share a desire for deeper understanding of our faith. The visitation can be a positive experience of spiritual growth both for the applicant and the committee members.
Following the visit with the applicant, the Clearness Committee will make a report to the Monthly Meeting. Such a report might recommend acceptance of the applicant; or further study and attendance by the applicant at Meetings for Worship before being received in membership; or might recommend that our Society is not the appropriate spiritual home for the applicant. The Monthly Meeting shall act upon the report according to its best judgment in the matter. Following the Monthly Meeting decision, the Clerk of the Monthly Meeting shall inform the applicant in writing of his or her reception into membership, or other decision, as the case may be. This decision shall be conveyed to the applicant in a timely and suitable manner.
When an applicant is received into membership, an announcement may be made at a Meeting for Worship attended by the new member, so that all members may extend a warm welcome to the new member. Membership in the Society of Friends is held through the Monthly Meeting. Such membership includes the privilege of participating in committee or office, in regional gatherings and in Canadian Yearly Meeting.