Becoming a Member of the Religious Society of Friends
This document is 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 the Divine. Believing that the Spirit 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 who attend Meeting for Worship, who talk with Friends or who read Quaker writings, may enter joyfully into the worship, fellowship, and activities of the Society as a member. We encourage applications for membership from those wishing to deepen their fellowship in these ways.
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 with Friends.
The Clerk will acknowledge receipt of the application, and Ministry & Counsel 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 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 their desire to join the Monthly Meeting as a member of the Society of Friends. The Clearness Committee is also a good place for conversations about Friends’ ways. The Clearness Committee will likely rediscover that the search for meaning and truth is an ongoing commitment of Friends that is never complete for any of us. Members and seekers alike share a desire to more deeply understand our faith. The Clearness Committee has often been 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. Their 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 is made at a Meeting for Worship, so that all in attendance may extend a warm welcome to the new member.
On Being a Member
To seek and hold membership in New Brunswick Monthly Meeting in an important commitment in one’s life. As we speak of what it means to be a Friend, this meeting represents the tradition of “unprogrammed Friends”. This means we meet in expectant worship in silence with vocal ministry by participants as led of the Spirit.
The most important commitment of members is to be a Friend to others among whom they live and worship.
Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another; and not laying accusations one against another; But praying one for another and helping one another up with a tender hand.
Isaac Pennington 1667
The source of this commitment has been called different things at different times; Christ, the Divine, or the Word have been used to describe the living reality of God and source of goodness.
There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages had different names. It is, however, pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion nor excluded from anywhere the heart stands in perfect sincerity. And whomsoever this takes root and grows, of what nation soever; They become brethren in the best sense of the expression.
John Woolman 1762
Service to the society through leadership and the cheerful acceptance of tasks or committee memberships is another important commitment of members. With very few exceptions, the work of sustaining Quakers both locally and nationally falls not on paid staff, but on member-volunteers. The reason for this reflects Friends historic commitment to each person’s equality before God, and to the belief of the importance of each Friend’s service as a way to deepen their spiritual lives.
Individual membership resides in the monthly meeting. Monthly meeting members are also members of other groupings of Friends that span larger geographic areas. Thus, New Brunswick Monthly Meeting members are also members of Atlantic Half-Yearly Meeting, that includes Atlantic Friends Gathering, and Canadian Yearly Meeting. The importance of half-yearly and yearly meetings to the monthly meeting lies in the fellowship that may be found among Friends there; but also, in forging, renewing, and sustaining a broad, collective sense of what it is to be a Quaker. It is hoped that members will actively seek ways to relate to these broader associations.
Membership includes building the relationships that create the faith community. This includes responsibility for attending meeting for worship, meeting for worship for business, participating in the service life of the community by serving on committees or in the capacity of leadership. It also entails the pastoral care, love and support for each other. Care for the financial concerns of the monthly meeting is also important. A yearly contribution maintains the financial viability of the meeting. It is a generosity of spirit that is at the core of service as we share our spiritual gifts and material resources to further the bonds of fellowship in our faith community.
A copy of Canadian Yearly Meeting’s Faith & Practice is presented to a new member. All members are encouraged to acquaint themselves with this book of advice and queries pertaining to Quaker life. Members are also encouraged to read other books to nurture the spiritual life.
“Those who go forth ministering to the wants and necessities of their fellow beings experience a rich return, their souls being as a watered garden, and a spring that faileth not…” – Lucretia Mott
Becoming a Member compiled by Maida Follini, member of Halifax Monthly Meeting, 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”.
Updated in 2021 by Ellen Helmuth and Vince Zelazny