Membership, Part 8—Proposal: a new kind of meeting

January 1, 2021 § 1 Comment

Presumably, for people who seek membership in the Religious Society of Friends, the life of the Spirit is important to them, they feel they need to pursue it in the embrace of a community, and the Society of Friends looks like the right community.

None of that requires membership in a monthly meeting. But it does require community. A community that is capable of embracing your spiritual life in a meaningful way. That is, a community that can give you the things I outlined in the second post in this series, namely communion, community, pastoral care, spiritual nurture, and religious identity.

Many of our monthly meetings are not doing that great a job at providing these things. Gathered meetings are infrequent. Opportunities for community may be confined to two hours on Sundays and a local meeting may not have a critical mass of young adults to meet the need for a community of peers. Pastoral care can be spotty, depending on how well you’re known in the community. Proactive, confident, effective spiritual nurture is just as uncommon as gathered meetings. Religious education may or may not take place or have a clear and useful focus.

Yearly meetings are even less equipped to provide these things, because of their population size, geographical scope, and infrequency of shared worship. (I analyzed the problems with yearly meeting membership in more detail in my previous post.) I think many young adult Friends gravitate to the yearly meeting because that is where they build community with their peers; yearly meetings are big enough to provide a critical mass of young people for community.

So I don’t think yearly meeting membership is the answer. A yearly meeting can offer community, communion, and spiritual or religious identity to a degree (more on the difference later), but not meaningful spiritual nurture or pastoral care.

The YAF community itself is really the only “organization” that can minister to all of these member needs in a meaningful way. Thus I propose that yearly meeting YAF communities be given meeting status, with a new set of characteristics that will differentiate them from the traditional monthly meeting:

  • Membership. Membership would mean whoever happens to be there. No clearness committees for membership. This fluidity would mean doing away with the usual responsibility of the meeting recorder (the keeper of the meeting records, not the office of the recording clerk, who keeps the minutes) to report numbers to the yearly meeting. I still think the YAF meeting (shall we call it a pod?) should keep number records for its own self-knowledge and they might report an average annually to the yearly meeting for the YM minutes, but not for the official YM records.
  • Business. The YAF pod would conduct its business in meetings for worship with attention to the life of the pod under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as monthly meetings do, meeting whenever they can, rather than monthly, presumably, online some of the time, at YAF gatherings, and at YM sessions.
  • Gospel order. The YAF pod would relate to the YM organization and business body as if it were a monthly meeting (MM), in all areas of gospel order—facilitating transfer of formal membership to a monthly meeting when and if a “member” seeks membership in a monthly meeting, but perhaps with a careful explanatory letter; seasoning minutes and epistles that are passed on to the YM for approval; providing discernment for leadings and ministries and support for the ministries it endorses; writing minutes of travel and service for its “members” when their ministry takes them outside the pod; endorsing applications by its members for grants from YM funds; recommending members to YM nominating committee for service on YM committees; providing the YM with an annual State of the Pod report, if their YM writes an annual State of the Society Report; encouraging financial support among its “members” for its own activities; passing a portion of its budget on to the YM for support of the YM’s operations as if it were a monthly meeting; and so on.
  • Ministry. The YAF pod would take responsibility for the spiritual nurture of its “members” as it sees fit, providing for its members eldership in all its forms—discernment and support for leadings and ministries,, programs and other efforts towards spiritual formation, spiritual pastoral care, and religious education.
  • Pastoral care. Likewise with pastoral care for the outward lives of its “members”, as they are able.
  • Have I missed anything? I think you get the idea.

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§ One Response to Membership, Part 8—Proposal: a new kind of meeting

  • I love your proposal, Steve! What a great idea to start the year with! I would only add that older Quakers who share common concerns can also form pods, and often do. Sometimes they’re called worship groups, or Bible-study groups, or fellowships (such as New Foundation Fellowship and FLGBTQC), or mission-oriented groups such as Quaker Voluntary Service or Friendly Water for the World. Quakers involved in the Underground Railroad surely formed pods in those years before Juneteenth, and after the Civil War there were Holiness-movement pods. You’re inspiring me to see whether a pod of Indiana Wilburites might agree to call itself a pod!

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