In the discussions around membership – not just the main sessions, but the response groups and informal talks over food and in queues – I picked up three strands of desire, which in my journal I chose to express as letters. I’ve rewritten them for this blog post, expanding them and trying to clarify. I’d be very interested to know whether other Friends feel that these are accurate!
One desire is focussed on Area Meetings, their clerks, elders, and overseers. It says something like:
Dear Area Meetings, we appreciate all the work you already do in managing membership, and long to support you in being open-minded and open-hearted as you undertake this work. Are you familiar with our current chapter 11 and the flexibility it gives you? Membership is a relationship between you, the Area Meeting, and the individual. In forming, adjusting, or dissolving that relationship it is vital to focus on the needs of those involved – yours and the individual’s, which may be quite different in different cases. Please don’t be shy about opening conversations around membership, asking about people’s needs, and offering what you have to give.
A second strand is focussed on attenders, especially long term attenders who are active in Meetings but have not applied for membership.
Dear attenders, we love you and are delighted by everything you contribute to our Meetings. Please talk to us – when someone applies for membership, we as a community are able to join in their journey of discernment, by appointing visitors, supporting Friends, or a Meeting for Clearness, and hearing about this process at Area Meeting; if you do not feel ready to apply or have decided that you will not apply, we may not know why. There are probably as many reasons as there are people in this position, and we do care about what those reasons are. If you’d like to be asked about membership and your meeting hasn’t raised the issue with you, they may be shy or worried about pressuring you; consider raising it yourself. If you have decided to remain involved with Friends but not to apply for membership, please don’t automatically remove yourself from discussion of it – your perspective is valuable.
A final group who attracted a lot of attention at Yearly Meeting are those I’m going to call ‘Friends in transition stages’. This is a big and complex group who have some relevant similarities. Sometimes they are young people who are away from home, perhaps working or studying, perhaps not attending regularly in the place where they are living but known to Meeting elsewhere; they could be people who are focussed on work and/or family and not finding time to attend often; they could be Friends who have moved to a new job or on retiring and find new barriers to attending (whether geographical, social, financial, or temporal). Some will not be in membership and hesitate about applying to an Area Meeting where they are not known or to one where they are no longer living; some will have membership but hesitate to transfer it. Some will have strong links to other, non-geographical, Quaker bodies, through a Listed Informal Group, Young Friends General Meeting, attending Yearly Meeting and other events, or service on a central committee or other body. Others will have a strong sense of Quaker identity and values, but may not have any active connection to a Quaker organisation. The key commonality in all of these cases is that someone is Quaker, feels part of our community and is known to some Quakers somewhere, but their membership status does not reflect this partly because of the geographical nature of our procedures.
Dear Friends in all these multiple and complex transition stages, none of us seems quite sure what to say to you. We know that you are there – most people, after all, go through some of these times one way or another, and may have very different experiences of it but can conceptualise the existence of these issues – and we know that you can be living out Quaker values, doing work inspired by your Quaker faith, and engaging with Quaker spirituality in these spaces. If the transition is good for you, or towards something which is better for you, we’re happy for you – and want to uphold you whatever is going on. Generally, we would like to support you more closely; if you have the time, energy, and inclination to be in touch, we’d be very glad to hear from you, and we’re trying to be open to hearing it in all sorts of ways – via social media, a chaplain somewhere, a call to someone you used to know, or a hundred other ways, as well as the traditional Sunday morning.
I took lots of things away from Yearly Meeting, which I may write about in future, but this was one of the outstanding ones.