6a. FAQQ on Membership
What's the difference between a member and an attender?
From our beginnings, Quakers have believed that anyone who recognizes that of God (or the divine or the eternal) in themselves and others and tries to live their lives in that light is a Friend. By attending meeting for worship and participating regularly, you become part of the Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting community and are referred to as an "attender." When you have developed some experience with the Meeting's worship and work; have developed some relationships with others in the Meeting; and have become clear in your heart that you are a Quaker and want to commit yourself formally to the Meeting, you ask to become a member, meet with a clearness committee and, when "cleared", are recorded as a "member" not only of the Meeting but also the Religious Society of Friends. Some of our community's most active participants have remained attenders. Others knew the first day they came to meeting and became members within a few years.
Whether or not you are thinking about membership, once you have attended meeting for worship for a while you can look around for other meeting activities besides meeting for worship:
- partaking of hospitality after meeting for worship
- showing up for a workday in or outside the building
- getting involved with the work of a committee
- attending monthly meeting for business (third Sundays from September through June)
How do I know I'm ready to ask for membership?
There usually isn't a critical moment when you realize that requesting membership is your next step. The best way to find out is to become involved in meeting activities such as those in the list above. That way you get to know others in the Meeting, and they get to know you. The most common cause of requests for membership being deferred is when those present at a business meeting where an application is discussed say, "But we don't even know who this person is!"
How do I become a member?
The formal membership process works like this:
- You write a letter to the clerk of the meeting, explaining why you want to become a member of the Meeting. Your application for membership may include a request for young children in your family to be recognized as associate members.
- The clerk forwards your letter to the Care & Counsel Committee. This committee considers your letter and whether you are well enough known to the wider meeting community so that, if your membership request were brought to business meeting, most people would know who you were. If the committee does not feel that that is the case, it may suggest that you take a few months to become more active in the Meeting and its activities.
- If the committee feels you are well enough known to proceed, it identifies a clearness committee of three people to meet with you one or more times to explore your request for membership. We want you to be clear about what you are signing up for, and we want to be clear that you have a sense of how you will contribute to the life of the community as a member. There is an expectation that you will contribute financially to the extent you are able, either annually or spread out over the year. When you join the Meeting, you generally give up membership in the faith community in which you may previously have been practicing.
- Once the clearness committee has met with you, it makes a report to Care & Counsel Committee, possibly recommending that Care & Counsel take your request for membership to a business meeting.
- If the Care & Counsel Committee accepts the clearness committee's recommendation, it notifies the clerk to place this membership on the agenda for a monthly meeting for business for a first reading.
- At the meeting for business, the person reporting for Care & Counsel reads your letter requesting membership, and makes sure Friends know who you are. After this first reading, you introduce yourself in after-meeting introductions so that Friends will know you when your request for membership is considered at its second reading, the following month.
- At the following month's meeting for business the request is presented again, and this time, if you are present, you are asked to leave while Friends consider the request.
- If the business meeting comes to unity on accepting your request for membership, it appoints a welcoming committee to celebrate with you your becoming a member.
- If the business meeting does not come to unity, it may suggest that you continue to attend and be involved so that more people get to know you.