Monday, June 16, 2014

Membership Matters

A friend of mine was asking about membership in the Religious Society of Friends.  How does that work?  I was recounting a story of a fun little family that got rejected for membership, which is what triggered the question.  How does it work?

The way it works normally is a Monthly Meeting will want to clear you for membership, in return for your demonstrating loyalty to that particular meeting, paying your dues so to speak.  If you live far away, you won't be able to participate much, so you'll be directed to a more nearby meeting most likely.  At least that's how it was at Multnomah until recently, when we branched out and offered long distance membership to someone in Canada, without the labeling of Isolated Friend.

Once a Monthly Meeting clears you for membership (write a letter to Oversight to get the ball rolling), you're on the hook in terms of coming to business meetings and serving on committees -- unless you attain Released status.

This coveted Released status lets you (a) retain your membership in the Monthly Meeting and (b) keeps Nominating from tapping you for chores, or Oversight from snagging you for clearness duty.

Obtaining elite Released status requires having some ministry or testimony the meeting adjudges worth taking on the road.  You're a spokesperson for Quakerism at that level, and that gives you an alibi, a justification for being "off the hook" vis-a-vis regular membership duties.

Finally, there's what I call Walt Whitman Friends, which are people who eschew the shackles of any particular Monthly Meeting yet manage to worm their way into Quakerism nonetheless.  Walt Whitman never joined a Meeting but walked and talked like a Quaker and Quakers would like to claim him as one of their own. 

Birthright Friends used to be in this category, not subject to a clearness process, but most Monthly Meetings no longer accept such an entitlement.

On the other hand, if your currency as a Quaker is relatively weak, your lack of a formal membership in any Monthly Meeting may be used to demote you.  You'll have the rank of attender.  You'll find members sometimes being snobby towards you; they can't help themselves usually.

Both non-members and Whitman Friends have a fair amount of clout in a Liberal Friends meeting.  Liberal Friends are serious about not taking titles too seriously, including that of "member".  Jesus never invited us to form a membership club after all, that's just after-the-fact bureaucracy, added-on infrastructure, like a fan club.

So non-members will oft be found riddling a Liberal meeting, providing walk-the-talk integrity to the Equality Testimony, showing the world that the whole "membership" thing is to be taken with a grain of salt (member = officially cleared cheerleader in large degree).

Having members is important though.  It boosts the morale of a meeting to have a few pillars of society step up to the plate and roll up their sleeves.  These pillars don't see committee work as a chore or obligation so much as a privilege.

Both members and non-members may share this more enlightened perspective.

Like, how often do you get to do serious role playing in a 350+ year old language game that encourages personal and corporate growth, one centered around a shared business (the meeting itself)?  What a great sandbox to work and play in.  And you don't have to be rich.