How do I join the Religious Society of Friends?
The first step in joining with Quakers is to attend one of our Meetings. You will be welcomed and have an opportunity to talk about the Society. Every person who attends a Quaker meeting is considered to be fully involved in the worship or business and equal to all others. An application for formal membership of the Society is not made until you have attended a number of meetings and become thoroughly immersed in our worship and familiar with our principles. Some details of the process are given in the following paragraphs.
In the early days of the Quaker movement there was no clearly defined membership, but anyone who attended the meetings of Friends and appeared to be “convinced” was regarded as a Friend. However, for various reasons it became necessary for membership to be defined, so now, for anyone, other than those whose both parents are members when they are born, application must be made for membership.
All who wish to attend a Quaker Meeting for Worship are welcome. Children are welcome. They may wish to join other children in Sunday School after spending some time in Meeting – or it may be held from the start.
Meetings vary in the numbers of people who will be there. You can expect to find 30 or more people at the major city Meetings: the 2 in Belfast, Lisburn, Grange, Richhill, 3 of the Dublin Meetings, Cork and Waterford. In many of the other Meetings numbers can be around 10, sometimes less, and the odd time far more.
Your First Quaker Meeting
As you go in to the building, you should be welcomed, and you may be given a leaflet explaining what is likely to occur during the Meeting, and you can take this in to the Meeting and read it. In most Meetings people sit facing each other. Many Meetings have old benches, usually with cushions, but a few have individual chairs arranged in a circle.
We gather in our Meeting for Worship, in silence, believing that God speaks to everybody, – man, woman and child.
The Meeting commences without formality as people gather and take their seats.
There is no arranged programme or liturgy. Quaker worship is based on silent contemplation and prayer. See for example one person’s experience of a ‘first’ Meeting.
Please do not arrive late, you would miss the welcome and might not understand the procedure. Some people really do find the silence strange.
A few people may speak, or read aloud from the Bible or other book. Anyone at the Meeting is welcome to speak for a short time, assuming one is lead by the Spirit, and the message is positive in a spiritual way. Some minutes should elapse before there is another vocal contribution, to give people time to reflect on what was said.
No money will be collected during the Meeting, and after the Meeting has ended, notices will be read, such information for special Meetings, or discussion groups, or people will report on Meetings they have attended.
Usually there is coffee or tea after Meeting, when one can chat to whoever is there.
Become a Regular Attender
Don’t forget that different Meetings have slightly different characteristics.
Most Meetings have a sizeable number of ‘Attenders’, people who are not in Membership, but come regularly to Meeting. Many ‘Attenders’ never become Members but nevertheless find a full role in the Meeting.
No one is going to tell you to come to Meeting, this has to be something you want to do yourself.
You will slowly get to know who is who and who performs what duties – you will find out about Elders, who look after the Spirit of the Meetings, the Overseers, whose main concern is the physical well being of all those who may be part of the Meeting, the Correspondent, who reads the notices, and if different, the Clerk, who organises the Business Meetings.
Each member and regular attender is encouraged to make an annual subscription to their local Meeting. A percentage of this is forwarded to the Yearly Meeting, to pay for the administration of the Society. It is left to each person to decide the right amount to give. Friends can also contribute directly to particular activities.
Try to Live to Quaker Principles
Learn and understand the ways of Friends. Consider Friend’s queries , and apply them to your daily life:
- Are you convinced of the reality of God and do you respond to His Spirit at work within you? Is your way of life in keeping with the teaching of Jesus? Are you honest in your daily work and in all your personal relationships? Do you maintain integrity in your dealings …?
- Do you live in that life which takes away the occasion of violent conflict?
There are also Quaker traits, like using Christian names, and avoiding using titles, especially those that may make people appear superior to others.
Become involved with the running of the Meeting and get to know and understand Quaker Business Methods
Meetings for Business
Many Meetings have business meetings once a month. Some of these are immediately after the Sunday Meeting, and others may be on a weekday evening. These can be either Preparative (local) or Monthly (regional) Meetings. Work for Meetings is done on a voluntary basis, some of it in committees, to which people would be appointed for 1 to 3 years, and many people, including Attenders, share this work. Males and females are always considered equal for Friends’ appointments (excluding the representative to ‘Irish Council of Churches, Women’s Affairs’ who is always a woman!).
Attend Quarterly and Yearly Meetings
These are wonderful occasions to get to know both other Friends throughout Ireland and the wider concerns of Friends as well as. However, as an attender, you would need to be known (or introduced) to the clerk, and seek formal permission to attend the sessions.
Quakers generally have a name for doing good deeds, including prison reform, the abolishment of slavery, aid during the famine, conscientious objection, and many more items of note. These sorts of concerns would often be the subject of these provincial and all Ireland Meetings. See also Irish Quaker Faith in Action.
Now you can decide if you wish to apply for membership. It is unlikely that anyone will suggest it to you. You may find it helpful to discuss these things with an elder or overseer or other member of your Meeting. Of course at this stage you should know who you could approach.
You will have realised that in Meeting for Worship there is no difference between members and Attenders – no period of the meeting which is reserved for ‘members only’.
Why then become a member?
Membership is the outward sign of a personal involvement with a group of people who have no binding creed, but who share convictions about the purpose and meaning of life. It shows that, though the religious path is an intensely individual one, it is one where it is impossible to “go it alone” – because we all need both to give and to receive loving care and support on our journey. Being a member of the Society, means on the one hand that you can rely on Friends, and on the other hand that they can rely on you. It involves the sharing of loving care, and a sharing of responsibility.
Before applying for membership, you could ask yourself these questions:
Has the Meeting for Worship based on silence become an essential part of my life? Have I discovered the variety of Friends by going to Meetings for Worship other than my own? How do I respond to the challenge of the Advices and
Have I read the anthology of Quaker writings, Christian Faith and Practice in the experience of the Religious Society of Friends, describing the Christian roots of the Society? Am I aware of what Friends have stood for in the 350 years of their existence, and of close association between Quaker Faith and Practice?
Am I prepared to take on one of the jobs which are essential in a group which has no leaders or paid helpers? Am I willing to contribute financially to the extent that I am able? Am I willing to be a friend in the broadest sense of that word to the other people in my Meeting?
One question that you need not ask yourself is: ‘Am I good enough to be a Quaker?’ The Society of Friends is not a body of ultra-virtuous people – and in any case, who is to judge who is ‘good enough’?
Applying for Membership
If you have decided to apply for membership, this is how you go about it.
Write to the Clerk of Monthly Meeting, if you do not know the name and address ask any member of your Meeting. It is helpful to Monthly Meeting if you give a few details about yourself and your reasons for seeking membership, but you can just say ‘I would like to apply for membership of the religious Society of Friends’.
Your application will go to the next Monthly Meeting, and they will ask two Friends to visit with you and talk it over. This is not an ‘examination’ – it is to make sure that you understand what you are doing, and to give you a chance to ask anything you want about the Society. One of the friends will probably be known to you, so it will be an interesting and enjoyable visit for you all. They will then tell the next Monthly Meeting about their visit, and the decision of the Monthly Meeting will be brought to you by a member as soon as possible after that.
If you become a member, your Meeting will be very happy. But if you decide that at the moment membership is not for you, there is no less of a welcome for you in your Meeting.
So, you have become a member?
Now you probably will be asked to become more involved. You would be eligible to be on more committees. Probably someone will know your talents or interests, and you will be offered the opportunity to serve on a suitable committee – from tea or visiting committees in your local Meeting; to various ‘education’ committees, from organising Sunday School or youth conferences to being on the board of management of one of our schools; representing Friends on other bodies – anything from scouting to overseas aid organisations to inter church and other church bodies, or other Quaker Yearly Meetings; from door keeping at the Yearly Meeting to being Clerk or assistant Clerk of a Meeting.
For another description of a Meeting for Worship see the Quaker Worship paper soon to be in the Archive sector.