6.21.2007

Clearness for membership goes both ways

This month I am serving on a membership clearness committee for a long time attender of our meeting. It’s interesting. He’s one of the few people in our community who grew up among Friends, so he has a longer experience with Friends than anyone on the clearness committee, but it has taken him a long time as an adult to come to this point of applying for membership in a Meeting.

As often happens, questions change when we shift from considering something in principle to considering it in person. This new/old Friend is in a different place theologically than me. But he holds an equally important role in the life of the Meeting. Which is more important in considering someone for membership?

What are the criteria for membership in San Francisco Monthly Meeting? We have a list of questions published by our Yearly Meeting, but there isn’t a matching set of correct answers neatly published for study and memorization.

In the end, here are the three questions I plan to address in my report to the Ministry and Oversight Committee:

  1. Has this person chosen Quakerism as the best/right path for his/her spiritual development?
  2. Does this person know what he/she is getting him/herself into?
  3. Am I willing to labor with this person in seeking unity on matters before the Meeting?

I think that if I can answer affirmatively to these three questions, I am willing to recommend this person for membership. You may notice that none of these specifically address doctrinal purity. However, they do reflect a few assumptions. One is that I expect that an applicant for membership is committing to Quakerism as a path to follow, not just one good idea among many. Another is that this person already knows something of Quaker practice, history, conflicts and joys, and about our Meeting in particular, through ongoing and regular participation and study. Third is that while I have a personal say in whether I think this person will labor with us in good faith, I am not expecting that I will always agree with him or her.

I don’t think I could recommend someone for membership in our Meeting who would firmly deny the existence of a Divine Presence, by whatever name, or who was highly allergic to Christian language. I also don’t think I could recommend someone for membership in our Meeting who would deny the possibility of spiritual truth and transformation in other paths than Christianity. I don’t think I could recommend a person for membership who did not make a regular practice of attending meeting for worship or who did not find our form of worship helpful. I don’t think I could recommend someone for membership who had never attended a business meeting or who was clear that they never intended to come to business meetings. Neither would I expect perfect attendance to be a criteria for membership.

How many of these kind of reports have you heard? Have you had to write one of these reports? What questions have you found important to answer?

Labels:

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

19 Comments:

Anonymous John said...

Hi, these are my reflections.

One is that I expect that an applicant for membership is committing to Quakerism as a path to follow, not just one good idea among many.

Three of our most active members are a humanist, a Buddhist and a follower of the Goddess

Another is that this person already knows something of Quaker practice, history, conflicts and joys, and about our Meeting in particular, through ongoing and regular participation and study.

I would say that a large number of the meeting have little or no interest in Quaker history but all have in our practices

Third is that while I have a personal say in whether I think this person will labour with us in good faith, I am not expecting that I will always agree with him or her.

Agree that important that a commitment to dialog and growth on the member and meeting

I don’t think I could recommend someone for membership in our Meeting who would firmly deny the existence of a Divine Presence, by whatever name, or who was highly allergic to Christian language.


Well that’s me out then as Quaker of some 30 years standing and several weighty friends in our monthly meeting. And somewhat assumes that we have a consensus of what is God and Christian language/practices. Remember that great sections of the Christian community would see us as heretics!


I also don’t think I could recommend someone for membership in our Meeting who would deny the possibility of spiritual truth and transformation in other paths than Christianity.

If this means an acceptance of many paths(or in Christian language) there are many mansions etc then ok with this

I don’t think I could recommend a person for membership who did not make a regular practice of attending meeting for worship or who did not find our form of worship helpful.

On a practical note why would someone like this even want to apply for membership?

I don’t think I could recommend someone for membership who had never attended a business meeting or who was clear that they never intended to come to business meetings.

I know of friends who support the business of the meeting without coming to business meetings so I would not rush to judgement


Neither would I expect perfect attendance to be criteria for membership.

Good!

I think your initial questions are good but best applied in a spirit of sensing how open is the person to explore and seek which your assumptions as outlined could well close down. Look for why they are travelling rather then focus on what they should pack in their bags.

6/22/2007 4:53 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Thank you, Robin, for your insight. A membership process in my meeting that has pained me deeply was one where I could affirm all three criteria, but others in my meeting could not affirm the third. This "over my dead body" approach that several have taken troubles me still. Any thoughts?

6/22/2007 12:35 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

John - I think it is important that I am giving my opinions about about membership in my Meeting - not your Meeting. Your Meeting may well have different criteria, different emphases, different expectations. For example, in my Meeting, I think it is important that Friends in my Meeting be accepting of others using Christian language, but it is not important that every member use that language. One of the blessings/opportunities of the RSoF is that each Meeting is largely autonomous to make these decisions.

In my experience of serving on various membership committees, I think all the applicants to my Meeting have shown some knowledge of Quaker history, not necessarily a deep interest in it, but some awareness of where Quakerism came from, how long it's been around, what have been the conflicts in our Meeting and how Friends resolved them over time. If an applicant did not have this knowledge, I would recommend that they take some time to read more of our book of Faith and Practice before the next clearness committee meeting. This is part of knowing what you're getting yourself into.

I hold fast to the idea that participating in business meeting is an important part of the life of the Meeting. I attended another Meeting years ago that regularly accepted members who said openly, "I could never come to business meeting." This would not be acceptable to me, in our Meeting.

Dave, I suppose it makes a difference why Friends feel they could not labor with a specific applicant. Is there a sense that the applicant is not being honest or otherwise lacks integrity? Is the applicant often cantankerous or just led in different political directions? Are there class or ethnic/cultural differences that make communication difficult? There are good and bad reasons for not accepting someone into membership. However, an "over my dead body" attitude doesn't seem to reflect much hope for the possible transformation of the individual through Divine intervention or at least longer practice. That doesn't seem like good practice either.

6/22/2007 1:15 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Robin, there is much to consider in this post as well as in John's comment.

You probably already know that the "boundaries" of membership vary widely from meeting to meeting, especially among Liberal Friends.

From my own experience serving on a couple of clearness committees for membership, I have had to balance my own concerns for a person's [lack of] readiness for membership with the desire of the committee to approve the person's request for membership!

In one instance, the person had never been to a Meeting for Worship for Business and had never served on a committee. By the end of the first-and-only meeting of the clearness committee, all the other Friends were easy with recommending membership. I raised my concern and said I was NOT easy with moving forward.

...There are few times when I experience peer pressure among Friends, and that was one of them.

I then had to test whether I was led to stand in the way, to be recorded as not uniting with the recommendation, etc. Maybe my action/my answer would be different today from what it was then, but I yielded to the sense of the body--in this case, the sense of the committtee.

Just another example of why I feel I am a Conservative-leaning Friend, a "different sort of Quaker" from many in the monthly meeting.

As for John's comment, he writes in part: Look for why they are travelling rather then focus on what they should pack in their bags.

I would say it's a both-and question: Why are seekers attending our meetings for worship, committee meetings, etc.? Why does Quakerism appeal to them? ...AND... What of Quakerism have they taken up as part of their lifestyle, their "conversion of manners," etc.?

If individual members lack congruency between what is professed and what is displayed through behavior, and if modern day Quakerism strays too far afield (whatever "too far" might mean) from traditional Quakerism, we run the risk of losing our corporate integrity as the Religious Society of Friends.

Of course, the paradox is that the RSoF already encompasses such a wide diversity of belief and practice... and I am left again considering what it is that holds Life and Power for myself so that I may lead a faithful life that brings me closer to God...

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

6/22/2007 1:30 PM  
Blogger forrest said...

Chris M referred me here in response to my own post at "NonTheist Friends"; fair's fair & besides, you might want to join in(?)

Whether the law considers a discrimination proper has a lot to do with: what function does it serve? Expecting a fireman to be able to climb ladders is perfectly legitimate, while making that ability a requirement for a secretarial position would be wrong.

If the function of a Quaker meeting is to produce lots of "Quaker process," then "weighty Friends of many years' standing" who don't know who's friend they're supposed to be are just fine. If nurturing one another's connection to spiritual reality is the most important, foundational function--Then someone who hasn't put in the necessary work on that qualification is dead weight--not unwelcome, but not as helpful as he probably wants to be.

God's power to act is not limited by how much "belief" or "unbelief" is in the neighborhood (while our beliefs tend to be "more-or-less" rather than absolute, anyway) but in practice you find more tangible manifestations of such power among people more inclined to accept the possiblity. An example from the gospels is the saying that Jesus could not do "many" miracles in his home town because people there had little faith in him... If you want to "hold someone in the light," it probably makes little difference, while if someone wants to try a "meeting for healing" you maybe should let the local skeptic stay home if he likes.

When I was an atheist--while I found the meeting I was invited to worthwhile, I thought about returning, and thought, "No, if I made a regular practice of this, it would give people the wrong impression as to what I believe." It might not have been bad if I'd returned sooner, but I waited until I felt myself much in agreement with what I understood to be the common beliefs of Friends. (& then found myself having to question a lot of it, ie "If this works, how come we've seemingly turned out so very lost?")

6/22/2007 6:00 PM  
Blogger MartinK said...

Hi Robin,
Thanks so much for posting this and especially for going out on a limb by listing what would block your approval.

Just to address John really quickly: there's a great diversity of Quakers both in the US and worldwide. Few people would fit in at every Quaker meeting or church. Yes, there are Quaker congregations that would not accept you, or Robin, or me as members. I can guarantee that many (most?) of the world's weighty Friends would not fit into your meeting. That said, the overwhelming majority of meetings would welcome any Friend warmly into fellowship and into the life of the meeting. Membership implies something extra.

I personally like Robin's list but that's completely unsurprising. What's important about your list, however, is that it's thoughtful. Care has been given to discerning the character of the meeting and spelling out the assumptions. It's easier to stay on a level of nice and downplay any potential differences but that's not really honest: it sets the newcomer up for rude awakenings down the line. A superficial clearness also sets up future conflict (This isn't what I signed up for!) and downplays the need to continue to grow into the meeting even after the membership has been formalized.

The honesty doesn't have to be at theological. In my own membership application I made it very clear that outreach was an passionate concern for me. It took me a few years to understand that the meeting itself was heavily invested in its cozy family-like atmosphere and would (perhaps unconsciously) resist outreach. If this had been shared in the clearness process it would have helped define my relationship with it from the start. I probably would have joined but I wouldn't have gotten as involved and I would have sought other openings for my outreach work (as I eventually did).

Now here's a question: what about the need to address the fact of Quaker diversity within the clearness process itself? I wonder how many applicants have little to no experience with Friends outside the monthly meeting they've been attending? Even long-term Friends can be surprisingly isolated (I often read blog posts of Friends traveling thousands of miles only to attend a meeting I know is the cultural/theological doppleganger of their home meeting).

An example of this is a high school student who applied for membership at my meeting a few years ago. He had been attending regularly for about eighteen months and visited yearly meeting activities a few times. Even before he applied for membership, we all hoped he would and we all knew we'd easily accept him. He was a smart kid, obviously college bound and it was a safe assumption that he'd live in three or four different parts of the country over the next ten years. He'd bring his Quaker identity with him but he'd probably find himself at monthly meetings which challenged his understandings. Didn't we have a duty there at the clearness committee to share something about our meeting's place in the Quaker world, just to give him that prep as he took on the Quaker identity.

Thanks again Robin!
Martin @ Quaker Ranter

6/22/2007 7:05 PM  
Blogger Thorny Quaker said...

Thanks for a great Post and thoughtful comments. I usually just lurk in the background but was reallly engaged with this topic.

The whole idea of membership is
fraught with dangers, it seems. I don't like the idea of non-members. Sometimes it seems that membership is more of a way to exclude than it is to include. I like the way you are being careful about the questions in that regard.

Should every one be in unless the opt out? I guess that wouldn't work. I there a way to ask questions that seem to assume one is "in" unless they obviously want to opt "out?"

I don't like doctrinal statements that must be bought hook, line, and sinker but I do like to encourage folks to have a sense of Quaker spirituality and feel that the approach is helpful.

One question that has been helpful in our meeting is, "By uniting in memebership, what are your expectations of your committment to our meeting, and what are your expectations of our meetings committment to you?" This questions isn't an in or out question as sparks great conversations. Keep talking. I'm leaning a lot by listening.

Stan

6/23/2007 1:41 PM  
Blogger patrickruth57 said...

This is a timely post, as my meeting is now in the process of learning new traditions for us- we have just become a Monthly Meeting. This would be the thoughtful exploration I would hope for when I submit for membership. Patrick

6/24/2007 10:43 PM  
Blogger James Riemermann said...

Some good questions of process and substance are raised here. However the question that comes to me most strongly is, is it good process to post, on a public web site, one's reflections and doubts regarding a particular clearness committee one is serving on?

I know that the person being considered for membership is not named in this post, and I cannot tell which of the various questions raised here are specifically relevant to this person. But if I were being considered for membership, wrestling in trust with a committee of Friends about my doubts and concerns and how I do or perhaps don't fit within my meeting the Religious Society of Friends, I would be troubled to see that process described, even vaguely, on a public web site. Presumably, some people in your meeting would know who is being discussed here; in any case the person being considered for membership would know.

I wouldn't have posted this message publicly myself, but I didn't hear anything back from Robin when I sent her an email. Perhaps my email didn't get through.

Once again, I think the issues raised in this post are valid and worth discussing, but I question whether they should be raised in the context of a specific person's clearness process.

6/25/2007 8:59 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

I will respond to other folks later, but I want to let James (and others) know that I did receive your email. I spent some time thinking about it, and then I checked in with the person in question. I did not want make any further comments on this post until I had done that. I just heard back this morning and I am going to leave the post as written. I will also write to James separately.

As I re-read this, I think it is on the borderline. For me, the questions combine my reflections on several membership applications, and are not really specific to this process. Nonetheless, I can see how James, and others, might feel uncomfortable. I will try to keep this more clearly in mind in the future.

6/25/2007 12:33 PM  
Blogger James Riemermann said...

Robin,

I just got your reply to my email--thank you. If those involved in the committee are not troubled by the post, that is the main issue, so I'm glad you checked with them. Personally, any time I've convened a clearness or support committee I've begun by letting folks know that our discussions are in confidence, and I am inclined to interpret that pretty strictly. But I don't see anything very specific revealed here. It sounds like you understand the concern and are likely to keep it in mind in the future.

Beyond that, here are some of my thoughts on the questions you raise. We all come to a clearness committee with opinions and principles, and they are bound to influence what we bring to the committee. The statement that would directly impact someone like me is: "I don’t think I could recommend someone for membership in our Meeting who would firmly deny the existence of a Divine Presence."

It is fine and good to recognize this principle or tendency in oneself, but it also seems to me that an ideal clearness process requires that each of us hold our preconceptions, opinions and "notions" very lightly, even those we consider fundamental, in order to be as sensitive as possible to the whispers of the spirit. Where spirit and notion come into conflict--and in my experience they often do--it is the notion, not the spirit, that must yield.

"...Divine Presence, by whatever name..." is a tricky construction. If someone cannot use that name, but must use another name that strikes you as overly secular or non-theistic, there might be very good reasons for that. I don't know, perhaps I can't know, but maybe the voice you experience as God or Divine Presence speaks to me in a different accent, an accent that in my case comes across as natural, emotional, like an aspect of human experience, so that the word divine just doesn't quite seem honest for me. Maybe that's a genuine and substantial difference between you and me in how we hear that one voice. And maybe we can honor that difference and both be genuine Friends.

6/25/2007 2:24 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Liz - how many modern Quakers have even considered their conversion of manners??? Sigh. I still like that phrase, and I think it's a point worth raising with applicants. But the committee has to include folks who know what the phrase means.

Forrest, I liked the metaphor of of hiring discrimination. This helps explain what I meant by there are good and bad reasons to accept or not accept an applicant into membership.

Martin, one of the things blogging has done for me is give me an opportunity to articulate my thoughts in a more coherent fashion - where we can talk about what is important and what is not. Of course, my thinking on membership is still a work in progress.

Stan, I'm glad you've left a comment! I think that membership ought to be more of a marker than it is. I've said before, in various contexts, that any degree of intimacy requires a proportional degree of exclusivity.

James, I'm glad you posted your comment here - your concern about confidentiality vs. blogging about real life bears thinking about, whether or not this particular post crossed that line. It probably did, but not very far, fortunately. The main thing for me now is to be clear with all readers that the concerns I raised at the end of the post were not directly related to the process I mentioned at the beginning of the post.

On to the question of non-theistic explanations of the Divine Presence. I am personally unconvinced that the Religious Society of Friends should include people who don't believe in any form of Divine Presence, but I am pretty open to a wide variety of names, understandings, etc. I am still changing in my own understanding of the Holy Spirit, so I don't have a clear explanation God as either "Jesus as Lord and Savior" or "The Breath of Life and Love." I guess I am somewhere in between those two.

I think that our practices of meeting for worship and Quaker business don't make sense unless we have a sense of Something-Beyond-Our-Selves, and so I could not recommend someone for membership who didn't also have a sense of that Something. In all honesty and humility, that doesn't mean that a person without that sense couldn't be accepted into membership in my Meeting, just that I couldn't unite with it.

6/26/2007 1:34 AM  
Anonymous john said...

@ robin , thanks for a thoughtful post and I hope we will continue to labour in good faith from our different experiences of being a Quaker. And of course knew and accept that you were musing about the choices you make in the light of your local meeting.

@Liz much merit in how you have re framed my summary question.

@ Martin Yes, there are Quaker congregations that would not accept you, or Robin, or me as members. I can guarantee that many (most?) of the world's weighty Friends would not fit into your meeting..I think that this may be jumping to conclusions about my local Meeting and British Friends in general.This meeting has several members that would be at home with much more traditional if not conservative Christianity. And British Friends have the odd one of two weighty Friends.

@Forest, useful reminder that one of the drawbacks of having a membership threshold is that it can assume you have got "it" rather then it merely being a staging post on a much bigger journey. I have been in and and around Quakers for over 30 years and nowhere near where I started from so may even apply for membership again( was a member but resigned some 25 years ago whilst remaining more actively involved then many members)

6/26/2007 2:20 AM  
Blogger Heather Madrone said...

Hi Robin,

I view the membership clearness process differently, I guess. We share worship with the clearness committee and try to discern whether membership is right for this person and this Meeting. A seasoned Friend in whose wisdom I trust compares membership to marriage. Is there enough love and trust in this relationship to move forward?

In my own membership process, I questioned my agreement with every syllable of Faith & Practice. By comparison, my membership clearness committee was very easy on me. I think they were ready to accept me even before I applied for membership.

We shared deep worship and deep communion during my membership process. Agape. I had the feeling that God was blessing my membership and sealing the covenant.

So that's my standard for a membership clearness committee. Continue to labor until the Goddess covers the meeting of the clearness committee with her wings and seals the new member to the Meeting.

In the first membership clearness committee I served on, there was a perception that the prospective member might be jumping the gun. We asked him a lot of penetrating questions and sent him off to ponder the issues we discovered together. He did his work faithfully, and I felt able to welcome him into the Meeting with my whole heart.

If we had shortchanged that process, if we had been afraid to go as deeply as we needed to, he might have missed doing some important personal work and there might have been lingering questions about his membership.

So I think it's good to have the courage to ask hard questions, as well as listening to the answers with our hearts.

6/26/2007 5:05 PM  
Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

I will just say briefly -- I've recently been asked to sit on the membership clearness committee of a young applicant whom I respect very highly. We'll be meeting with the applicant in August.

The criteria I am feeling drawn to take up in our discussions with the applicant are very different from those I'm seeing advocated here. Alas, I don't feel it would be productive to discuss what those criteria are here in this company. But let it be noted that there are other ways to approach the matter besides those being talked about here.

6/27/2007 8:36 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

"We shared deep worship and deep communion during my membership process. Agape. I had the feeling that God was blessing my membership and sealing the covenant. So that's my standard for a membership clearness committee. Continue to labor until the Goddess covers the meeting of the clearness committee with her wings and seals the new member to the Meeting."

Heather, I like this description very much. There is something mystical to this process of seeking clearness. One of my questions is also "how do we know if we've reached clearness or unity?" Sometimes it is just a sense of having no stops in one's mind. And sometimes there is that sweet peace of knowing, beyond words or notions that can be explained in words, and seeing it in the eyes of the other people on the committee, and feeling it in the cells of my body, a fullness of rightness.


Marsahll, while I respect much of your work among Friends, I find this comment particularly unhelpful. Rather like when children say "I know something you don't know but I'm not telling you." That's fine, I'm sure it's true. But I don't see how this comment contributes to the discussion on this blog to simply enter the discussion to say "I'm not playing with you." Trust me, all of us who have commented here know that there are other aspects to the question of membership besides what have been discussed here.

6/27/2007 12:06 PM  
Anonymous Marshall Massey said...

Okay, Robin, I apologize, because I'm not trying to be unhelpful. Nor was I trying to imply anything along the lines of "you don't know" or "I'm not playing with you."

Let me try to express myself at somewhat greater length, and see if that helps --

I find myself involved in this membership-clearness-committee process too, and I am listening attentively to what is being said here on your blog, and caring about what's said, and valuing the comments being made here.

But that's as far as I seem to be able to get. I'm feeling strongly led to grapple with aspects of membership that are not being talked about here, and yet when I try to write about those aspects in a comment for this discussion on your blog, I look at what my words and something in my heart says, "no, no, that would not move things forward".

Perhaps someone else here can find a productive way to talk about the still-unmentioned issues here, since I find myself helpless to do so.

It was not my desire to give offense.

6/27/2007 1:22 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Marshall, I accept your apology - I didn't think you were intentionally trying to be offensive.

I wonder if you could simply name some of the issues you'd like me or someone else to address. I'd be happy to continue the conversation - it could go in a lot of different directions.

6/28/2007 1:16 PM  
Blogger Chris M. said...

I tend to have difficulty engaging in discussions on the intricacies of membership for Friends.

I am sympathetic with Marshall in that regard, though I suspect he has far more to offer on this topic than I.

In my meeting, I expect most Friends would welcome someone for whom, as James wrote, what Robin calls the divine presence "speaks to me in a different accent, an accent that in my case comes across as natural, emotional, like an aspect of human experience, so that the word divine just doesn't quite seem honest for me."

If someone were to deny that element altogether -- what some call "divine," what James calls an "aspect of human experience" -- our meeting would probably have reservations about membership. Certainly what James expresses is in harmony with the understanding of several people in our meeting. I will not make a judgment about that, merely observe that seems to me to be true.

-- Chris M.

6/28/2007 7:17 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home