What to Expect in a Meeting for Worship
Our worship is held in silence. Each person present silently prays, meditates, or otherwise waits upon the Divine as each feels is appropriate. Some may feel led to stand and speak to share a thought, recollection, observation, or insight with others who are present. Friends hold that such messages arise from Divine leading.
The format is simple, but it can be a profoundly rich experience if it is the right form for an individual. Quaker worship is based on the belief that there is That of God – a spark of the Divine – in each person. In worship, each person is able to have a direct experience of the Divine, without the formality of creed or ritual, although we respect and value more formal ways of worship other faiths may be led to follow.
Near the end of the hour, the Friend who has been asked to serve as Head of Meeting for this month will turn and shake hands with the next person, and everyone in the Meetinghouse turns and shakes hands with the person sitting on each side, and Meeting is over.
At the Rise of Meeting, visitors and newcomers will be welcomed and announcements will be made. From 10 until 11, between Meetings for Worship, snacks are provided in a fellowship hour with opportunities to learn more about Quakers, or just to visit with the Friends of Princeton Meeting. Snacks and fellowship are also available at the rise of 11 o’clock Meeting.
What to Expect: Becoming A Member
The Religious Society of Friends is a community of faith based on experience of a transforming power named many ways: the Inner Light, the Spirit of Christ, the Guide, the Living God, the Divine Presence. Membership includes openness to an ongoing relationship with God and willingness to live one’s life according to the leadings of the Spirit as affirmed by the community of faith. For generations of Friends, membership has been an outward sign of an inward experience of Christ, the “true light which gives light to everyone” (John 1:9).
In Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Friends gather to worship in stillness, waiting upon the Divine Presence. From this have come revelations of the love and guiding will of God, revelations inwardly experienced that may be shared in words with others present and expressed in attitude and action. Participation in this form of worship is intrinsic to membership, since ours is above all an experiential religion. Friends do not require acceptance of a creed as a test of membership, believing that no creedal statement can adequately describe spiritual reality.
Membership establishes a commitment. It means that for each member the Religious Society of Friends provides the most promising home for spiritual enlightenment and growth. It commits a person to the daily pursuit of truth after the manner of Friends and commits the Meeting to support the member in that pursuit. Membership includes a willingness to live in spiritual unity with other members of the Religious Society of Friends.
Members are expected to participate in communal worship, to share in the work and service of the Society, and to live in harmony with its basic beliefs and practices. Membership entails readiness to live as part of the monthly, quarterly, and yearly meeting. Specifically, this means participation in meeting for worship, meeting for business, committee work, and giving time, skills, and financial support to Meeting activities such as religious education, pastoral care, and witness to the broader community. Since Friends reject the distinction between clergy and laity, responsibility for the full range of Meeting activities rests with the membership.
Friends Meetings are often visited by people from other religious backgrounds or with no religious ties. All visitors should be made welcome, with continuing attention given to those who return frequently and become regular attenders. Meeting members should endeavor to get acquainted with attenders and be available for spiritual support and guidance. Some Meetings have committees concerned specifically for the care of visitors and attenders.
The Meeting should invite regular attenders to participate in its life, recognizing that they may become members. They should be made familiar with Friends’ way of worship, manner of conducting business, organizational structure, finances, and major spiritual and historical writings, as well as Friends’ periodicals. They should be encouraged to attend business meetings and, at the discretion of the monthly meeting, to serve on committees. Attenders should also be urged to attend sessions of quarterly and yearly meeting and gatherings of Friends General Conference. Information about groups such as the American Friends Service Committee, Friends Committee on National Legislation, and Friends World Committee for Consultation should be made available. All regular attenders should be provided a copy of Faith and Practice.
Attenders who seem nourished through their involvement with the Meeting, are comfortable with Friends’ basic beliefs and practices, and understand the responsibilities of membership, should apply for membership. The Meeting, for its part, should encourage such attenders to apply.
Before attenders apply, they may find it valuable to discuss their spiritual goals and concerns with Friends in whose wisdom, experience, and personal sympathy they have confidence. These Friends will guide the attender in deciding whether he or she is ready to apply or should first become more familiar with the Religious Society of Friends.
Application for Membership
The monthly meeting is the final authority in all matters concerning an individual’s membership. A person joining a monthly meeting becomes thereby a member of a quarterly meeting, the yearly meeting, and the Religious Society of Friends. There is no membership in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting other than membership in a particular monthly meeting.
Attenders who apply for membership should do so in a formal request to the clerk of the monthly meeting, stating why they are moved to join the Religious Society of Friends and relating briefly their response to Friends’ beliefs and practices. The clerk may share such requests with the Meeting and then refer them to the Care & Concerns committee, or may refer them directly to Care in Concerns, who in either case promptly appoint a clearness committee to visit the applicant.
The clearness committee should undertake this visit as a serious responsibility both to the Meeting and to the applicant. The visit should take place in an atmosphere of openness and caring so that both the committee members and the applicant feel comfortable in exploring fundamental questions of religious belief and practice and the responsibilities involved in membership in the Society. Some questions the committee might ask are:
- What are some milestones in your spiritual journey? How do you expect membership in the Meeting to help you in this journey?
- What gifts do you believe you might bring to the Meeting community? In what ways would you like to share your time and talents with the Meeting?
- How familiar are you with Friends’ beliefs and practices? Are there some in particular which attracted you to Friends? Are there some you find puzzling or disturbing?
- Are you comfortable with a Society whose unity of spirit coexists with a diversity of beliefs? Are you prepared to join a Meeting family which includes people whose perspectives may differ considerably from yours?
- Have you weighed the Queries and Advices? Does their guidance speak to you?
- How closely are you in harmony with Friends’ testimonies? With Friends’ work for social justice?
- Are you prepared to suffer (as Friends have done) if God calls you to take actions which are difficult, unpopular, or even contrary to the civil laws?
- Do you understand the relationship between the monthly, quarterly, and yearly meeting? Are you aware of and willing to meet our expectation of financial support for programs, services, and facilities at these three levels of our organizational structure?
The clearness committee needs to be prepared to respond faithfully to a wide range of questions that the applicant may ask. The applicant should be encouraged to share expectations concerning the Meeting and the significance of membership.
Applicants who are members of another religious body are expected to give up that membership as they join the Meeting, formally advising the other organization of their intent to join the Religious Society of Friends, and endeavoring to obtain a letter of release from their previous religious affiliation.
If Care & Concerns approves the application, they recommend acceptance to the monthly meeting. Action may be postponed until a later session to give time where needed for members to become well acquainted with the prospective member.
If the monthly meeting approves the application, it records the acceptance into membership and appoints two or more Friends to welcome the new member.
While the desire of an attender to become a member is generally a cause for rejoicing, the overseers should not hesitate to advise the Meeting to postpone acceptance or even to reject an application if there is good reason to do so, such as an applicant’s inflexible disagreement with some significant aspect of Friends’ religious practice or belief. In cases where the members of Care & Concerns recommend postponement of a decision and the Meeting agrees, Meeting members should keep in sympathetic touch with the applicant, explaining the reason for the hesitancy and seeking to help remove it. If and when members of Care & Concerns judge the applicant to be ready for membership, they should encourage the Meeting to reconsider and accept the application.