I’m Not a Member

“‘I’m not a member.’

Throughout my journey with Friends I have said that sentence many times and many different ways (apologetically, insecurely, matter-of-factly, as an aside or by means of explanation) but very rarely with any sense of empowerment. The reactions to this revelation vary (surprise, bafflement, consternation, concern) probably because I seem so committed to the Society.

I have been active in Friends communities, mostly in youth programs, during much of the past twelve years. I have held clerkship positions, worked at several Quaker organizations, attended a historically Quaker college, traveled nationally and internationally for work related to Friends, served as project coordinator for Spirit Rising, teach now at a Friends school, and am increasingly asked to serve as an elder and companion in ministry.

But I am not a member anywhere. Let me explain.

[…] Despite [my] profound reintroduction to Quakerism [through Young Friends programs], I have not applied for membership because I have not yet felt led to do so. I take membership seriously and want to get the green light from God, and believe that I will. Also key is that, for much of my young adulthood, I have been or have felt transient. I haven’t yet found a meeting I wanted to put roots into. In many ways I am part of that lost generation we often talk about. I do not consistently show up for meeting on Sundays, though my Quakerism is a key part of my identity. I believe that this waiting, often in the face of pressure and the conveniences of membership, has been an act of faith, if an awkward one.

I was also just waiting to be asked.

Two autumns ago, a Friend called me to see if I was interested in serving on a standing committee of the yearly meeting as a representative of my quarterly meeting.

[…] I explained to this Friend that I was not a member of a monthly meeting and it was my understanding that I couldn’t serve because of that. I had my ‘haven’t felt led’ speech prepared.

There was a long thoughtful pause, then he blurted: ‘You should be a member!’

I did not know this Friend, in fact I do not even remember his name. But I remember experiencing his statement not as chastisement, or encouragement born of self-interest, but rather as a loving and good-natured, if slightly flabbergasted, stating of the truth. […] His simple sentence made me feel appreciated and needed, as if he were saying, ‘How could you not be a member? You are such a treasure!’

And he didn’t even know me. 

The thing is, Friends, we are all treasures. Every one of us. 

I have been thinking a lot recently about the power of invitation. One of the most profound invitations we can extend to each other is the invitation toward belonging. The kind of invitation that says: ‘You are wanted. We are incomplete without you.’

[…] Imagine if Friends of all ages spoke to each other this way, all the time. Imagine if that were the language of our monthly meetings and churches. 

How would we be transformed?

— Angelina Conti, 2010
Spirit Rising: Young Quaker Voices. “Members One of Another.”

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Who belongs in Quaker community?

People belong in the Quaker community when they experience a kindred spirit with the testimonies and practices of Friends. Sometimes this kinship is carried lightly through association with Quaker meetings and churches or in Quaker organizations and schools. A person may not always identify as a Quaker, but may feel that they belong to the wider Quaker community. These associations create a richer diversity and vibrancy for the Religious Society of Friends.

And, for many Friends, the lack of a creed attracts us to go deeper in understanding Quaker faith and practice by belonging to a Quaker meeting or church. Through membership and through regular attendance and participation in the life of the Meeting, we build both spiritual and social community. Quakers are seekers and our seeking is enriched through corporate worship and through a commitment to one another. In our worship together as we listen for the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and as we act on those leadings with the support of our community, our lives manifest our faith. There is a power beyond creed to this inward-outward movement when our faith and practice come alive on a daily basis.

Diane R., Washington, DC, USA
I am not a Quaker, not formally anyway. But I have worshipped with Quakers many times over the years. In particular, at a time when I had been seriously spiritually and emotionally wounded by my own faith community, Quaker meetings gave me space to worship without demanding that I have my faith journey mapped out. Friends honored my small contributions and seemed to value my presence. It was through their quiet caring, even without knowing my story, and the atmosphere of waiting worship that allowed my faith and my heart to heal. I'm still a member of my original faith tradition, but I attend Meeting for Worship when I can because I know the worship makes me a better Christian and knowing Quakers makes me a better human.

Roger M., Knoxville, TN, USA
After attending and participating in Friends Meetings for 60 years I am still not a member. I like seeking the Divine in community but I have a problem with the Faith part of Faith and Practice. I don't think that anyone's relationship with what they consider the Divine or the unknown origin of our existence is exactly the same. Some members of the Quaker community essentially consider the Testimonies as a substitute for a creed. Integrity constricts me from doing that since we are all individuals seeking along our path of life for what is true for us.

Juan W., Amelia, VA, USA
Lack of intentional creed is, for me, more inclusive. Therefore more accepting of individual quest. No ifs, buts, or maybes — an open door through which anyone may enter.

Hazel P., Preston, UK

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