What is a Quaker Meeting: Orientation for Newcomers

What is a Quaker Meeting?

A Quaker Meeting is about offering the general public opportunities for community service in the context of a role-based institution designed around Quaker values.  These roles are unpaid in most cases, but not unimportant and may be regarded as in-kind donations of time-energy by those filling them.

Quaker values include a lack of hierarchy, which does not mean anarchy.  A Meeting is a set of structured concurrent processes centered around Meetings for Worship, including Meeting for Worship for Business, and committee work.  Through committee work, participants have opportunities to practice the skills that grow from a life anchored in the Spirit. 

Committee work provides Quakers with opportunities to walk their talk.

The means whereby our management structure is kept non-hierarchical is by means of rotation.  All positions have terms.  Decisions are by consensus through a facilitated and recorded practice in which good clerking skills are critical.

In the standard unprogrammed design, we have no pastor.  The meeting clerk is the clerk of the monthly business meeting and as such is responsible for coordinating with committee clerks regarding agenda, as well as cycling through processes on the calendar.

An example clerk responsibility:  shepherding a State of Society report through a revision and approval process, to be shared with the Quarterly Meeting.  A joint meeting of Oversight and Worship and Ministry may be standard, to work out the gist of such a report.

Typical Committees 

Nominating recommends people to a slate, the document which, when approved, shows who is currently doing what with regard to a meeting's roles.  Slates are shared with the Yearly Meeting for its web site.

Oversight presides over the process whereby people attain or drop formal membership within the Religious Society of Friends, organizes clearness and support committees (including for marriage and divorce if the meeting performs these services), supervises Friendly Care.

Finance and Property Management looks after accepting donations, investing / saving funds, managing the budget and paying bills.  Landscaping and indoor janitorial services are under Property Management's purview.

Peace and Social Concerns is a study circle for those called to activism and to networking with other groups outside the meeting.  In meetings which own buildings, this committee may join with the Hearthkeeper (another role) in "building use" decisions i.e. decisions regarding what events to host, what groups to rent space to, what groups to reach out to (or keep at a safe distance).

Social Committee helps with routine and special events in providing logistics, such as for potlucks.  This committee is in charge of the meeting's kitchen and food stores.

Worship and Ministry looks after the quality of Meetings for Worship, in part by making introductory statements and providing literature, sharing a monthly query should such apply, and otherwise fine tuning the flow of events around Meeting such as when latecomers are admitted, when children leave, when singing happens if any and so on.

Regarding Membership

Becoming a member is not a prerequisite for joining a committee.  On the contrary, Oversight Committee often recommends that newcomers get to know the people and inner workings of a Meeting before contemplating formal membership.  Join Peace and Social Concerns as a way of learning about how a Meeting works within a wider community, in tandem with other Quaker and non-Quaker organizations.

Through the institution of recorded membership, which not all Friends choose to participate in, one may publicly declare one's affiliation and loyalty to the Religious Society of Friends.  The process begins with a letter to Oversight followed by a Clearness Committee and business meeting approval of Oversight's recommendation.

Resigning or suspending membership, perhaps in protest over of meeting's direction or policy, is also a valid means of participation.  In addition, Oversight may occasionally assess that a person has drifted off and confirm an ending of membership perhaps by certified mail.

Becoming a member does not signify achieving a higher spiritual level or coming closer to God, though it may include these experiences for any given individual.  No background checks on the part of the Meeting are implied nor are those with criminal records excluded from membership. 

Choosing to become a member is rather a public declaration that one is willing and wishing to serve in the life of the meeting. 

Nominating is welcome to approach members with role proposals, unless such members are "released" -- a special status that frees a member to undertake traveling ministry or other community service. 

Non-members may pro-actively signal to Nominating when they feel led to participate, which in some cases may be to a degree equivalent to that of any recorded member.

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Comment by Forrest Curo on 9th mo. 22, 2015 at 3:12pm

This approach leaves out the key ingredient... That is not, of course, 'shaking' per se' (although a certain amount of wild Kundalini can certainly be a side effect ) but something Stephen Gaskin said: "The fact that the Spirit is real changes everything."

The following piece is a pointer to the initial mainspring of our movement, back when it was a growing, live terror to the Powers of 'The World': http://aquakerstew.blogspot.com/2015/09/q-is-for-quaking-charismati...

Where I think we may find some agreement between us -- is in a comment by the author:

"... unlike many Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians, I do not believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are primarily a marker of personal salvation. Rather, the Spirit's transformative power leads us to the way of Jesus. This must include a rejection of violence, a concern for the powerless and outcast and a commitment to building God's kingdom on earth."

However, it does make all the difference in the world, that we don't merely set out to build it ourselves -- in which case it will be our kingdom, not God's -- And then no matter how well thought out, it won't fly. But if we can wait and let God set the agenda, it grows within us, and grows out from among us...

Comment by William F Rushby on 9th mo. 22, 2015 at 3:49pm

Kirfby Urner wrote: "What is a Quaker Meeting?"

My answer: a Quaker meeting is an opportunity to encounter God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  At its best, it is a burning bush experience.  And this opportunity takes in place in the fellowship of believers.  It is a shared experience, not a private one.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 9th mo. 22, 2015 at 6:59pm

My description indeed only leaves as a possibility that divine grace and revelation will take hold of an institution designed for this purpose, and use it as a tool for higher ends. 

As mere mortals, that's our end of the bargain, to hold open the possibility of transformation and invite the Spirit into our midst through the practice of expectant waiting.

In describing the generic restaurant, the workflows, one of course hopes and/or presumes the food in question is worth eating i.e. it's a given that the best kitchen equipment in the world won't make up for unimaginative chefs.  The meeting I outline above is what a healthy, well-endowed meeting looks like, not a sick one.

Assuming a vital spirit, the above described "engine" will purr, but minus any tiger in said tank, any spark of the divine, said meeting will be without metaphysical radar and likely crash against the rocks of uncertainty and fading identity.  Dropping the meeting's Peace and Social Concerns Committee is even more likely to occasion disaster, like throwing one's compass and gyroscope overboard.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 9th mo. 22, 2015 at 7:43pm

The compass and gyroscope is the encounter, however differently or similarly it might be experienced, between human beings and the spiritual core of all life. Its endowment is neither funding nor physical plant, but the set of actual human beings (ornery as we often are) led to join in this endeavor. These will, of course, tend to be attracted by whatever felt needs (whether for spiritual connection or some secular ideal) appeal to them at their present stage of development... but that does not reduce a Meeting to organizational machinery for satisfying any given set of such needs.

A tree can be thought of as a carbon-based machine for making complex sugars and CO2. But the prevalence and robust endurance of trees results from the fact that they are not designed from the top down; but self-assembled from the bottom up. Social engineers please take note!

Comment by Kirby Urner on 9th mo. 22, 2015 at 8:02pm

... or maps, maybe I should have said "like throwing one's maps overboard."

I don't believe we're waiting for what Friends articulate as their beliefs, to all converge to a common set of touch stones, Trinitarian or otherwise. 

Convergent action towards cosmic ends does not require consistent beliefs nor uniformity of expression among humans, as the Spirit is not so limited.  What happened at the Tower of Babel is God's eternal response to our "all on the same page" idea.  Beliefs belong to vanity (we preen and strut with our beliefs).

The distinct lack of congruity in theological expression, in a cosmopolitan big city meeting, is no great cause for concern, is no occasion for pause as in "uh oh, we don't all sound the same so we mustn't move too quickly to action". 

Rather:  when we open our mouths, we find we're a hodge-podge of credos, which is one reason we choose to open our mouths relatively sparingly in worship. 

What goes on between the ears, in the way of dogmas barking, is not the core focus of our attention.  Beliefs belong to the mortal side, the slower side, of our nature.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 9th mo. 22, 2015 at 9:09pm

Beliefs belong to the world of 'Air', of abstract thought. You can't eat them ("Earth") or feel them ("Water"); and they aren't the Spirit ("Fire") they're sometimes intended to convey. But all those worlds belong to the Creation, and embody Spirit in their particular limited ways...

So people can go off-track by mistaking a belief for its subject, by setting a metaphor in concrete so to speak -- and they can also go off-track by imagining that beliefs don't matter. Everything people do involves at least implicit belief as to what the 'rules' are and what quality of result to reasonably expect from what they're doing.

It isn't a matter of imposing a 'credo', because people can recite such a statement fervently without ever being able to climb out a burning window by it...  but we each need to find some handle, some model of what those credos are about. It doesn't need to be the same model; but we do need something we'll be able to walk on when things get tight.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 9th mo. 22, 2015 at 9:56pm

A shared belief in the anatomy of a "standard Quaker meeting" (cite above) is precisely a set of beliefs about rules and reasonable expectations, so we agree that these are useful. 

That's why some oldsters in our community were shocked to the core when excision of an internal organ, a standing committee, was proposed.  Given our proximity to Asia perhaps, the term "hari-kari" (seppuku) was applied, naming the proposed action, in the end thankfully avoided. 

But it's still scary how close we came to taking that action, and to the medically minded leaves us seeking a diagnosis for the condition.  The term "meme virus" is apropos.  Strong antibodies were developed and our Meeting is again healthy, praise Allah.  Lets hope we stay that way.


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