Dual affiliation

For the first 250 years of the Quaker movement, Quakers felt it was essential to separate themselves from “the world”. Attending worship at another church, participating in outward physical sacraments, or marrying a non-Quaker, were all disownable offenses until the late 1800’s.

Most Faith and Practices around the Quaker world say that when you join Friends, you drop your membership in whatever other church you belong to. Similarly, if you’re already a Friend, when you transfer to one meeting, your drop your membership in the meeting you came from. Dual membership is a Quaker no-no.

Is this realistic in today’s world? Many families come from different religious backgrounds. Many people have roots in more than one spiritual community. They enjoy worship and fellowship with other kinds of people, and they are enriched by the variety and depth of other traditions. And many individual Friends are highly mobile and have strong and active ties to more than one meeting.

In the everyday world, most of us belong to many different groups – not just to worshiping congregation or meeting, but to prayer and study groups, sports teams, craft and hobby groups, service clubs, academic groups, political parties, and so on. We’re happy to take part in all of them. Why should we have to confine our membership to just one body of Friends?

In practice, many of us are active participants in several different Quaker groups, which may not bear the title of local or yearly meetings but which claim large parts of our time, energy and financial support. Because I have been active in Friends United Meeting, does that mean I can’t also be involved in Friends Committee on National Legislation, or one of the many other organizations that dot the Quaker landscape?

One compelling reason is money. In yearly meetings where money is raised on a per-capita basis, there is a steep financial penalty for belonging to more than one group. If I have to pay $150 a year to support yearly meeting A, then I might have to pay a similar amount if I also want to belong to yearly meeting B.

Another reason is loyalty. I have to choose between being a Quaker and some other church. Participating regularly in the sacraments of some other church might make some Friends question how much of a Quaker I really am.

One of the gritty issues is the recording of ministers. Some yearly meetings do not accept Friends who have been recorded in places which are theologically suspect. Other Friends maintain their membership in a yearly meeting they no longer live in, because Friends where they live reject the whole idea of recording.

This jealously divided, outdated, gerrymandered Quaker practice seems to have little connection with Christian unity, or with the reality of our lives. Is change possible?

In some places, Friends have the option of sojourning membership – typically when they want to keep their membership in their “home” meeting but are working or studying in another area for a time.

A handful of yearly meetings have dual affiliation with both Friends United Meeting and Friends General Conference. It doesn’t seem to hurt them, and it may broaden their connection with Friends and enrich their spiritual experience. Some individual monthly meetings have dual affiliation with two yearly meetings and contribute to both of them.

There’s a renewed push going on today for Friends to choose their loyalties and “realign” ourselves organizationally. Fortunately, Quakers keep moving around, falling in love and marrying across theological lines, enjoying worship in different places, and being moved to support and participate in all kinds of projects. Younger Friends and new Friends seem astonishingly uninterested in maintaining barriers.

It may be time for us to reconsider the ban on dual membership, and make it easier for Friends with multiple loyalties to “belong”. To get the discussion going, here are some questions:

  • Does membership in another group prevent my full participation in activities of my meeting? Do I have time for both?
  • Does belonging to another group require disavowing Quaker beliefs and practices? Does the other group require a creed or statement of belief which directly or by implication condemns Quakers or denies our belonging to the family of Christ?
  • Do I provide a full share of financial support to both groups? Are the groups I belong to weakened because I can’t contribute my fair share to each?
  • Do we welcome Friends, no matter where they come from or what group they belong to? Do the labels and affiliations they bear prevent us from receiving their ministry with an open heart and mind?

4 Responses to “Dual affiliation”

  1. 1 Howard June 28, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    Great questions, Josh. I’ll share my experiences with my meeting, for what it’s worth.

    My Quaker meeting in Midlothian, Virginia allows Friends to maintain dual membership if that is their spiritual path. The dual membership could be in another denomination or even in another Quaker meeting/church. However, while I’ve seen this dual arrangement sanctioned by us and a church of another denomination for a member of our meeting, I’ve never seen it done for us and another Quaker meeting; mainly because I think our practice is unusual for a Quaker meeting, and other Quaker meetings don’t sanction this.

    We’ve gotten rather exasperated at the weight put on the whole membership thing by Quakers, anyway. Too much emphasis placed on it for a spiritual society. We’ve concluded that as a spiritual community, we welcome new ones into membership, but do not require or expect it for them to FULLY participate in all aspects of the meeting. For many we have found, formal (recorded) membership in any church is a hindrance to their personal spirituality. They prefer to be united in spiritual commitment with us without a formal, recorded commitment. Subsequently, over the years, we have found that many of our attenders (non-members) are more committed to our meeting than many members. So we began long ago to use ‘demonstrated commitment’ to assess whether a Friend should be on a ministerial/pastoral care committee, or should serve even as the monthly meeting clerk. We have even had some very committed Friends who were not recorded members of our meeting to serve as the clerk of our meeting.

    Since our meeting and Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM) does not assess financial support based on formal (recorded) memberships, there is no financial down-side to dual membership for the meeting. Our monthly meeting makes no financial assessment to anyone in the meeting (contributions are entirely voluntary), and the yearly meeting bases their apportionment assessment on the number of contributing households to our monthly meeting and how much they contribute (it doesn’t matter whether they are a member or an attender of the monthly meeting).

    Since we are OK with a Friend, who is a member of another meeting, fully participating in our meeting, we do not have the practice of Sojourning within our meeting community. However, we do recognize that most other meetings require a Friend to be a member of their meeting or a Sojourner in order to fully participate. So, we do have a process to release a member Friend from our meeting to Sojourn in another meeting if that is needed for them to fully participate in another meeting while maintain their membership in our meeting.

    I have discovered that many, many liberal Quaker meetings are increasingly ignoring their own processes that require someone to be a member in order to fully participate in the life of the meeting. In our meeting, we finally decided to embrace what we were already doing in practice, and write our own membership process to publically recognize our view on membership. We felt this was necessary because our practice was in contradiction to the stated guidelines of BYM’s Faith and Practice manual. Of course, as a yearly meeting, Baltimore Yearly meeting is a bottom-up organization. And changes to the guidelines in Faith and Practice come after years of experience by the constituent monthly meetings. In other words, there is no strong-arming from the yearly meeting to “tow the line”. Rather, the yearly meeting offers strong support, guidance, and a larger Quaker community to its monthly meetings.

    As you may know, BYM and its monthly meetings no longer “record ministers”. So, I have no experience to share regarding that practice.

  2. 2 Keith Esch June 29, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    I’m pleased that Josh has raised the question of dual membership. When we moved to Richmond in 1969 for me to work for ESR we were interested in belonging both to West Richmond Meeting and our Mennonite congregation back in PA. If I remember correctly, my motivation was to retain my ordination in the Mennonite Church and I could not be sure the ESR job would work out for the long term. At the same time I believed I needed to “belong” to the people I was working for. West Richmond generously granted my request and thus we were dually affiliated for several years.

    As for “dues” I fervently hope our new group refrains from dues. I strongly believe whatever eventually evolves, expenses will be relatively minimal and that they will be met through voluntary contributions. I hope those who are led to belong both to our “New Association” and another corporate group will be warmly welcomed.

    I do wonder about the issue of membership itself. I listen to our 22 year old granddaughter who clearly considers herself a Quaker but, as far as I know does not formally belong to any Friends Meeting. She may at some point want to do that but, who knows?

    Thanks! Keith

  3. 3 Críostóir O'Reilly July 1, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Great question. I often describe my spiritual path as John Woolman and Henry David Thoreau in conversation walking down a forest path on a snowy eve ,while Bodhidharma the Buddhist apostle to Japan, hides behind the trees and pelts them with snow balls. Friends meeting here on Nantucket Island only meets in the summer months. In the off season ,the few year round Friends prefer to go bird watching on First Day morning.I often find myself with my girlfriend’s Unitarian congregation.

  4. 4 friendmarcelle July 2, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Thanks for putting out these questions, Josh. Some of them are pretty alive for me right now!

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All of the posts on this blog are my own personal opinion. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members and attenders of the meeting where I belong or any organization of Friends. For more information, click on the "About Me" tab above.



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