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The Meaning of Membership

Mike Shell
On Place (May 2022)

Dear Friends: I’m sad that so many people – including so many “recorded Friends” – misunderstand what “membership” in a meeting means.

In the modern age, when we no longer face persecution for public expression of Quaker faith and practice, meetings no longer need to document whether or not a person who self-identifies as “Quaker” may or may not speak for us publicly.

Yes, there are people who mis-speak and claim they are speaking “Quakerism.” That is regrettable, but we have to accept that the world is full of people who claim labels without understanding or internalizing the Truth of the ways they claim to follow.

During the past decade, even though I am a recorded member of a Quaker meeting, I have stopped calling myself “a Quaker.” Instead, I say that I follow “the Quaker way.” That is, I live by the spiritual disciplines of Quaker faith and practice.

For me, being recorded as a “member” has to do with my commitment to a particular Quaker meeting, and the commitment of the people of that meeting to me.

It is not about whether or not I am “a Quaker.” It is about whether I and they are in unity about our particular commitments to each other as members of one particular family within the extended family of Quakerdom – which means, of course, within the larger clan of humankind . . . and of all life.

Friend Jay Thatcher speaks my mind (Western Friend, Jan/Feb 2022) and answers well my concerns about the hurt and misunderstanding expressed by Sharon-Drew Morgan (ibid.) and others like her, people who feel judged by the membership clearness process.

I hold these Quakers-but-not-members in the light, that they might come to discern between being convinced of Quaker faith and practice versus making a shared mutual commitment with a specific meeting.

Additionally, I find Friend Jay’s idea of renewable terms of membership intriguing. One of the greatest challenges we had with the now laid-down Jacksonville Monthly Meeting was that we allowed Friends to stay on the active rolls at their request, even if they had not attended or contributed – financially or otherwise – for years, even if they had moved away from Jacksonville. It was frustrating to work with a list of names of people we could not count on for any sort of support.

I don’t know if Friend Jay’s proposal is workable, but I welcome the idea that membership is a mutual responsibility, not just a status. Quakerism isn’t just a badge; it’s an active engagement with Quaker faith
and practice.

– Mike Shell, Quaker Universalist Fellowship



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