Faith and Practice
This book is the latest revision of the original "Rules of Discipline" of the North Carolina Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Conservative). The document was first formulated in 1869 and saw revisions in 1876, 1908, 1950, 1969, and 1979.
The evolution of a Yearly Meeting's Book of Discipline is generally a testimony to the power of faith and of the Quaker method in educating and sensitizing conscience. A Discipline is both a moral guide and a manual of structure and government within the Body. The document is revised from time to time. Additions and revisions show the evolution of moral consciousness as it becomes more sensitive to spiritual and social inharmonies.
This revision of the Book of Discipline represents the efforts of members of North Carolina Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Conservative) to re-examine their doctrines and procedures and set them down in a way that is both faithful to their religious heritage and applicable in the contemporary world.
In recent years, many Friends have found themselves uncomfortable with the use of specifically masculine terms to refer to all people. Effort is made herein in current speech and writing, to avoid such terms and to use instead more universal language. Nevertheless, it is inappropriate to rewrite history or to change the actual words used by the people of an earlier era who are quoted. It is hoped that readers understand the clear intent to include all persons, regardless of the limitations of language.
The following Advices, revisions of those appearing in the 1876 and 1908 editions of the Discipline, are intended for the earnest and frequent consideration of all members of the North Carolina Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Conservative). Their purpose is not to provide rules of conduct but to challenge and inspire Friends in their personal and social lives.
To our members, and all who meet with us in public worship:
Take heed, dear Friends, we entreat you, to the convictions of the Holy Spirit, who leads us, through unfeigned repentance and living faith in the Son of God, to reconciliation with our Heavenly Father and to the blessed hope of eternal life, brought to us in the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Be earnestly concerned in religious meetings to wait reverently upon the Lord, seeking to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth, and be in the frequent practice of waiting upon the Lord in private, honestly examining yourselves as to your growth in grace.
Be diligent in the private perusal of the Holy Scriptures, and let the daily reading of them in your families be devoutly conducted.
Be careful to make a profitable and religious use of those portions of time on the first day of the week which are not occupied by our meetings for worship.
Live in love, as Christian brethren, ready to be helpful one to another, and sympathizing with each other in the trials and afflictions of life. Watch over one another for good, manifesting an earnest desire that each may be well grounded in the Light of Christ.
Maintain strict integrity in your transactions in trade, and in all your outward concern. Guard against covetousness and an earthly mind. Remember that you must account as well for the mode of acquiring, as for the manner of using your possessions, and may you everywhere behave yourselves orderly, both in converse and commerce, so as to answer the Witness for Truth in all with whom you have to do.
Be careful to make or revise your wills, and settle your outward affairs while in health.
Observe simplicity and moderation in your deportment and attire, in the furniture of your houses, and in your manner or style of living
Carefully maintain in your speech and conduct, and encourage in your families, simplicity, truthfulness, and sincerity; and endeavor to avoid worldliness in all its forms.
Guard watchfully against the introduction into your households of publications of a hurtful tendency, and against such companionships, indulgences, and recreations as may in anywise interfere with the growth in grace. We earnestly advise all our members to refrain from the use of tobacco in every form, and to discourage its growth and the sale of its products, as well as the use of it by their children and all under their care.
Be aware of the attitude with which you receive all the material and cultural products of your society. Seek the beautiful and worthwhile in literary and recreational pursuits, being always sensitive to the encroachment of the banal, the degrading, or the violent.
Believing that meekness, moderation, and mercy are among the distinguishing traits of the Christian character, we are concerned to caution our members against the indulgence of passion, or the exercise of cruelty, even toward the brute creation.
Take care in your relationships with others that you respect and cherish each person, for people of all races and nationalities have that of God within their beings which unites them. Take care also, therefore, to maintain a consistent witness to peace, opposition to war, and to all acts of violence or coercion, that you may remain in accord with the timeless guidance of the Inner Light.
Let early care be taken to advise such as appear inclinable to marry without sufficient reflection; in contemplating the engagement let all look principally to that which will help you on your spiritual journey. Pay filial regard to the judgment of your parents. Bear in mind the vast importance in such a union of an accordance in religious principles and practice. Ask counsel of God, desiring above all temporal considerations that your union may be owned and blessed of Him.
Watch with Christian tenderness over the opening minds of your children; give them examples of Christian freedom and discipline in your own lives; carefully instruct them in a knowledge of Holy Scriptures; seek for ability to imbue their hearts with the love of their Heavenly Father, their Redeemer, and their Sanctifier.
For although we recognize the children of our members as objects of our care, and partakers of the outward privileges of Christian fellowship, we would earnestly remind all that such recognition cannot constitute them members of the Lords Spiritual Israel. Nothing can effect this but the power of the Holy Spirit working repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, let the words of our Holy Redeemer have due place with us all, "Ye must be born again." May all of our members become such on the ground of true conversion, and be prepared in their several places to bring forth fruit unto God.
Finally, dear Friends, let your whole conduct and conversation be such as becometh the Gospel. Exercise yourselves to have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward all persons. Be faithful and steadfast in your allegiance and service to your Lord; continue in His love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace.
The Religious Society of Friends began as a religious movement during the Puritan Revolution in England (1652-1656). Outstanding among early leaders of the Society was George Fox (1624-1691), who was disillusioned by practices of professing Christians of his day. Fox eventually reached his own first-hand experience of Christ:
And when all my hopes in them (preachers) and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh, then, l heard a voice which said, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition," and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy. (Journal, 1647)
In the early Friends meetings, small groups of people sat together in silence waiting upon the Lord, speaking only as divinely inspired to share a message. Sometimes the sense of spiritual power descending upon the group was so powerful that they trembled, whence the term "Quakers" by which members of the Society are still known. Quakerism crossed the Atlantic in early colonial days, with Friends settling in considerable numbers in Rhode Island, the New England islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, New Jersey, New York, and other eastern states. For years the colony of Pennsylvania, founded by the Quaker William Penn, was governed under Friends principles of human brotherhood.
In 1672, George Fox and William Edmundson traveled to America, and the two made their way to Carolina and visited Henry Phillips and his wife, the only known Quaker settlers at that time in North Carolina. As early as 1680, monthly meetings were established in the section of North Carolina around Albemarle Sound. The establishment of a yearly meeting in North Carolina dates from 1698, as shown by the following record:
At a Quarterly Meeting held at the house of Henry White, Fourth Month 4th, 1698, it is unanimously agreed by Friends that the last Seventh-day of the Seventh Month, in every year, be the Yearly Meeting for this country, at the house of Francis Toms, and the Second day of the week following to be set apart for business.
Friends settlements were first made on the sounds and rivers near the coast, both in North and what is now South Carolina. A peak in the development of Quaker political leadership in this section was achieved in the appointment of John Archdale, convinced Friend, as Governor of the Carolinas in 1695-1696. During the period beginning with his governorship, a number of Friends were elected to the assembly; and Quakers were the dominant power in the Carolinas in the last decade of the century.
With the turn of the century, English laws were enacted implanting the Church of England and making times difficult for dissenting groups. About the middle of the eighteenth century, as a result, a tide of migration set into the westward; and settlements of Friends grew up in Wayne, Randolph, and Guilford Counties, forming Contentnea, Western, and New Garden Quarterly Meetings of the North Carolina Yearly Meeting.
In the year 1786, Western Quarterly Meeting requested "That the Yearly Meeting be held alternately in the East and in the West." After weighty consideration by the Yearly Meeting, the proposal was adopted, and the Yearly Meeting was held at Centre, Guilford County, in 1787. This alternate plan for location of Yearly Meeting continued until 1813. From 1813 to 1883, inclusive, with the exception of 1880 (when it was held at Friendsville, Tennessee), it was held at New Garden; and from 1883 to 1903, inclusive, at High Point.
About this time, those members of the Yearly Meeting who felt that it was right for them to maintain the doctrines of the immediate and perceptible guidance of the Holy Spirit, of the headship of Christ over all things to His Church, and of the waiting worship and inspirational ministry which are, and must ever be, the outgrowth of these doctrines, believed it would be right for them to hold a separate Yearly Meeting. Accordingly they met in the capacity of North Carolina Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, at Cedar Grove, in the town of Woodland, Northampton County, North Carolina, in the year of 1904.
For purposes of distinction, the Yearly Meeting is designated as North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative). In this Book of Discipline the term "Yearly Meeting" referring to a specific body, without other qualification, will refer to the North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative).
A religious movement which recognizes that Revelation of Truth is continuous and that any person may be a channel for it, cannot be governed by a rigid creed. A wide variety of beliefs and practices will be found among its members, but underlying these will be certain distinctive doctrines. The following statement of the testimony of Friends is an attempt to point out certain ideas which traditionally have been used in describing the faith and practice of the Society.
The experience of the "Inner Light," or the "Light of Christ," is the center of the life of Friends and the ultimate source of all our testimonies. The Inner Light is what Friends call "that of God" in every person which, Friends believe, can be known directly without another's interpretation. The Inner Light gives illumination and clarity to conscience, generating an inward compulsion to follow the leadings of its Spirit. This Spirit is the love of God, implanted in all, overcoming the ambivalence of conscience and leading us to a powerful conviction of God's will for our lives.
The Inner Light is our experience of and connection with God. According to Friends this experience involves a body of convictions about God's nature and His requirements concerning our dealings with all persons. When this body of convictions has consolidated itself in one's inner life and style of outward conduct, it is called "Truth." This Truth is a way of following the spirit and not the letter of the law.
All persons are capable of perceiving, recognizing, and responding to God - to His Truth, His love, and His will - as it is given to us in the Light. As George Fox expressed it:
This is the Word of the Lord God to you all and a charge to you all in the presence of the Living God; be patterns, be examples to all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.
From this it can be seen that Friends believe in the universality of Grace. To Friends, God reaches out to all people everywhere through the Light, communicating His will, helping them to direct their affairs, and empowering them to fulfill this will and direction.
Because Friends see all individuals to be graced with such good gifts, we also see that God demands a great deal from them. From the beginning of our Society, we have heard a call to perfection and have believed that this perfection in freedom from actual sin is possible in this world. Perfection means living up to the measure of Light that is given. If we are faithful in a little, we shall be given more. This is not an infinite process but rather the attainable goal of maturing inner capacities.
Despite our emphasis on the inwardness of true religion, Friends do not deny the reality of objective religious and moral authority. We depend on enlightened conscience and reason in the individual and group. The pragmatic tests of practical experience, and the witness of the Scriptures also act as checks upon one's interpretation of the Light.
Friends are well aware of the need to maintain watchfully the humility necessary to receive respectfully the insights of the meeting and the traditional wisdom of others, being always mindful, however, that the ultimate requirement of conviction is one's commitment to the Inner Light.
Therefore, we hold no outward authority as final and believe in a continuing revelation. "The Canon of Scripture may be closed, but the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has not ceased." If this Spirit gives one a clear leading, it must be followed as the supreme guide to perceive religious and moral truth.
The heart of Quaker ethics is summed up in the word "Simplicity." Simplicity is forgetfulness of self and remembrance of our humble status as waiting servants of God. Outwardly, simplicity is shunning superfluities of dress, speech, behavior, and possessions, which tend to obscure our vision of reality. Inwardly, simplicity is spiritual detachment from the things of this world as part of the effort to fulfill the first commandment: to love God with all of the heart and mind and strength.
The testimony of outward simplicity began as a protest against the extravagance and snobbery which marked English society in the 1600's. In whatever forms this protest is maintained today, it must still be seen as a testimony against involvement with things which tend to dilute our energies and scatter our thoughts, reducing us to lives of triviality and mediocrity.
Simplicity does not mean drabness or narrowness but is essentially positive, being the capacity for selectivity in one who holds attention on the goal. Thus simplicity is an appreciation of all that is helpful toward living as children of the Living God.
The deeper meaning of simplicity can be seen in the stand of Friends against the taking of oaths. Friends believe that their word should be accepted at any time among all persons and thus abjure the right to stand simply on their own word rather than swearing by God to a purity of purpose in which God alone is certain. Friends, therefore, "affirm" rather than use oaths requiring them to swear on the Bible or before God, a witness which has gained universal recognition in modern legal practice.
The Quaker principle of group action is called consensus or harmony. By harmony is meant the pacifist technique of allowing unity to emerge without coercion, on an individual basis, whether this be in the meeting or on a worldwide scale. Friends believe that only by thus allowing all to participate in social processes can true community be reached.
This mode of decision-making is grounded in Friends' experience of spiritual unity in the Inner Light. The appeal to the Inner Light as a source of unity does not imply victory of one person or party over another, but the victory of love and truth which are often on the side of the weak.
While Friends know from their own experience how difficult it is to maintain a spirit of love and openness to the ideas of others, they believe that any superficial unity attained merely by power or by force of the majority is worthless, since true unity is a deep conviction of spiritual oneness underlying agreement on issues and actions.
Just as Friends find all individuals to be at one in the Light, so are all found potentially equal in moral and spiritual stature by virtue of the universality of the Light. Friends testimony to social equality grows out of this awareness. Friends believe that equality of spiritual opportunities involves a demand for equal opportunity in all areas of our social, cultural, legal, political, and economic life.
These beliefs find their fullest expression in Friends witness to peace.
We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fighting with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world. The spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil and then to move unto it; and we do certainly know, and so testify to the world, that the spirit of Christ which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the Kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world. (Declaration of English Friends to Charles II, 1661)
The peace testimony calls us to be peacemakers at home, in society, and in the world; to practice actively all the virtues of love and thus call out "to that of God" in every person. This does not mean passive acquiescence in the face of evil, but rather the use of love and nonviolence as the only means of eradicating all forms of human oppression, degradation, and unnecessary suffering.
The historical Quaker peace testimony goes beyond the personal to the international. Ever since the days of William Penn, Friends have been committed to the idea of an international meeting like the United Nations. Friends believe this to be the only human way to solve international differences, and refuse to affirm any nation's use of coercive methods against another, even when done in the name of justice and freedom.
Friends regard their religion in worship and daily life as being guided by the Inner Light. Thus they have no use for dogma and credal formulas. Quakerism can be described but not defined, since it is an inner vision and outward life style rather than a theological world view. It will often be necessary, however, for Friends to relate their experience to that of the Christian community as a whole, and to satisfy this need in a way compatible with the Light which has been given them.
Friends believe that the same Spirit which guided the ministries of Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles, remains alive and at work in the world today. As Friends so affirm and seek an ever more perfect openness to that Guidance in their daily lives, they have found it preferable to offer no allegiance to either doctrine, dogma, or creed.
The following letter is provided as an example of the Christian belief of most early Friends. This played a part in shaping their own lives and thought as well as having a continuing influence on Friends up to the present time.
From an Epistle addressed by George Fox and others to the Governor of Barbadoes, 1671:
We do own and believe in God, the only wise, omnipotent and everlasting God, who is the Creator of all things, both in heaven and on the earth, and the Preserver of all that He hath made, who is God over all, blessed forever, to Whom be all honor and glory, dominion, praise, and thanksgiving both now and forevermore. And we do own and believe in Jesus Christ, His beloved and only-begotten Son, in Whom He is well pleased, who was conceived of the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary; in Whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins; Who is the express image of the Invisible God, the First-born of every creature, by Whom all things were created that are in Heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers, all things were created by Him. And we do own and believe that He was made a sacrifice for sin Who knew no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth, and that He was crucified for us in the flesh without the gates of Jerusalem, and that He was buried and that He rose again on the third day by the power of His Father for our justification; and we do believe that He ascended into Heaven and now sitteth on the right hand of God. This Jesus, who was the foundation of the holy Apostles and Prophets, is our foundation, and we do believe that there is no other foundation to be laid but that which is laid, even Christ Jesus, Who, we believe, tasted death for every man, and shed His blood for all men, and is the propitiation for our sins and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world; according as John the Baptist testified of Him, when he said: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world." John 1:29. We believe that He alone is our Redeemer and Saviour, even the Captain of our Salvation, Who saves us from sin, as well as from hell and the wrath to come, and destroys the Devil and all his works; Who is the Seed of the Woman that bruises the serpent's head, to wit, Christ Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last. That He is, as the Scriptures of Truth say of Him, our Wisdom and Righteousness, Justification and Redemption, neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under Heaven, given among man, whereby we may be saved. It is He alone Who is the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. He it is who is our Prophet, Whom Moses long since testified of, saying: ``A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; Him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever He shall say unto you; and it shall come to pass that every soul that will not hear the prophet shall be destroyed from amongst the people." Acts 3:22,23. He it is that is now come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true. And He rules in our hearts by His law of love and life, and makes us free from the law of sin and death. And we have no life but by Him, for He is the quickening Spirit, the Second Adam, the Lord from Heaven, by Whose blood we are cleansed and our consciences sprinkled from dead works to serve the Living God. And He is our Mediator, that makes peace between God offended and us offending. He is the oath of God, the new covenant, of light, life, grace, and peace, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Now this Lord Jesus Christ, the Heavenly Man, the Emmanuel, God with us, we all own and believe in. He whom the high priest raged against, and said He had spoken blasphemy, whom the priests and elders of the Jews took counsel against and put to death, the same whom Judas betrayed for thirty pieces of silver, which the priests gave him as a reward for his treason, who also gave large money to the soldiers to broach a horrible lie, namely, that His disciples came and stole him away by night while they slept. And after He was risen from the dead, the history of the Acts of the Apostles sets forth how the chief priests and the elders persecuted the disciples of this Jesus for preaching Christ and His resurrection. This, we say, is that Lord Jesus Christ whom we own to be our life and our salvation.
We do declare that we esteem it a duty incumbent upon us to pray with and for, to teach, instruct and admonish those in and belonging to our families, for whom an account will be required by Him Who comes to judge both quick and dead at the great day of judgment, when every one shall be rewarded according to the deeds done in the body, whether they be good or whether they be evil; at that day we say, of the resurrection both of the good and of the bad, of the just and the unjust: "When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from Heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God and obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power, when He shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe in that day.: II Thess. 1:7-10; II Peter 3:3.
The following excerpts have been taken from Friends writings:
There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath had different names, it is however pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion nor excluded from any, where the heart stands in perfect sincerity. In whomsoever this takes root and grows, of what nation so ever, they become brethren, in the sense of the expression. Using ourselves to take ways which appear most easy to us, when inconsistent with that Purity which is without beginning, we thereby set up a government of our own and deny obedience to Him whose service is true liberty. (John Woolman)
These talents that were given to the Lord's servants, and to every one according to their several abilities, was the Lord's heavenly treasure, and was not their own but the Lord's; and they were, and are, to improve this heavenly treasure for the Lord, and to put it forth . . . But the wicked and slothful servant (he is called a servant too) hideth the Lord's talent in his earthly napkin, and did not improve the Lord's heavenly treasure; and he was cast into utter darkness; and therefore all are to consider, whom the Lord hath given more or less of his heavenly treasure to, how you do, and how you have put the Lord's heavenly treasure forth and have improved it. (George Fox, 1687).
Advised, that our Christian testimony be faithfully maintained against the burden and imposition of oaths, according to the express prohibition of Christ, and also of the apostle James: "Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths; but I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by earth, for it is His footstool; neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King; neither shalt thou swear by thine head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black; but let your communication be, 'Yea, yea; Nay nay'; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. But above all things, my brethren, swear not; neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath; but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation." (London Yearly Meeting, 1782)
We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government, nor are we for this party nor against the other. . . but we are for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom, that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness, righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with God, and with one another, that these things may abound. (Edward Burrough, 1659)
We declare our faith in those abiding truths taught and exemplified by Jesus Christ - that every individual of every race and nation, is of supreme worth; that love is the highest law of life, and that evil is to be overcome, not by further evil, but by good. The relationship of nation to nation, of race to race, of class to class, must be based on this divine law of love, if peace and progress are to be achieved. We believe in those principles, not as mere ideals for some future time, but as part of the eternal moral order and as a way of life to be lived here and now. War is a colossal violation of this way of life. If we are true to our faith, we can have no part of it.
We affirm the supremacy of conscience. We recognize the privileges and obligations of citizenship, but we reject as false that philosophy which sets the state above the moral law and demands from the individual unquestioning obedience to every state command. On the contrary, we assert that every individual, while owing loyalty to the state, owes a more binding loyalty to a higher authority - the authority of God and conscience. (Statement adopted by the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Friends in 1934)
I told (the Commonwealth Commissioners) I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars and I knew from whence all wars did rise, from the lust, according to James's doctrine.... I told them I was come into the covenant of peace which was before wars and strifes were. (George Fox, 1651)
Now the Lord God hath opened to me by His invisible power how that every man was enlightened by the divine Light of Christ; and I saw it shine through all, and that they that believed in it came out of condemnation and came to the Light of Life, and became the children of it, but they that hated it, and did not believe in it, were condemned by it, though they made a profession of Christ. This I saw in the pure openings of the Light, without the help of any man, neither did I then know where to find it in the Scriptures, though afterwards, searching the Scriptures, I found it. For I saw in that Light and Spirit which was before Scripture was given forth, and which let the holy men of God to give them forth, that all must come to that Spirit, if they would know God or Christ or the Scriptures, aright, which they that gave them forth were led and taught by. (George Fox, 1 648)
Friends recognize the power of prayer in transforming their lives and in the fostering of healing of all types in others. In prayer our conscious minds become attuned to the spiritual forces that are manifest in the world. As we empty our minds in prayer, our inner beings become filled with the Spirit of the Father. In prayerful activity we are reminded of His words, "I can of mine own self do nothing . . . because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me." (John 5:30)
Prayer should be distinguished from meditation, although both will occur, often interrelated, in worship. Just as asking a question is not the same as receiving an answer, so also prayer is distinctly different from meditation. Prayer bespeaks supplication; meditation involves listening or attunement. Not all prayer is for help from the Lord; prayers of praise and thanksgiving have their place in our expressions. In the listening or waiting process of meditation, prayer is that point at which we express ourselves.
Meditation is the art of reuniting the soul with Spirit. It should not be confused with mere concentration, or the freeing of attention from distractions and the focusing on any thought in which one may be interested. Meditation is that special form of concentration in which the attention is liberated from restlessness and focused on God. Meditation is at the heart of the healthy, spiritually growing individual, and the life of a Friends meeting will depend in no small measure upon the extent to which its members practice individual meditation in a spiritually significant way.
By daily or regular practice of meditation at a time and place that provides a minimum of outer disturbances, new joy and peace are increasingly manifest within one. This peace is soul-satisfying, while the joy experienced in meditation constantly guides one to right action in life.
If our meeting for worship is to accomplish the great things we expect of it, there must be careful preparation. We cannot go abruptly from one type of life to another. We cannot be insensitive to the needs of our neighbors before meeting and then quickly become sensitive to God and to those who worship with us in meeting. Sensitivity or a `4tender" spirit in worship is developed through exercise and cultivation. Worship is an art in which some attain proficiency quickly; others, slowly.
It may appear that there are two goals to be sought in worship: one, the union of the worshipper with the creative life of God; the other, a rebirth into a higher type of life. Yet, these two are one goal, for only God is sought. What lies beyond the experience of God, the worshipper cannot see. It is a strange paradox that the better life does not come if it is directly sought after. It is a new creation and its nature is unpredictable. God is to be sought for His own sake. Only then does He grant the emergence of a higher level of life.
The gathering of Friends in meetings for communion with God constitutes a group activity of inward prayer and contemplation. Insights gained by such spiritual activity may be spoken or left unsaid. Often they are powerful enough to move the worshipper in new directions more closely related to the Divine plan. While this process may be called group prayer or meditation by some, Friends tend to describe it as "waiting upon the Lord."
The silent worship of a Quaker meeting is communion insofar as it rises above silence as a symbol and allows the life of God into the souls of the waiting group. The worshipper becomes a part of the divine life, as it flows through, and transforms.
Quaker experience supports the view that it is possible and practical to merge the values of individual and group worship. The unique worth of individual worship is in the fact that the worshipper need not adapt to any outward or traditional circumstances. A person aspiring to reach heights unattained need not be dragged down by others. However, care must be taken to avoid extreme individualism which might result in religious anarchy. The special role of group worship is found in the opportunity which it affords for the stronger to help the weaker. Those who know better the ascent can guide those who do not. But in this case an extreme of group control might create a type of uniformity out of which new life could not grow.
The Quaker meeting for worship when it attains its ends avoids the two extremes and combines the power of each. A balance of individual and group values is reached in which the whole does not dominate the parts, nor do the parts go their own way regardless of the whole. As fellowship deepens, and the spirit of worship grows, a new and higher understanding brings the individuals into a united whole. Isaac Pennington says of this, "They are like a heap of fresh and burning coals warming one another . . . as a great strength, freshness and vigor of life flows into all."
A free ministry which grows naturally in a meeting for worship usually points forward to goals; it does not reason nor argue nor preoccupy itself with means and instruments. It suggests a simple insight and appeals to the simple insight of others. A vocal ministry which pulls a religious experience to pieces in order to examine it, destroys it. Long and elaborately reasoned discourses tend too often to clamp delicate life processes into stiff, intellectual molds.
We cannot and we should not separate worship from its consequences. A meeting for worship differs from what is called secular life only in the degree to which the worshipper is able to become sensitive to the Inner Light. It is impossible for anyone to be with God and not partake of the spirit in which He ever seeks to unite His world to Himself. No longer are people seen as selfish individuals, struggling to attain their ends, indifferent to their fellows. The soul now knows that the deepest longing of every individual is the common will of all.
The position of this Yearly Meeting and Friends generally on the sacraments is that a mere historical belief in the doctrines of the Gospel is not enough, but that the heart changing power of the Holy Spirit must be sought and lived by. Only the external rituals are lacking in our practice, believing as we do that all life is a sacrament. We believe that there is but one baptism, in which all believers are baptized by the one Spirit into the one body. This is not an outward baptism with water, but a spiritual experience. It is with the Spirit alone that any can be baptized. In this experience, the announcement of the forerunner of our Lord is fulfilled, "He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire."
Friends views on the Lord's Supper are also based on this approach. We believe that it is inward and spiritual, a real participation of His Divine nature through faith in Him, and obedience to the power of the Holy Spirit, by which the soul is enabled to feed daily upon the flesh and blood of our crucified and risen Lord. The true Christian supper is that set forth in Revelation 3:20, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me."
The following are excerpts from earlier Disciplines of North Carolina Yearly Meeting:
Advised that Friends, though meetings are sometimes held in silence, should not neglect their attendance, for the hungry soul will labor for bread, and the thirsty soul for the water of life, and the diligent hand will make rich in that treasure which is of an enduring substance. (1724)
In your religious meetings for the worship of God, both on the First day of the week and on other days, be diligent to wait upon Him whereby you may renew your strength and witness Him your sufficient help, for surely many of us have causes thankfully to remember His early visitations in the assemblies of His people, where He broke in upon our hearts with His power and love, and did, in the needful time, administer help, comfort and council, whereby, in the renewals thereof, we have been held in faithful testimony and in the discharge of our duty to Him. (1725)
In all your meetings for the worship of Almighty God, let your deportment be such as may demonstrate that you are in earnest in the great duty of waiting upon and worshipping God in Spirit, that serious and tenderhearted inquirers may be encouraged to come and partake in your assemblies of that inward and spiritual consolation and refreshment which the Lord is pleased graciously to impart to the souls of such as are humbled in His sight, and approach His Holy Presence with reverence and fear. (1744)
Although the labors of such as are called forth by the Spirit of Christ and instructed thereby rightly to divide the Word of Truth, are highly serviceable in the Church, yet the aim and design of every true Gospel Minister is to direct the minds of all to the Divine teachings of the Holy Spirit, and to wait upon and have their whole trust and expectation on the Lord alone. And as religious strength and communion of both preachers and hearers consist in their united dependence on the power and spirit of Christ, their Guide and Leader, so when any part of that dependence is broken off from Him, the Holy Head, and placed on any instrument or member of the body, it has been sometimes experienced to become a weight or burden upon the instrument, and a real impediment to its present service. Wherefore, brethren, we beseech you that in all your assemblies for the worship of God let your eye be single unto Him, your expectations fixed upon Him alone, and your faith standing in His power and spirit. Thus you may grow and be established therein, and be made one another's strength in the Lord.
And let the hearers be watchful over their own spirits, and not forwardly judge or censure the testimonies that may be delivered amongst them, for if they be not careful and diligent in attending upon the Lord in meetings, they are liable to be mistaken in the judgement they may pass on the ministry. Now this being a matter of great moment for the preservation of love and concord in the Churches, and knowing the danger and ill consequences which attend a hasty and censorious judging of the ministry, we think it necessary to caution Friends not to let their own spirits sway them, but to let the Spirit of God rule and reign in their hearts, for this will preserve all in sweetness and tenderness, one toward another. (1731, 1753)
We tenderly exhort such as, through fear of neglecting their temporal concerns or other considerations, are kept from a due attendance of meetings for worship, seriously to consider that gracious promise left upon record, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." Some of us have to testify that our outward affairs have not suffered by giving up our time, the few hours set apart for religious worship; but, on the contrary our minds have been thereby greatly strengthened to come up with propriety in the duties we owe to God, to our families, and to all mankind. Let us call to remembrance the zeal of our honorable predecessors who, when they had great reason to expect that they should be driven into noisome and pestilential prisons, sent into banishment or subjected to other grievous sufferings for meeting together on no other account than to worship God according to their conscience, yet, in the strength of that holy faith and love which supported them in suffering, failed not constantly to keep their meetings at the hazard of all and expense of many of their lives, liberties and properties. (1758)
"Where two or three," says the Lord, "are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." In these words He invites us not only to meet with one another but with Himself also. Shall the King of Kings and Lord of Lords condescend to offer His Divine Presence for good and shall we, His dependent creatures, set so light by His inestimable kindness as either wilfully or negligently, to let slip those precious seasons wherein we might receive His blessed assistance, so necessary to our help and salvation? Shall the poor perishing gratification of sense and self-love, or any inconveniences of a trivial nature, be suffered to prevent our dutiful attendance upon Him in whom alone stands our everlasting interests? Shall a cloudy day, a little wet, a little ease to the flesh, a view to a little earthly gain, or any common incident, furnish an excuse for declining this duty, and thereby depriving ourselves of the blessed advantage, often vouchsafed to the faithful, of enjoying heavenly communion together in spirit with the Lord of life and glory? (1765)
They who are obedient to this universal injunction of our Saviour: "Watch," are prepared for the due fulfilling of every duty, and eminently so for that most essential one of worship. How many feel themselves languid when assembled for this solemn purpose, for want of a previous preparation of heart! The mind, crowded with thoughts of outward things in approaching the place for public worship, and resuming them with avidity on its return, is not likely to fill up the interval to the fullest profit, and to such their meeting together may prove a form as empty as any of those out of which we believe Truth called our forefathers and still calls us. (1800)
A punctual attendance at the hour appointed for public worship is a matter of no small importance. If we hurry away from our outward occupations to the meetinghouse, thinking that by the delay of a few minutes we shall not be long behind our brethren, we are in great danger of having our thoughts employed on that in which we have been engaged, and of interrupting that holy silence which, it is believed, would often prevail if all the members were assembled, not only in one place, but at one time, with one and the same great object in view. (1821)
With diligence meet together, and with diligence wait to feel the Lord God to arise, to scatter and expel all that which is the cause of leanness and barrenness upon any soul; for it is the Lord must do it, and he will be waited upon in sincerity and fervency of spirit; . . . and let none be hasty to utter words, though manifest in the light in which ye wait upon the Lord; but still wait in silence, to know the power working in you to bring forth the words, in the ministration of the eternal word of life to answer the life in all. (Stephen Crisp, 1663)
The organizational structure of the Society of Friends is simple and democratic. The term "meeting" which will be used applies both to the actual physical gathering of members and to the legal entity (similar to a corporation) which may buy, hold, and dispose of real and tangible property and may conduct other business.
The first Friends meetings for business were made up of men only, but by 1656 women's meetings began to appear. In 1671, Fox wrote a letter urging all meetings to set up business meetings for men and women. Eventually, women participated at all levels, and Friends testimony as to the equality of all persons extended to sex at a time when such equality was rarely recognized. The earliest Monthly Meeting presently in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), Rich Square, began in 1760 with separate business meetings for men and women; joint business meetings commenced in 1928.
At the base of the structure lies the monthly meeting, a local business meeting occurring once a month at a set time and place. All Friends have membership in either a Monthly Meeting or an independent Preparative Meeting.
The Monthly Meeting arranges a time and place for meetings for worship. If needed, more than one meeting for worship may be held each week under the sponsorship of the Monthly Meeting.
Among Friends, the meeting for the transaction of meeting business is as distinctly a religious exercise as is the meeting for worship, but it has a different objective. The meeting for worship is focused upon the divine human relationship, while the meeting for business promotes "doing." In addition to the transaction of routine business matters, concerns may be raised that are an outgrowth of a leading received in meeting for worship or in individual meditation. What is implicit in worship becomes explicit in action. Concerns may be forwarded to the Quarterly Meeting from the Monthly Meeting and to the Yearly Meeting from the Quarterly Meeting, if the respective Meeting is in unity with the concern.
George Fox wrote to Friends:
Friends, keep your meetings in the power of God, and in His wisdom (by which all things were made) and in the love of God, that by that ye may order all to His glory. And when Friends have finished their business, sit down and continue awhile quietly and wait upon the Lord to feel Him. And go not beyond the power, but keep in the Power by which God Almighty may be felt among you. (ep. 162, 1658).
Monthly Meetings form a Quarterly Meeting, so called because appointed representatives and other members of each Monthly Meeting in the quarter assemble during the year at times designated by the Monthly Meetings within a given quarter to conduct necessary business and other matters of concern.
The yearly meeting comprises appointed representatives and other members of the various quarterly or monthly meetings, and, as the name implies, is held once a year. For North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), the yearly meeting is held at a time and place approved by the yearly meeting preceding it.
The Yearly Meeting shall appoint a group known as the Representative Body, which shall be empowered to carry on Yearly Meeting business during the time when Yearly Meeting is not in session. It shall convene at least twice annually to consider any business which may arise. If felt necessary, a called meeting may be held at any time.
Each Monthly, Quarterly, and the Yearly Meeting shall annually choose such officials as are necessary for proper conduct of business, including - but not necessarily limited to - a presiding clerk, an assistant or recording clerk, and, if necessary, a treasurer, and caretakers.
A committee should be appointed each year in each meeting to nominate a clerk to serve the following year, subject to the approval of the meeting. An assistant or recording clerk may be similarly appointed where it is felt that this will assist in attending to and finishing all business with care and dispatch, so that nothing may suffer through delay. The clerks should prepare an agenda, preside at all meetings for business, keep accurate records of the proceedings in a book provided for that purpose, and handle all correspondence of the meeting. It is the clerk's responsibility to weigh and judge the import of each issue and to present a minute to the meeting for consideration. The clerks should give attention to the Advices and Queries and to any directives from the Yearly and Quarterly Meetings.
Decisions within the Society of Friends are based on a consensus and not a majority as in most contemporary bodies. Votes are never taken; anyone present may speak on a given topic, and the presiding or recording clerk shall minute the "sense of the meeting" when all have spoken. Decisions are deferred or dropped if unity does not become evident. Often when disagreements arise, if all present are open to the leading of the Holy Spirit and to one another, a solution may be found better than the course proposed originally. In this way, the meetings for business will more nearly follow the will of God.
All members are encouraged to attend all business meetings. The spiritual nurture, fellowship, and sense of community which membership confers on its members must be maintained by common efforts through the business meeting, and the loving concern expressed through whatever action may be taken.
Written records shall be kept of the proceedings of all business meetings of Monthly, Quarterly, and the Yearly Meeting. When such records are no longer needed by the respective Meeting for current use, they shall be deposited in some suitable and safe place designated by the Yearly Meeting. The Yearly Meeting has designated the Friends Historical Collection at Guilford College as a suitable depository.
If a Monthly Meeting applies for membership in the Yearly Meeting, a committee shall be appointed by the Yearly Meeting to meet with the members of the Monthly Meeting to determine if said Meeting and the Yearly Meeting are in accord concerning membership. If accord is evident, the Monthly Meeting shall then be accepted into the membership of the Yearly Meeting.
A Monthly Meeting may have full membership in the Yearly Meeting while maintaining membership in such other bodies of Friends as have been approved for dual membership.
A group desiring to start a new meeting for worship within the Yearly Meeting may first be established as a Preparative Meeting by application to a neighboring Monthly Meeting. After a suitable time of careful consideration, if a Preparative Meeting wishes to become an independent Monthly Meeting, it may do so by applying to the Monthly Meeting of which it is a part.
Participants in the new group have membership in the Religious Society of Friends according to the procedure set forth elsewhere in this book (That is, they apply to the Monthly Meeting for acceptance, transfer from another Monthly Meeting, or are born into membership).
No meeting is to be discontinued without consent of the Yearly Meeting. If a meeting is discontinued, disposal of its assets shall be left under the care of its members.
Financial support of activities at all levels within the Yearly Meeting is the responsibility of members. Friends should take care so to live that a portion of their time and possessions may be dedicated to the work of the Meeting. Traditionally, Friends in this Yearly Meeting have not been assessed for financial support, nor is the taking of a collection during meeting for worship countenanced. Friends are expected to support the Meeting by direct giving to the treasurer, who has the responsibility for seeing that financial obligations of the Meeting are met from the Meeting's assets and for advising the members of the financial condition of the Meeting. Support of the Quarterly Meetings and Yearly Meeting comes primarily from the Monthly Meeting treasuries, although individuals may also give directly to the larger bodies.
It is the position of the Yearly Meeting that persons may be accepted into membership who are willing to listen for and give expression in their lives to the promptings of the Inner Spirit in all areas of personal discipline and service to others. Some applicants may not yet profess complete adherence to all Friends doctrines and testimonies, but will indicate a readiness to wait upon the Lord and to seek Divine Guidance in those areas where they may not yet be convinced that the Quaker way of life is right. Members of the Meeting should guard constantly against dilution of the strength of the Quaker message. We insist that all members seek to live by the principles set forth in this book, and that they seek to work toward attainment of the truths implicit in the Queries and Advices for individuals and Meetings.
Persons may become members of a Monthly Meeting in this Yearly Meeting by application, by birth, or by transfer from another Monthly Meeting Application for membership should be addressed to the clerk of the Monthly Meeting. Before final action on the application is taken, a committee is named by the Monthly Meeting to visit with the applicant for the specific purposes of interpreting the beliefs and procedures of the Society of Friends and of this Yearly Meeting, and determining the applicant's readiness for membership. If the Monthly Meeting is satisfied that there is full realization of the implications of membership and wishes to accept the applicant, the individual should be welcomed without delay, preferably in a personal visit. Acceptance may be delayed if either the applicant or the interviewers feel any hesitation as to the rightness of the step.
Individuals are members in good standing of the Society of Friends in this Yearly Meeting if their names are recorded in the minutes of the Monthly Meeting as accepted into membership, and if there has been no circumstance or action to terminate such recorded membership.
Children born of parents who are both members of the Monthly Meeting shall also be members of the Meeting, and their births shall be recorded in the minutes of the Monthly Meeting.
In the case of parents making application for their children and themselves to be received into membership, if Monthly Meetings are fully satisfied concerning the convincement of such parents, they may receive such children as are minors into membership. If only one parent comes in by request, the children should have no right of membership until Monthly Meetings receive them, either at their own or their parents' request.
Friends attending the various functions under the Monthly Meeting who wish to retain membership in another Meeting may have sojourning membership during their stay in the community. A person may be accepted as a sojourning member when a letter is received from the home Meeting verifying that the person is a member of the Society of Friends in good standing. A sojourning member shall have all the privileges and obligations of other members of the Meeting, including the right to join in decisions of the Monthly Meeting, to head committees or serve on such, and to serve in any capacity on monthly, quarterly, or yearly meeting levels.
Members of the Monthly Meeting who remove to other communities may continue as nonresident members of the Meeting. Such nonresident members should receive communication from the Monthly Meeting at least once a year, and should keep the Monthly Meeting advised of their address and of such vital statistics as births, marriages, and deaths. Non-resident members are encouraged to transfer to a Monthly Meeting in the area of their residence, if their move is relatively permanent, and if a suitable Meeting is located near the new home.
Committee convenors are appointed by a Meeting and must be full members or sojourning members of that Meeting; committee members are approved by the Meeting. Others may be co-opted for service by the approved committees.
Annually, prior to the time of Yearly Meeting, each Monthly Meeting shall forward to the clerk of Yearly Meeting a list of all members, including children, with addresses, and also a list of any members who have died, of ministers and elders recorded, of clerks appointed, of marriages accomplished, and of meetings established or laid down during the year. Information concerning the length of service and the age of deceased ministers and elders should be included.
Membership in the Monthly Meeting shall terminate under the following circumstances:
When a person desires to transfer to the Monthly Meeting from another Meeting in the Society of Friends, a letter approving the transfer and stating that the individual is a member of the Society in good standing should be forwarded from the other Meeting. Upon the receipt of this letter, a committee shall be appointed to visit with said person to interpret the specific beliefs and procedures prevailing in this Yearly Meeting.
Within any Meeting, there will be found some with special gifts. These will include those with a gift in the vocal ministry (ministers), those especially qualified to guide and counsel others (elders), and those whose insights and judgments can contribute significantly to the life and growth of the Meeting (overseers). Together, this group makes up the Meeting of Ministry and Oversight. Monthly and Quarterly Meetings and the Yearly Meeting hold meetings for ministers, elders, and overseers, composed of members chosen at the monthly meeting level.
When members of the Society have frequently and serviceably spoken to their own spiritual needs and those of their fellow-worshippers, Friends should encourage them in this form of service. If the gift for vocal ministry continues to grow, the Monthly Meeting should take particular notice thereof. If that Meeting, after careful and prayerful consideration of the matter, feels that a true gift for vocal ministry has been bestowed, it should inform the Quarterly Meeting of Ministry and Oversight. If the Quarterly Meeting of Ministry and Oversight approves, such persons are recommended to the entire Monthly Meeting for approval. If after due and proper consideration, the Monthly Meeting feels convinced likewise that such members ought to be recorded as acknowledged ministers of the gospel, it shall be so recorded by the clerk, and report of this shall be made in writing to the next session of the Yearly Meeting.
In every Monthly Meeting there is a vital and continuing need for a nucleus of Friends who feel exceptional concern for the deeper spiritual life of the Meeting. They will also feel a concern for the encouragement and guidance of the vocal ministry. These, however, are but the primary qualifications to be looked for in elders. Ideally they need, in addition, a considerable insight into character, an alert spiritual discernment, good judgment, and a fund of ready tact and open friendliness - all of these humbly dedicated to a deeply felt zeal for the spiritual growth of the Society, upheld and purified by the power of constant, watchful prayer.
Elders should feel a particular duty to give encouragement and oversight to those who serve in the vocal ministry or public prayer. They have the oversight of all appointed meetings in their Monthly Meeting area. The elders in each particular Meeting should be responsible for the timely reading aloud of the Advices.
When there is occasion for the appointment of one or more elders in any Meeting, after giving consideration in at least two meetings for business, the proposal of a name or names may be introduced by the Meeting of Ministry and Oversight to the Quarterly Meeting of Ministry and Oversight, or where deemed best. The said Quarterly Meeting may appoint a committee to carefully consider the subject, and make such recommendations as they think suitable. When the said Meeting is fully united in the proposition, it should forward its judgment to the Monthly Meeting to which the person or persons belong. If there agreed upon, the appointment is made, and the Monthly Meeting should so inform the Preparative and Quarterly Meetings of Ministry and Oversight. Within a given Monthly Meeting elders are appointed for their lifetime.
It is to be understood that in making these recommendations in connection with the acknowledgment of ministers and the appointment of elders and overseers, if, for any cause, the Meeting of Ministry and Oversight fails to move therein, Monthly Meetings are at liberty to act on their own initiatives.
When any member of this body shall at any time be thought to have lost his or her service in that station, it is advised that timely and tender care be extended to such. Should such care prove ineffectual, let some discreet Friend be named to lay the matter before the Monthly Meeting. Should the Monthly Meeting concur therewith, then the subject may be forwarded to the Quarterly Meeting for its approval. Both the discontinuance of such Friend from that station and this judgment shall be forwarded to the Monthly Meeting of Ministry and Oversight of which such Friend has been a member.
The care of the members of a Monthly Meeting is the particular responsibility of the overseers. Within every Monthly Meeting a number of Friends shall be appointed to the station of overseers, which is a term appointment. Selection of overseers will be left up to each individual Monthly Meeting, but the membership of the group of overseers shall be reviewed and revised at least once every five years.
Overseers take responsibility for the Meeting's care over the welfare of its members. They must, when needful, attempt to adjust complaints or any estrangements from harmony which might impair the participation of individuals in worship and the business of their Meetings. Overseers should also take time and effort to become closely acquainted with all attending the Meeting, that they be the better prepared to serve all. They shall serve both members and attenders of the Meeting. Any personal advice should be given privately in a spirit of love and humility.
The chief responsibility for the Meeting of Ministry and Oversight is to foster the spiritual life of the Meeting. Members shall meet at least once every three months, or more often as needed. A clerk shall be named to convene the meetings and keep a written record of proceedings and report to other bodies as required
Each Monthly Meeting or Quarterly Meeting of Ministry and Oversight shall name a suitable number of representatives from among them, to the Yearly Meeting of Ministry and Oversight.
The Meeting shall consider the Advices and Queries addressed to it at least once a year (more often as needed), and in answering said Queries shall endeavor to chart ways to improve themselves and their Meeting.
The ministers, elders, and overseers should have a special concern in two areas which affect the spiritual life of the Society: that members of the Meeting read and study suitable religious literature including the Bible, and that instruction in Christianity and Quakerism be provided for all members as needed, and particularly for children attending the Meeting.
In addition, the ministers, elders, and overseers should feel responsible, as a group, to foster peace, alleviate want, discourage tale-bearing, consider the Christian influence of their own daily lives, and be concerned for the influences likely to arise from the social life of members of the Meeting. They should have a sense of the community beyond the Meeting itself, of how the Meeting relates to the community, and how the Meeting and community may serve one another.
From time to time it will happen that a member of the Monthly Meeting will have occasion to travel beyond the confines of the Yearly Meeting, and may wish to make contact with other members of the Society of Friends during his or her travels. If the Monthly Meeting approves such a contact being made, a minute or letter shall be written by the presiding clerk verifying that the traveler is a member in good standing of the Monthly Meeting. This minute may be presented by the traveler to those Friends being visited, who shall countersign the minute and return it to the traveling Friend. Upon his or her return to the Monthly Meeting, the letter with its countersignatures is presented to the Monthly Meeting for note and filing. Such letter may also convey love from the Monthly Meeting to those visited by the traveler.
It may also happen that ministers or other concerned Friends may feel called, not merely to visit other Friends during the course of traveling on other business as in the preceding paragraph, but to render religious service beyond their own Monthly Meetings or to visit in gospel love the families therein. They should then first lay the matter before their Monthly Meetings, stating so far as can be foreseen, the whole nature of the proposed service. If the Monthly Meeting feels free to unite with the concern, it shall make a minute to that effect, and furnish the Friend with a copy thereof. It is understood that the above procedures may apply to Yearly Meeting, also.
We earnestly advise and exhort Friends to wait upon the Lord for counsel and guidance before starting any procedure for marriage, for it is a union not to be undertaken lightly. True happiness and joy in marriage depend first on the presence of devoted love, a love which is not merely of a passing attraction, but which includes a genuine respect for the individuality and personality of the other.
We believe that marriage is an ordinance of God, to be undertaken in His light and with reverent attention to His counsel and guidance. Of utmost importance is a common faith and a mutual desire to open heart and home to the Spirit of God. Friends regard marriage as a continuing religious commitment, not merely a civil contract.
A well-founded marriage is a source of strength, security, and joy, not only to the couple and their families, but also to the Meeting and community, and to all with whom they share their lives. Parents should be concerned to provide such an atmosphere of loving care that all in the family are encouraged to grow in religious faith and practice. We counsel all family members to seek to live in such a spirit of openness and humility among themselves that barriers may not arise to good communication and to growth in love.
Great care needs to be exercised that the union be established and continued on the foundation of true love and respect. Even when the marriage relationship may fail to achieve its highest possibilities and unhappiness develops, we believe that by patient and prayerful determination, these obstacles in many cases can be overcome.
The Friends marriage ceremony reflects our belief that the marriage contract is made by the couple themselves, and completed and blessed by God. The simple Friendly wedding ceremony where the two concerned make their promises within the framework of a meeting for worship, without the need for a third person to officiate, is the natural expression of a way of life in which we believe. In the presence of God and with the support and prayers of their friends, they take each other as life partners, asking His blessing in this new life of theirs.
In order to do all that it can to assure the stability and happiness of a couple who are married under its care, the Yearly Meeting outlines the following procedure preliminary to the wedding:
The couple desiring to marry presents a letter, signed by both of them, to the Monthly Meeting under whose care they wish to be married, stating that they intend marriage with each other.
This letter is minuted by the clerk, and a "clearness committee" is appointed. It is customary for the bride's Meeting to have charge of the wedding. In this case, the committee on clearness, which this Meeting appoints, will be for her.
The groom writes to his own Meeting, asking for a statement of his membership to be forwarded to the bride's Meeting. Before preparing the statement, his Meeting appoints a committee on clearness.
The original purpose of these committees, from which their name is derived, was to ascertain whether the applicants were free of conflicting marriage engagements. Today, in addition to this requirement, such committees should be concerned to do what they can to help the couple achieve a stable and happy marriage. They should endeavor to give any assistance or counsel which the couple may need. It is recommended that the Meeting maintain a small up-to-date collection of books and pamphlets on marriage to be made available to the couple contemplating marriage.
The month following their initial letter of intention, the couple presents a second letter to the Meeting, stating that they continue their intentions of marriage, and suggesting a time for the wedding. At this time the bride's committee on clearness should report, and the groom's statement from his Meeting should be presented. Consent of the parents is desirable, but a Monthly Meeting may permit a marriage to take place without such consent if it feels the objections are unreasonable.
If everything is in order, the Monthly Meeting selects a committee which will have oversight of the wedding and will appoint a time and place for the marriage at the request of the couple. This committee should meet with the couple to discuss plans for the wedding and reception, which should be carried out with dignity, reverence, and simplicity.
The oversight committee, in conjunction with the Monthly Meeting clerk, also have the responsibility of informing themselves as to the legal requirements for marriage, and of seeing to it that the couple is aware of them and that they are carried out in adequate time.
After the wedding, the committee has the certificate recorded by the Monthly Meeting recorder, sees that the legal report is sent to the county, and reports to the Monthly Meeting that they have carried out their duties.
If either the bride or groom has children by a previous marriage, the committee should see that their legal rights are secured.
If the bride and groom are members of the same Meeting, the procedure is, of course, somewhat simplified. If one is not a member of Friends, the marriage may be under the care of the Meeting to which the member belongs, in which case this Meeting should appoint committees on clearness both for the member and the non-member. If for good reason, the couple wish to be married in the groom's Meeting or in a Meeting to which neither belongs, the committees on clearness should always be appointed by the bride's and groom's own home Meetings, which then forward their certificates to the clerk of the Meeting which is to have charge of the wedding, and which appoints the oversight committee.
The marriage itself, as stated before, takes place in a meeting for worship, in which the bride and groom rise, usually toward the close of the meeting, take each other by the hand, and repeat the following promise, the groom first: "In the presence of the Lord, and before these our friends, I take thee, ______, to be my wife (husband), promising with Divine assistance to be unto thee a loving and faithful husband (wife) so long as we both shall live" (or words to that effect).
The marriage certificate is then signed, by the groom first, then by the bride with her married name, and is read aloud by a person selected beforehand. At the close of the meeting, all persons present are invited to sign the certificate as witnesses.
The form of the certificate in essence is as follows:
Whereas, A. B. of ____________, in the County of ____________, in ____________, son of C. B. of ____________, and H., his wife; and D. E., daughter of F. E., of ____________ and N., his wife, having declared their intentions of marriage with each other to ____________ Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends held at ____________, according to the good order used among them, and having the consent of parents (or guardians), their proposed marriage was allowed by that Meeting. These are to certify to whom it may concern, that for the accomplishment of their intention, this ______ day of the____________ Month, in the year of our Lord ______, they, A. B. and D. E. appearing in ____________ a public meeting for worship of the Religious Society of Friends, held at ____________, and A. B. taking D. E. by the hand, did on this solemn occasion, declare that he took her, D. E., to be his wife, promising with Divine assistance, to be unto her a loving and faithful husband so long as they both shall live (or words to that effect). Then in the same assembly, D. E. did in like manner declare that she took him, A. B., to be her husband, promising with Divine assistance, to be unto him a loving and faithful wife so long as they both shall live (or words to that effect). Moreover, they, A. B. and D. E., she according to the custom of marriage adopting the surname of her husband, did, as a further confirmation thereof, then and there to these presents, set their hands.A.B.D.B.
We, having been present at the marriage, have as witnesses set our hands the day and year above written.
It is the responsibility of each Monthly Meeting to see that the death of any member is recorded in the minutes or other suitable permanent record. Friends are urged to conform to true simplicity in all funeral arrangements, avoiding expensive and elaborate caskets and floral decorations. The simplicity of a meeting for worship is desired in the conduct of funerals or memorial services. They should be occasions when temporal things are secondary, when the reality of immortal life is deeply felt, and when the presence of the Lord brings hope, comfort, and consolation to the bereaved.
If any Monthly Meeting shall, upon solid consideration, believe it would be profitable and fitting to prepare a memorial concerning a deceased Friend, such memorial should be sent to the Representative Body for its inspection and approval, prior to its being laid before the Yearly Meeting. If it be there approved, it is printed for distribution. Friends whose service of the Lord in their life has been noteworthy can inspire others. Preserving the record of their service may help others better to serve the Lord.
These Queries are designed for study and periodic answer by each member and each Meeting, to help discover shortcomings and overcome them. Although the Queries may often be answered with a simple affirmative or negative, it is vital to ask corollary questions such as "why", "how", or "when." A qualified answer arising from introspection is more meaningful and constructive than an uncritical "yes" or "no".
Friends can employ the Queries to determine the extent of progress on the spiritual path, in what way they should proceed, and how they may help others; and also to solve many related problems. The Queries which follow are to be used by Monthly Meetings and by Meetings of Ministry and Oversight. Suggested Queries for use by individuals are to be found in the appendix.
1. Do we faithfully uphold our testimony for worship which is based on silent waiting, and for a free and unprogrammed ministry that may be shared by all? Is there a living silence in which we feel drawn together by the Light of Christ, the power of God in our midst; and is this inspiration carried over into our daily lives? Do we come to meeting with hearts and minds open and ready to worship in silence or in vocal ministry or prayer as the Holy Spirit leads us? Does our Meeting encourage those who may have a gift in the spoken ministry?
2. Are we faithful in our attendance at meetings for worship and are we careful not to disturb the spirit of the meeting by our late arrival? Is our behavior therein that of open submission to God in silent communion?
3. Do we follow the teachings of Jesus and seek the inspiration of His Holy Spirit in our daily lives? Are love and unity maintained among us? Do we cultivate a forgiving spirit, and do we avoid and discourage needless and destructive criticism of others? When differences arise, do we endeavor promptly to resolve them in a spirit of love, honesty, and humility?
4. Do we assume our rightful share in the expenses of our Meeting? Do we regard our time, our talents, and our possessions as given us in trust, and do we use them freely for the needs of others?
5. Do we regularly attend our meetings for business, and are they held in a spirit of love, understanding, and forbearance? Do we seek the right course of action in humble submission to the Authority of Truth and in the patient search for a sense of unity under Divine guidance?
6. Do we endeavor by example and precept to cultivate in our children a sense of openness and expectancy about life, and to aid them in their growth in spiritual understanding and moral discernment? Do we share with them the faith that guides the practice of Friends, while encouraging them to develop their religious insights as the Spirit of God may lead them?
7. Do we endeavor to live in the life and power that takes away the occasion of all war, seeking to do our part in the work of reconciliation between individuals, groups, and nations? Do we faithfully maintain our testimony against nuclear and all other military preparations, the bearing of arms, and all participation in war?
8. Do we observe simplicity and honesty in our manner of living? Are we careful to live within the bounds of our circumstances, punctual in keeping promises, prompt in the payment of debts, and just in all our dealings? Do we choose those activities which will strengthen our physical, mental, and spiritual life; and do we avoid those harmful to ourselves and others?
9. Are we mindful of Friends testimonies against alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and other harmful drugs; and do we refrain from using them or dealing in them, realizing that abstinence is the clearest witness against overindulgence? Do we seek to avoid all kinds of gambling and places of diversion that tend to be demoralizing? Do we keep in mind how diverse and widespread are the temptations to grow richer at the expense of others? Are we faithful to our testimony against taking oaths?
10. Do we endeavor to live in harmony with nature? Are we careful in our stewardship of the world's irreplaceable resources?
11. Do we reverence that of God in every human being with concern for the needs of each individual? Are we seeking to rectify existing social injustice and racial discrimination in our local communities and in the world at large?
12. Do we welcome newcomers and non-members to our meetings? Are they encouraged to share in Meeting activities and to consider membership when they are in agreement with the principles and practices of Friends? Are our younger members appointed to committees and encouraged to share in other responsibilities of the Meeting? Do we visit one another frequently, remembering those who may be lonely? Does this visitation and caring extend beyond the members of our own Meeting?
1. Are we aware of our duties as ministers, elders, and overseers; and do we conduct ourselves in a manner commensurate with our responsibility?
2. Do we attend regularly all meetings for ministers, elders, and overseers? Are we faithful in attending all other meetings for worship and business, taking our families with us when appropriate?
3. Do we seek to wait for and to move under Divine inspiration in the exercise of our gifts?
4. Does our ministry promote the spiritual growth of our members, building it up in the faith that is in Jesus Christ? Are we all kept aware of the basic principles of Friends faith and worship? Do we strive to make our lives blameless before God and man?
5. Are we in unity one with another and with the Meeting to which we belong?
6. Are we careful not to become involved in the business and activity of everyday life to the impairment of our religious lives and the service to our Meeting?
7. Do we watch over one another for good? When asked for counsel, do we consider carefully what may be truly needed, being especially attentive to the young and inexperienced?
Be earnestly concerned to use the spiritual gifts entrusted to you faithfully and to the honor of God.
In the exercise of the ministry, wait for the renewed putting forth of the Holy Spirit; be careful not to exceed the measure of your gifts, but proceed and conclude in the spirit and authority of the Gospel.
In your spoken ministry, be concerned to present the life and teaching of Christ Jesus, the Lord, reverently seeking wisdom from God, that you may be enabled rightly to interpret the Word of Truth. Let nothing be done or offered with a view to popularity, but all in humility and love.
Bearing in mind that the treasure is in earthen vessels, beware of laying stress on your ministry, the baptizing power of the Spirit of Truth accompanying the Word being the true evidence.
Be tender at all times of each other's reputation, and watchful lest you hurt each other's service as servants of the same Lord, with diversities of gifts, but the same spirit. Maintain a lively exercise harmoniously to labor for the spreading and advancement of the truth.
Let ministers endeavor to express themselves audibly and distinctly, and guard against tones and gestures inconsistent with Christian gravity and simplicity. Let them beware of using unnecessary preambles and of making unneeded additions toward the conclusion of a meeting.
When traveling in the service of Christ, be careful to move under His guidance. Let your visits be neither short and hurried, nor long and burdensome, nor unnecessarily expensive. Give no offense in anything, that the ministry be not blamed.
Prayer and thanksgiving are an important part of worship. May they be offered in spirit and in truth, with a right understanding, seasoned with grace. When engaged therein, avoid many words and repetitions, and be cautious of too often repeating the High and Holy Name of God. Neither let prayer be in a formal and customary way, nor without a reverent sense of Divine guidance.
Finally, dear Friends, take heed to yourselves and to all the flock amongst whom you have been called to labor. Be faithful, be patient, be in earnest to fulfill your appointed service, that when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, you may receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away.
The following Queries are provided for the earnest consideration of our members privately, in the belief that spiritual watchfulness may guide us to right belief and action. The corporate Quaker witness in behalf of our testimonies depends upon our individual progress toward grace.
For the serious seeker after truth, the following suggestions will serve as an introduction to Quakerism. If these books cannot be obtained at a local library or bookstore, communicate with the Friends Book Store,156 N. 15th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19106, or Quaker Hill Bookstore, 101 Quaker Hill Drive, Richmond, Indiana 47374.
BARCLAY, ROBERT: Barclay's Apology in Modern English, ed. by Dean Freiday. Friends Book Store, Philadelphia, 1959. Modern version of the definitive classical statement of the Quaker position in theology.
BRAITHWAITE, WILLIAM C.: Beginnings of Quakerism. Cambridge University Press. Second Period of Quakerism. 2nd ea., Cambridge University Press. The best studies of the periods covered.
BRINTON, HOWARD H.: Friends for 300 Years. Harper, 1952. A philosopher explains history and beliefs of Friends.
BRONNER, EDWIN C., ea.: Friends in the Americas. Friends World Committee, 1966. An explanation of the diverse groups in American Quakerism.
FOX, GEORGE: Journal, edited by John L. Nickalls. Cambridge University Press, 1952. The fullest edition in modern English of the day-today account of the birth of Quakerism. Also available in a paperback edition.
HUBBARD, GEOFFREY: Quaker by Convincement. Penquin Books. 1974, Paperback
JONES, RUFUS: Rufus Jones Speaks To Our Time. Macmillan. Selections from writings, edited by Harry Emerson Fosdick, which set the tone for Quakerism in the 20th century. Also available in a paperback edition.
KELLY, THOMAS: Testament of Devotion. Harper, 1941. A Quaker devotional with ecumenical appeal.
LONDON YEARLY MEETING OF THE RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS: Christian Faith and Practice in the Experience of the Society of Friends. 1960. A comprehensive anthology on every aspect of Quakerism.
PEARE, CATHERINE: William Penn. Lippincott, 1957. The son of a British admiral who became a Friend.
PENNINGTON, ISAAC: Letters. Friends Book Store, Philadelphia, 1883. These express his theology and spirit.
PHILADELPHIA YEARLY MEETING OF THE RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS: Faith and Practice. 1972. Concise summary of traditional Quaker practices.
PICKETT, CLARENCE: For More Than Bread. Little, out of print. Work of the American Friends Service Committee, told by a longtime executive secretary.
TOLLES, FREDERICK B.: Meeting House and Counting House. Norton, 1963. A paperback edition subtitled "The Quaker Merchants of Colonial Pennsylvania," which shows conflict between conscience and commerce.
TRUEBLOOD, D. ELTON: The People Called Quakers. Harper, 1966. Presents Quaker testimonies and experience as they are needed today.
WILSON, E. RAYMOND: Uphill for Peace, Quaker Impact on Congress. Friends United Press, 1975. The story of the first fulltime religious lobby in Washington, D.C.
WOOLMAN, JOHN: Journal. Peter Smith; also published as a paperback by Citadel. An outstanding and literary record of putting concerns patiently into acts. An early American Friend.
The Swarthmore lectures of London Yearly Meeting and the pamphlets published by Pendle Hill (Wallingford, Pennsylvania) amplify Quaker beliefs and practices.