Meeting the Spirit
- 1. Basic Quaker beliefs
- 2. Quaker meetings
- 3. Quaker testimonies
- 4. Quaker structures
- 5. World family of Friends
- 6. Life and development of small worship groups
- 7. Bibliography
4. Quaker Structures
Because Friends believe in the possibility of immediate and direct communion with God, they have felt no need of an elaborate ecclesiastical establishment, organisation or authority. In a certain way Friends assume in their individual lives the obligation of searching out and following the will of God as it applies to them. Despite this approach, Friends have developed a network of local, regional, national and international organisations.
Preparative, Monthly and General Meetings
In most countries the Monthly Meeting is the primary meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. In Great Britain and Kenya, for example, the Monthly Meeting is formed of several smaller Preparative Meetings (in Kenya: Village Meetings). In other countries each local meeting is a Monthly Meeting.
Among other things, Monthly Meetings decide upon membership and are responsible for the right and regular holding of the meetings for worship. The Monthly Meeting is also the forum in which a Friend tests a ‘concern’, a strong leading of the Spirit for action. If felt appropriate the Monthly Meeting may bring the concern before Yearly Meeting.
As there is no clergy, all members have a responsibility for the life of the meeting, but each Preparative and Monthly Meeting will appoint a Clerk. Most meetings will also have Elders, Overseers, a Treasurer and committees to help carry out specific responsibilities.
Elders have a special care for the spiritual life of the meeting and for the “right holding of meeting for worship”. The most visible role they have in meeting is for two of them to shake hands to signal the end of a meeting for worship.
Overseers have, at an appropriate time, a pastoral responsibility for the individual members, attenders or families of the meeting. They give advice and information about application for membership and help with any personal difficulties that the worshippers may be encountering. They also keep in touch with members who are unable to attend meetings regularly.
In some countries, Friends from several Monthly Meetings gather from time to time for a General Meeting (also called Regional Meeting or Quarterly Meeting). In these meetings there is less emphasis on business and more on discussion of topics of general interest.
A number of Monthly Meetings come together to form a Yearly Meeting. In Europe this often covers a whole country. This annual assembly meets to share concerns brought forward by its Monthly Meetings and to deal with any business that needs a corporate decision. Most Yearly Meetings have a standing committee or regular meetings of Monthly Meeting representatives to deal with items that need a quicker response. Yearly Meetings can also appoint committees to deal with particular concerns or tasks. Many Yearly Meetings have, for example, committees for making the Society known to the world at large (outreach) or for giving voice and expression to the Quaker witness for peace and justice. Yearly Meetings or their committees often appoint staff for administrative support or to work on the concerns that were endorsed by the Yearly Meeting.
Books of discipline
From time to time some of the larger Yearly Meetings around the world publish an anthology of writings of the Religious Society of Friends throughout its history. Such a Book of Discipline includes reference to both spiritual experiences of Friends and organisational matters of the Yearly Meeting. Despite this title, it provides a set of guidelines rather than strict rules.
In 1995, Britain Yearly Meeting agreed on a new Quaker Faith and Practice. This book also includes Advices and Queries. These are sometimes read aloud in meetings for worship as a focus for meditation or consideration. They give a good insight into a whole range of attitudes and practices predominant in the Religious Society of Friends today. Again, they are not rules, but offer guidance to help in the search for love and truth.
Minutes are the written expression of the sense of meetings for business and form an important means of communication between Preparative, Monthly, General and Yearly Meetings and their committees. They also form a historic record of the life of Friends in the Religious Society of Friends and their concerns. As such the minutes are carefully preserved in archives.
Since most Friends groups do not vote, there is no election for office. The Quaker method is to use a Nominations Committee, chosen by the meeting as a whole, which suggests names to the relevant body of Friends (e.g. Monthly Meeting). The meeting will either appoint the person suggested or ask the committee to think again. The Nominations Committee fills a vital role in the nurture of the community since the mixing and matching of available talents calls for both discernment and imagination.