Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 43 - V for Visiting

Over thirty years ago I applied for membership of the Religious Society of Friends, or rather of Reading Monthly Meeting. I was visited by two Friends, both women and older than myself, one from my own meeting and one from another in the area. I knew what to expect from the process and was not intimidated by it or by them. It did not feel at all like an examination, with hoops that I was expected to jump through, but instead was a pleasant evening during which we shared our spiritual journeys. They reported on the visit to the Monthly Meeting and the upshot was that I was accepted into membership.The visit itself gave me a special link with these two Friends who acted in a way like spiritual godparents for this newly-convinced Quaker.

In later years I have taken part in several visits to applying members and have gained several spiritual 'godchildren' myself. Even when the visit has been difficult - and on at least one occasion that was definitely the case - I have still retained a special interest in the future progress of the people I visited. At first the report was compiled by the visitors without reference to the person visited but nowadays it is usually seen and approved by them before being put before the Area Meeting.

At present Britain Yearly Meeting is experiencing a dip in membership which some fear may prove terminal (although I would point out that we have been here several times before over the last four centuries). Is it the prospect of being visited that puts people off? Some people feel that anyone who applies should be accepted without any further enquiry and others are sure that there is really no difference between a long-time attender and a member. For myself I would be sad to lose this way of sharing our spiritual autobiography with others when there are so few other places which give us the opportunity to do it and to deepen our knowledge of one another in 'the things which are eternal'.

An application for membership can be a valuable rite of passage, a commitment to the next stage of our journey and it would be a pity to do away with that, even though it may not be right for everyone and other arrangements can be made by different meetings. Rather than worrying about the age of our membership, or about numbers at all, we should perhaps find more ways in which Friends can listen to one another and speak their own truth in an accepting setting. For me I know that being visited and visiting others in turn has been a really valuable part of my Quaker life.


Unknown said...

I, too, found being visited a valuable 'rite of passage' and still value the friendship of the visitor who was previously unknown to me. I've also appreciated the privilege of visiting an applicant for membership, and similarly a member who wished to resign, because it was, as you say, a valuable opportunity to share something more deeply.
Stephanie Grant

Anonymous said...

I was quite upset when I realised that I wasn't going to get a 'proper' visit. At the time it was also a sort of relief, as I was somewhat inclined to view membership as a piece of paperwork which should have been done automatically but was taken away from me by the removal of birthright membership; but looking back, I am disappointed that my 'visitors' (actually a nurturing Friend and a Supporting Friend, not appointed by the Area Meeting, but chosen in my case by a rather underhanded/elitist method) only asked about my participation and not about, for example, whether I valued waiting worship or my theology. I have sometimes suspected that if they'd asked about the latter, they might have had second thoughts, and that I am exactly the kind of unsound Friend whom other Friends worry about.