When I was editing newspaper obituaries, I found myself shaking my head at the ones which included a line that the deceased was “a lifelong member of the NRA.” First, I doubted that they had been paying dues since their birth, but more to the point was my Quaker perspective that their membership consisted of nothing more than sending an annual check and then sitting back while others put in full-time effort – and to me, that’s a matter of subscribing instead. Real membership means putting in the work.
Maybe that points to the other phrase that would catch my attention, “an active member” of such and so. As a Quaker, the idea of passive membership is troubling. (I’ll admit my own tinge of guilt regarding a few important, local organizations where I rather fell into that category.) After all, I carry an expectation that members will do vital things that serve the entire group. We are, for the most part, a bottom-up organization.
We Friends may draw a distinction between formal members and regular attenders, but that line vanishes when we work together. In fact, some attenders are more central to the life of the meeting than are some members.
This leads me to the troubling question of what priority we each give to our spiritual practice and our faith community. Yes, God ought to be No. 1 in our lives. But in the daily routine the test often proves otherwise. That’s when I begin to wish it were all as simple as sending in that annual check and getting a membership card. Alas.
This originally appeared in Dover Friends Meeting’s newsletter as we consider new ways of addressing the needs of our faith community. Unlike many denominations, we Quakers are closely involved in the business of our congregations, or “meetings,” given that name by our recognition of church as the believers or people rather than any organization or building. (And so, the church meets.) The “monthly meeting,” or local congregation, is so named because we gather together to review our common business once a month even though we worship together at least once a week.
In sharing this dialogue, I’m hoping Friends and non-Quakers will perceive ways the discussion might benefit their own circles, religious or otherwise. I certainly welcome insights and suggestions. After all, we’re all in a time of upheaval and the challenges are many. Once again, the world’s being turned upside down.