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REPORT by Co-Clerks

The question of the place of Attenders in the business meeting has been an ongoing
concern since mid-2009. More recently it has expanded to include the positions that
Attenders can hold within a Regional or Local Meeting. Given the clear differences of
view, there was an attempt in 2010 to seek the assistance of a Quaker mediator from
another State, but this did not eventuate. At the beginning of 2011, the Regional Meeting
decided on a different approach to bring together comments, on the place of Attenders
in our Meeting, from all associated with Canberra Meeting, information from other RMs
on their practice, and information from the Handbook.

A full report has been compiled. This summary attempts to distil the emerging issues and
points of view, to assist Canberra RM in deciding the way forward.

2. The Handbook of Practice and Procedure.


Regional Meetings are responsible for membership.

A list of Members and Attenders is kept by the Membership Secretary.
Members and regular Attenders are invited to support the Society (YM and RM)


Membership is an outward sign of an inner commitment to Quaker ways of worship

and community. Spiritual growth is enhanced by a formal commitment to
There is no test of doctrine or observance. Applicants are expected to be open to
inner experience, aware of Quaker history and testimonies, and willing to share the
responsibilities of the Society.
Clearness processes are available for intending applicants to clarify their hesitations
and concerns.
The decision to admit someone to membership is made following a report from
visitors who have met with the applicant to discuss their spiritual journey and their
readiness to be part of the Society.


An Attender is someone not in membership who attends Meeting for Worship

regularly and contributes appreciably to the life of the Meeting.
Attenders can be present at business meetings with the permission of the Clerk, and
may also participate in Yearly Meeting business sessions with the approval of their
Regional Meeting.

Attenders may hold some offices within a Meeting or be appointed to some


3. Regional Meeting Practices.

(a) Canberra. The current practice is that Attenders are not present when membership
matters are discussed at business meetings. Attenders can be appointed to positions
(including elders and overseers) other than Clerk or Treasurer and Clerks of Ministry
and Oversight.

(b) Queensland: The usual practice is that some positions are reserved for members -
Clerk, Assistant Clerk, Treasurer and Membership Secretary but that nominations
committee considers names on the basis of their part in the meeting rather than their
formal membership status.
At business meetings, attenders consult the clerks before taking part, and may be asked
to leave during items of a personal nature (eg membership).

(c) WA: It is the practice of WARM to include attenders on most committees. We have
just recently appointed a long time attender as WARM treasurer but there were some
who were hesitant to accept this as in right ordering. We do not appoint attenders as
Elders of Overseers.
We ask attenders to leave our Meetings for Worship for Business when we are
considering membership matter.

(d) NSW: After the challenge of the Jesus Christians, we have gone back to only
accepting non-members in business meetings if they have the recommendation of their
LM clerk. If they are present, they realise that they will be expected to leave during
discussions of membership and of M&O matters and anything else deemed to be
sensitive. At LM level the rules are somewhat relaxed.

We have a number of non-members serving on committees.

(e) South Australia. RM does not appoint attenders to any significant positions, but they
do serve on committees. Once permission is granted, they can attend business
meetings for ALL items (including membership).

(f) Tasmania. Attenders absent themselves when membership applications or reports are
considered at business meetings. They are not excluded for a membership transfer or
reading of a testimony. Attenders are usually not appointed to positions of Clerk,
Treasurer or M and O Clerk, but do serve on committees.

(g) Victoria. For the positions of Clerk, Treasurer and M&O member we certainly look at
members first. I am not aware of any Meeting having had a non-member Clerk or
Treasurer but there have been non-members appointed to M&O committees. I suspect
that we might look to non-members if no suitable/willing member could be found.

We do ask non-members to leave the Meeting (Regional) when membership matters are
being considered. However if the agenda only has administrative matters (say recording
a death or a request for transfer) we might decide not to ask attenders to leave the

4. Individual Comments.

There were 9 individual comments received, plus a note from the Goulburn worship
group. The comments can be categorised in relation to views of membership, the place
of attenders generally and at business meetings in particular, and specific suggestions
for a way forward.

In relation to Membership, the following perspectives were covered:

Membership can be seen as a logical step in expressing ones commitment

satisfying both to those who join and to the Meeting.

The process of seeking and obtaining membership involves the opportunity for
personal reflection on, and sharing with others about, ones inward life and outward
witness. It requires reaching clarity about ones direction. This can be a time of
vulnerability for the applicant.

Membership is useful for legal purposes when the organisation is an incorporated


Membership means an informed commitment to Friends ways. Formal membership

is not an effective measure of this. Someone can have the commitment without being
a member, just as a member may lack the commitment.

Membership does not make someone different one can contribute energy and
money to an organisation fully without being so categorised.

The tradition of membership is important, and should not be departed from without
considerable thought. Membership could be devalued if non-members have the
same responsibilities, and if more people choose to remain attenders.

There is a range of approaches to membership in the wider community from

passive joining to active participation. For Quakers, the important factor really is that
new members understand and accept he way we make decisions, so becoming a
member is more about whether the person will help improve the Meeting rather than
whether joining the Society is part of their spiritual growth.

Members make a double commitment to follow the Quaker path, and to identifying
publicly as Quakers. More is expected of members as a result, including evaluating
applicants for membership.

Becoming a member is a sign of respect for those who have built the Society, and a
way of saying you want to be part of its corporate life. It is also a way of providing a
spiritual home for ones children, with support from the Meeting.

In relation to Attenders, the following points emerged:

Anyone who worships with us is one of us, and if they attend business meetings that
is even better.

Attenders bring much richness and wisdom to us, and in many cases are fully
practising Quakers, whatever we call them.

If attenders want the privileges of membership, they should join.

Formal membership is useful for legal purposes. But there may be those who, while
contributing fully to the life of the Meeting, have a conscientious objection to

As regards the handling of membership items at business meetings, some believe that
the current arrangement, whereby all membership items are dealt with by members only,
affirms the significance of membership and respects the journey that many applicants
have taken to reach it. It is also seen as protecting the confidentiality of information
discussed during the meeting with visitors. This approach is encapsulated in the 2009
AYM pamphlet Quaker Business Procedure: The Practice of Group Discernment:

When sensitive matters, such as membership, are before the meeting,

non-members are usually asked to leave the room temporarily in order
to protect the privacy of individuals and ensure that the deep
discernment required is undertaken by experienced Friends. It is
recognised that membership decisions are the responsibility of

For others, an open process is preferred, as a way of demonstrating the transparency of

the Quaker method of making decisions, and to demystify the meaning of membership to
those considering it. From this perspective, excluding anyone from the discussion can be
seen as akin to the letter killeth..the spirit giveth life. Some feel especially that excluding
longstanding attenders who have shown a strong commitment to the Meeting is a
rejection of that persons value to the Quaker community.

Some have suggested that attenders could be present but not take part in the
deliberations on membership items.

The issue of Attenders holding positions with the Meeting has also been mentioned
in several responses. Most are happy that there are some restrictions that members
only fill the positions of Clerk, Treasurer, Clerks of Ministry and Oversight. It has also
been pointed out, however, that in smaller meetings it is often non-members who sustain
the group by taking on a number of roles.

5. The Way Forward.

There is an acknowledgement that Attenders play an important role in our Meeting, and
contribute through the holding of positions on committees and through being involved in
tasks and activities of the community. There is a feeling that those attenders who have
served the Meeting for a long time should receive some recognition even if they are not
led to seek formal membership.

The responses indicate a commitment by many to openness as far as possible. Some

feel this requires all decision-making processes to be open to all seekers, as a source of

mutual acceptance, learning and sharing. Some raise the possibility that personal
matters (including some membership items) might be handled in a less open way, at the
discretion of the Clerks of the business meeting.

For others there is a strong sense that, when it comes to handling membership issues, a
distinction needs to be made to affirm the value and tradition of membership, to protect
confidentiality for applicants and visitors, and to recognise the sensitivities of those
applying for membership after a searching experience of self-examination.

It is clear from the comments from other RMs that we are not alone in having difficulties
with these issues. Most Meetings acknowledge the fine line between openness and
privacy, and adopt business procedures that do exclude non-members at times.

The response we have received from many individuals indicate a desire to have a
decision made without further delay, in order to allow energies to be focussed on other
issues for the foreseeable future.

From our perspective as Clerks, we would prefer a clear decision on how membership
items are to be handled during business meetings, rather than be placed in the position
of making ad hoc decisions about how to handle particular items. We think that, if the
present procedure is to continue, it would be helped by
(a) dealing with membership items at the beginning of business meetings;
(b) re-affirming the practice of recording in the minutes the names of attenders
who have shown ongoing commitment to the Meeting and are allowed to attend
business meetings on a regular basis without seeking permission every time; and
(c) announcing in advance that attenders will be expected to wait until the
membership items have been dealt with before joining the business meeting.

We suggest that it be stated clearly by Regional Meeting that committed Attenders are
eligible for appointment to all offices in the Meeting except those of Clerk, Treasurer,
Clerks of Ministry and Oversight, or Public Officer. We could also indicate that Attenders
are welcome to be present when testimonies are read in business meetings.

David Purnell and Wilma Davidson

April 2011