A Membership That Is Ever Flowing

Cover photo by J Balla on Unsplash

There’s an old saying attributed to Hericlitus that roughly goes “No person ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and they are not the same person.” When I think about all the people associated with a Friends meeting, I think of that ever-changing river.

Though it’s an important administrative task, I’m not so very concerned about the official membership list we synchronize with yearly meeting records once a year. I’m more interested in the ever-changing, ever amorphous river of people who connect with us as they flow by.

As the clerk of a small meeting, I find myself frequently juggling these multiple categories of membership. When we had plumbing issues a few months ago, there were lots of emails with a core half-dozen regulars who I can depend on to help with logistics and contacts with local contractors (this group is so consistent that when I go to send a message to one, my email program asks me if I want to include all the others).

When there’s an event coming up, the email list expands to include a small group of recent newcomers who make it to worship a few times a month. Every so often I look over this list to see if there’s someone who’s dropped away, and I’ll take a minute to write them a special email asking how they are and inviting them to attend. I would hate for a semi-regular to drop away and think we hadn’t noticed.

There’s also a wide constellation of people who attend once in a proverbial blue moon. Some are members of nearby meetings who occasionally hit us up for a change of pace. Others are local history buffs who will come to hear a particular speaker but make sure to come early because they like their once-a-year Quaker worship. Few of these visitors will ever become regulars but they probably know someone who might, and their word-of-mouth recommendation could help connect a new seeker with our small band.

When it’s time to send out the annual fundraising appeal, I’ll reach out to another, rather special class of members, those at a distance, many of whom I’ve never met. They might hail from one of the founding families of the meeting; perhaps they grew up there themselves and have fond memories. It might be easy to forget about these members but that would be a mistake, as they remind us of the long line of faithful servants who have kept this special community going in the past.

And who’s to say our membership doesn’t include the red-shouldered hawk family who lives in one of the sycamores in the burial ground or the groundhogs, squirrels, and related wildlife who scamper about. The grounds provide our immediate human neighbors with a bit of open green space in the midst of suburban sprawl, another constituency we rarely meet.

Every generation of members has its plumbing headaches. Every generation sees seekers come and go. Those of us who have signed up for formal membership are hosts of a time set aside for open communal worship and also stewards of the physical space and weekly logistics. We’re perhaps the banks of the river, a container for the flow.

This issue of Friends Journal contains a number of attempts to define membership, but they all come out as provisional and expansive. Care, attention, and love are the glue that hold communities together through conflicting visions and occasional abrasive business meetings. I hope some of these viewpoints inspire attenders to consider formal membership, and I hope they’re also a reminder for us to notice and celebrate those who are just flowing by.

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