a brief history
enrolled membership as we know it was not a feature of the early
Meetings of Friends; however, a recognized membership
did exist. In its first years, the Society was a radical and charismatic
movement, very much at odds with the civil and religious bodies of
its day. Because the risks of joining involved rejection by
contemporary society, imprisonment, physical abuse and economic
ruin, only deeply convinced and committed people were willing to
face the consequences of being considered Friends. Formal lists
were unnecessary, since Friends were well aware of each other and
of events in each other’s lives. The word “member” appears
Friends’ correspondence, and lists of those “suffering
sake” were drawn up almost from the beginning, but formal
membership was not established until 1737.
there was no formal membership, fanatical behavior and spiritual
irresponsibility led to the practice of disownment.
Those who misrepresented the group in word or deed were still
welcome in worship and fellowship, but they were not allowed to
participate in Meeting decisions. Thus the distinction between an
active community of shared faith and an evolving institutional
structure was tacitly recognized in early Quaker history.