On Recording One's Affiliation with Friends

As a clerk of IT (information technology) for our Yearly Meeting, I studied the work of our indigenous members, who were busy building our multi-meeting database. That baton has since been passed, and the work continues.  We haven't outsourced (yet) to a non-Quaker commercial firm.  We use PHP with MySQL.

In my day, we kept track of meeting membership and, ideally, current committee positions down to the meeting level, though this proved too labor intensive and beyond the scope of work of our part time Secretary, especially as the database wasn't finished yet, during my less than two term interval of community service.

The original Ron Braithwaite design would have allowed individual Meetings to keep their own committee records up to date, by logging in to NPYM from any office.  The task of keeping the database up to date would thereby be widely distributed, down to individual households being allowed to make changes. 

The Annual Session website, done with Drupal, was already like that, with multiple rotating logins allowed.  Nominating kept its slate there, in PDF format, of who was doing what at the Yearly level.  That was effectively truly public information, if the public knew where to look. 

Each Monthly Meeting and Worship Group also had its own listing at the website, kept current by a volunteer (not me, as clerk I created a discussion group to keep our operations going smoothly, and to chat up information technology as something Friends could stay good it -- we have a reputation for meticulous record keeping).

Wearing my hat as an application developer (what I'd been doing for a living in some chapters), I have this propensity to want to turn database records into web pages, both for read-only display and for updating (also deletion where relevant) and indeed that's exactly what our internal system did (and still does), but "eyes only" for the Secretary and other officers within Yearly Meeting. 

We don't make our regional directory public (Oregon, Washington, Montana...).  We share it around on a need to know basis, sometimes in hard copy, also on CD.  Exactly who is connected to what meeting, down to the individual level, is not considered a matter of public record. 

Nonprofits are not required by law to disclose their membership right?  You just need a few officers and some public proceedings.  With churches the law is even murkier.  I'm no lawyer.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I got to thinking, as IT clerk: 

Suppose we gave Friends the option to have a public listing on the web, whether a member or not

You're asked, polled or surveyed by your Worship Group or Monthly Meeting, to indicate what personal information, if any, should go to the web, as public information.

Name and email?  Name and phone?  Name only?  Name and street address? 

Up to you (except we need your name at least, otherwise why not just skip being listed, OK?).

In a fully implemented system, you, the individual Friend, could update some of this info yourself (phone and email, street address, date of birth). 

If you wanted your committee info public as well, your "Quaker resume" (so to speak), most of that would have been entered by other clerks, or maybe by yourself when wearing a clerk hat.  Since Business Meeting approves the slate from Nominating, it's up to Oversight Committee to keep all the role-playing straight.

Almost everyone worries about junk mail and spam, so probably a majority would say "thanks but no thanks" when offered, to share their Quaker street cred. A lot of Friends are fairly secretive about their status and aren't particularly keen on having strangers knowing anything about them.

On the other hand, some members, and likewise attenders, feel more moved by the Spirit to make their affiliation with the Religious Society of Friends a matter of public record.  I'm thinking of conscientious objectors in particular, other people with skin in the game. 

Wouldn't you like your name on a public listing today, so you might point to it tomorrow, should you be in need of proof of your convictions?

Or maybe you just want the world to know, because this deepens your faith and practice, knowing you've broadcast your affiliation to the world. 

Maybe you just want to back up your claim to being Quaker on some job application.  Someone is saying "Quakers preferred". 

Or maybe you're applying to college and want publicly verifiable proof of community service. 

We've seen how some families pay professional racketeers to have their credentials faked, so college admissions officers are even more on guard against fabrication.  The Yearly Meeting authenticates so-and-so really did go to Brazil for a Friends Gathering.  The public web provides persuasive (convincing) proof.

On the side, without pressuring anyone to put my work into production, more to stay in shape as a database coder and full stack engineer, I created a database schema for Monthly Meetings that would implement this vision. 

I designed it to keep track not only of who is doing what now, committee-wise, but who'd been doing what going back through the years, as we had time-stamped start and stop times. The structure would not keep over-writing itself w/r to committee positions, requiring auditors to resort to meeting minutes, archived somewhere, maybe.

By means of start and stop times, we could track all kinds of historical information:  Junior Friend status, marriages and divorces; times of membership and non-membership (what if a Friend resigned membership, then rejoined -- the database would keep this all clear, in my model); active on Peace and Social Concerns, active on Nominating etc.

We could create new ad hoc groups, and record membership in those.  We could add and drop whole committees (without losing the historical record). 

This info would be useful to the many committee clerks, if working to establish a discussion list for example, for committee business (science fiction for a lot of us, I realize, however some meetings do have their in-house listservs *, even some for discussion, and not just read-only announcements).

I also used my tenure as IT clerk to pitch the idea of a "native language personal name field" i.e. we would distinguish ourselves, as a Yearly Meeting, for our ability to print name tags in any Unicode characters, such as Tibetan, Chinese, Hebrew and so on.  We'd get out of our exclusively Roman headset, so Anglo and ethnocentric.  Cyrillic would be OK too. 

[ I was thinking we might reach out to local Russians (plentiful in Oregon) with reassurance we could at least spell their names natively if they came to our events, even if we Anglicized too, for purposes of alphabetization (the name tags would be double sided or would have Anglicized versions somewhere -- I'm not saying either/or). See Willamette Quarterly Men's Group banner page above, for another outreach effort) ]

Such advocacy, for "internationalization" (i18n) is common in my globally-minded geek subculture.  We made it our theme one year as a booth at OSCON (Open Source Convention) when O'Reilly School of Technology was a thing.  It was actually my idea to do this, as one of the full time employees. 

To this day, OSCONs feature an i18n themed lunch table, one of many.

What I'm wondering is if an "out Friend" check box (as in "out of the closet") would grow to supersede membership in some dimensions, as the braver thing to do. Could one be an "out Friend" in China, with a Chinese name?  In militarized North America, with pacifism so unpopular, your Quakerism might keep you out of running for public office.  An "out Friend" is sticking his or her neck out in some ways.

Joining a Monthly Meeting, yet keeping that secret, not a matter of public record, not verifiable by smartphone, by Google, is maybe less painting oneself a Quaker than going world-readable with one's affiliate status?  Would "out Quakers" been seen as taking the greater risk?

But then of course we could design the web listing such that one's membership could be reflected on top of being out.  An "out member" would have an additional designation (that of membership) versus the "out attender" (not listed as a member).  One might choose to keep that whole field unlisted, leaving the public guessing as to formal membership (a technicality many won't know about in the first place, unless they do homework). 

There's some interesting anthropology ahead, should any Yearly or Monthly Meeting decide it wants to experiment with newfangled forms of transparency in Friends' record keeping practices.


*listserv -- intentionally spelled that way, not "listserve", because it's the lowercasing of an original brand, e.g. as Xerox is to xerox, and as Klennex is to kleenex, so is Listserv to listserv.

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Comment by Kirby Urner on 4th mo. 27, 2019 at 11:52pm


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