Here’s a guide to Quaker terminology adapted from the “Faith and Practice” manual of the Pacific Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. We’ve highlighted in bold text a few of the more commonly used terms:
Advices – brief reminders of the basic faith and principles held to be essential to the life and witness of Friends. They are intended to supply guidance, caution and counsel to Monthly Meetings and their members. Often, each month a Meeting considers one advice and its accompanying queries.
After the Manner of Friends – following the practices of Friends, but not formally within the structure of Friends Meetings or organizations; particularly used for weddings which look like Quaker weddings but are not under the care of a Meeting.
Affirmation – a legal declaration provided for Friends and others who, as a matter of conscience, refuse to take (or swear) judicial oaths.
Attender – one who attends a Meeting, but is not a formal member.
Birthright Member – a Friend recorded at birth on the membership rolls of a meeting (note: this is not a practice of Pacific Yearly Meeting); sometimes informally used to mean a Friend born of Quaker parents.
Breaking Meeting – see closing meeting.
Called Meeting – a meeting for worship on the occasion of business called by its clerk at a non-regular time, usually for the purpose of considering a particular issue or item of business.
Center Down – to clear one’s mind and settle down during the initial stage of worship, becoming spiritually focused so as to be open to the leading of the Spirit.
Clearness – confidence that an action is consistent with divine will.
Clearness Committee – a number of Friends who gather to help one Friend achieve confidence of God’s guidance in his/her life about a certain decision or course of action.
Clerk – the person responsible for administering a Friends committee, monthly meeting or other body and sensitive to the guidance of the Spirit in the conduct of the business of that body. When “the clerk” is used on its own, it usually refers to the presiding clerk of a monthly meeting for business. Monthly meetings also often have a recording clerk responsible for recording the minutes.
Closing Meeting – when a Friend (usually previously designated) ends meeting for worship by shaking or clasping the hands of the closest Friends. These Friends in turn shake or clasp hands with other neighbors.
Concern – a quickening sense of the need to do something about a situation or issue in response to what is felt to be a direct intimation of God’s will.
Consensus – a decision or opinion to which no one in the decision-making body dissents, as distinct from unity and sense of the meeting, though often used erroneously by Friends as a synonym for these terms.
Conservative Friends – three unaffiliated Yearly meetings located in Iowa, North Carolina and Ohio call themselves conservative. Historically, they share John Wilbur’s objections to the pastoral system. At the same time they are, in general, more explicitly Christ-centered than most western or other unprogrammed meetings affiliated with Friends General Conference.
Continuing Revelation – a belief that the revelation of God’s will is ongoing.
Convener – a member of a committee who is asked to set up committee meetings until a clerk has been identified. Also, the correspondent or contact person of a worship group.
Convinced Friend – a person whose experience of Friends ways has led him/ her to become a member of the Religious Society of Friends; often used to describe a Friend who was not raised a Quaker.
Corporate – descriptive of the collective body of a Friends Meeting or organization (as distinct from individual).
Covered Meeting – see gathered meeting.
Discernment – the process of seeking and discovering that which is deeply true.
Discipline – 1) the former name of the Faith and Practice of a yearly meeting; 2) related to discipleship: the practices and body of thought of a particular path, teacher, or historical tradition.
Elder – 1) used as a verb, to support and encourage members or attenders in the flowering of spirit-led ministry (and discourage behavior and speech which inhibits such ministry). This leadership can include logistical support, honest feedback, prayer, and helping with spiritual discernment. 2) used as a noun, sometimes refers to one who has been chosen to provide ongoing eldering to support the ministry of one Friend. Historically, elders were appointed to foster the life of the meeting and individuals in the meeting.
Epistle – a public letter of greeting and ministry. Such letters are sent from a Friends meeting or organization to other Friends groups, to supply information, spiritual insight, and encouragement.
Gathered Meeting – a meeting for worship or for business in which those present feel deeply united in the Divine Presence.
Good Order – those procedures for the conduct of Friends business and witness that encourage a meeting or Friends organization to carry out its corporate activities under divine leading. The term “rightly ordered” is also used in this sense.
Hold in the Light – to desire that divine guidance and healing will be present to an individual who is in distress or faces a difficult situation; also, to give prayerful consideration to an idea.
Inner Light – a term that represents the direct, unmediated experience of the Divine. Similar terms used in Quaker writings include Christ Within, Light of Christ, Inward Light, Holy Spirit, Spirit of Truth, Divine Principle, Seed, Guide, Inward Teacher, and that of God in every person.
Labor With – an effort by two or more Friends to struggle with a concern and seek a resolution or a sense of how to proceed.
Lay Down – to discontinue a committee or activity when its work is completed or no longer felt spiritually vital; occasionally a monthly meeting or other Friends organization may be laid down when it is no longer viable.
Lay Over – to postpone the consideration of an issue or the presentation of a report from one meeting for business to another.
Leading – a sense of being called by God to undertake a specific course of action. A Friend may submit a leading to the meeting for testing by corporate wisdom. A leading often arises from a concern.
Letter of Introduction – a letter from the clerk, prepared at the request of a Friend who is preparing to travel. The letter often includes the fact of the Friend’s membership and involvement in the home meeting, and appropriate greetings to other meetings and Friends bodies. This letter does not require formal consideration of the meeting. It is often endorsed by those visited. See also travel minute, which is not the same as a letter of introduction.
Liberated Friend – see released friend.
Light of Christ – since the formation of the Religious Society of Friends, many Friends have believed in the existence of the Christ Spirit, which is available to guide all people regardless of whether they know of or believe in the teachings of the historical Jesus. See also Inner Light.
Mind the Light – a reminder to seek the guidance of the Inner Light, both to be obedient to divine leadings and to nurture one’s openness to the Light.
Minister – 1) used as a verb, to give ministry; 2) used as a noun, one who has spoken or acted in a Spirit-led manner; one who has evoked God in another. Friends believe that we are all ministers to each other. See also recorded ministers.
Ministry – speech or behavior which is Spirit-led, which touches the hearts of those listening or observing; sharing or acting upon one’s gifts, whether in service to individuals, to the meeting, or the larger community. See also vocal ministry.
Minute – a record of a corporate decision by a Friends body convened for considering business. “The minutes” also refers to all these decision minutes and their narrative accompaniment which form the records for a Meeting for Worship for Business, committee, or Friends organization.
Minute of Travel – see travel minute.
Monthly Meeting – 1) a congregation of Friends who meet regularly for worship and to conduct corporate business; 2) a monthly gathering of such a body for meeting for worship with a concern for Business.
Moved to Speak – led by the Spirit to speak, especially in meeting for worship.
Opening – a new spiritual opportunity or leading.
Overseers – members of the oversight or ministry and oversight committee, appointed by the neeting to give pastoral care and nurture to all members and attenders. Because “overseer” is a term associated with slavery, many contemporary Friends choose not to use it.
Pastoral Meeting – see programmed meeting.
Plain Dress – the witness of early Friends to the testimonies of equality and simplicity by dressing simply, in undecorated garments. A few conservative Friends still wear plain dress.
Plain Speech – 1) the witness of early Friends to the testimonies of equality and integrity by speaking plainly to all, regardless of social status. This involved the use of “thee, thy, thou, thine” for all people, instead of observing the custom of using “you” for a person of higher status. Friends continue the practice of plain speech by using full given names and no titles when addressing others. 2) the Friendly habit of speaking simply and truthfully about a subject, without rhetoric or sentimentality.
Preparative Meeting – 1) a body of Friends, under the care and guidance of an established monthly meeting, preparing to become a monthly meeting; 2) in Britain Yearly Meeting (and historically), Friends in one monthly meeting commonly worship in several smaller preparative meetings which also “prepare” business to be brought before the monthly meeting.
Proceed as the Way Opens – to act after waiting for guidance from God, avoiding hasty judgment or action, and moving ahead as circumstances allow.
Programmed Meeting – 1) a meeting for worship with a prearranged sequence of events, usually including music, an offering, a sermon, etc. Programmed meetings are often led by a pastor, and often include periods of open worship in which any Friend may minister out of the silence. Also called a pastoral meeting. 2) a particular meeting for worship with a prearranged theme or program, such as a memorial or a wedding.
Quaker – originally a derogatory term for Friends, coined because their excitement of spirit when led to speak was sometimes expressed in a shaking or quaking motion. Now this term is simply an alternative designation for a member of the Religious Society of Friends, more widely recognized by the general public than “Friend.”
Quaker Dialogue – a structured process for creative listening in small groups. See also worship-sharing.
Quarterly Meeting – a regional gathering of members of constituent monthly meetings, traditionally on four occasions each year. In Pacific Yearly Meeting, the quarterly meetings meet three times a year, and then all Friends in the yearly meeting are invited to attend the annual session of the yearly meeting.
Queries – a set of questions, based on Friends practices and testimonies, which are considered by meetings and individuals as a way of both guiding and examining individual and corporate lives and actions. Queries to be considered regularly are included in Faith and Practice; others may be formulated by a committee or meeting that seeks to clarify for itself an issue it needs to address, or to invite other Friends to examine their beliefs and actions about a concern.
Recorded Minister – a Friends meeting may record as a minister a member who has a special gift of service to the meeting or the community (rare within Pacific Yearly Meeting). Such recognition is accompanied by the meeting’s commitment to provide oversight to the ministry and perhaps other forms of support as well. Historically, recorded ministers were acknowledged specifically for their gifts of vocal ministry.
Recorder – the person appointed by a Meeting to maintain records and statistics about members and attendees of the Meeting. Also called the records clerk, which is different from the recording clerk.
Recording Clerk – one who writes the minutes of decisions and proceedings of a meeting for worship for business or other Friends decision-making body. The recording clerk is an assistant to the presiding clerk, who is ultimately responsible for creating minutes for the approval of the meeting or other Friends body.
Released Friend – A Friend who has received the recognition and support of his/her meeting to undertake religious service, often including traveling. This may require the Meeting to take over responsibilities of the concerned person while that person is away.
Right Order – see good order.
Rise of Meeting – 1) see closing meeting; (2) the time when Friends rise from their seats at the end of silent worship, following the announcements and introductions that follow the close of meeting.
Seasoning – a process of waiting (often one month) before committing to a decision, to ensure that the decision is grounded in God’s will.
Sense of the Meeting – an expression of the unity of a meeting for worship for business on some issue or concern; the general recognition of agreement within the meeting about a matter, as articulated by the clerk or some other person.
Speak to My/One’s Condition – the conviction that a message, whether directly from God or through the words or actions of another, meets one’s own deepest needs and purposes.
Standing Aside – an action taken by an individual who has genuine reservations about a particular decision, but who also recognizes that the decision is clearly supported by the weight of the meeting. An individual who stands aside frees the meeting from continuing to labor with him/her on the issue, and allows the Meeting to reach unity.
Stop/Stop in the Mind – a clear uneasiness in the face of a proposed decision or action, and an unwillingness to concur with the proposal.
Testimony – 1) speech or action which derives from and demonstrates deeply held beliefs; 2) a commonly held, fundamental belief of Friends which has, over time, guided public speech and action, e.g., testimonies of equality, simplicity, community, integrity, and unity.
Travel Minute – the endorsement a meeting gives to one of its members who is traveling under the weight of a concern, usually expressed in a letter which accompanies the traveler.
Under the Care of – describes an activity, program or event for which a meeting takes responsibility and to which it gives oversight; thus, a marriage, a preparative meeting, and a school might each be said to be “under the care of” a monthly meeting.
Under the Weight of – carrying a concern which is pressing upon an individual or a meeting. For instance, a meeting that is led to struggle about fair labor practices in its community is “under the weight” of this concern.
Unity – the spiritual oneness and harmony whose realization is a primary objective of a meeting for worship for business; within a gathered group of Friends, the state of finding and recognizing a unified sense (often referred to as God’s will) about a concern or item of business.
Unprogrammed Meeting – a meeting for worship in which Friends gather in silence, waiting for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. A monthly meeting which does not have a pastor; all members are called to participate in ministry, whether to listen or to speak. Quakers believe each person can have direct experience of the Spirit of God and that something of God is expressed in everyone’s life.
Vocal Ministry – the sharing of a message, prayer or song during meeting for worship.
Wait Upon the Lord – to actively seek and attend to God’s will in expectant worship.
Way Opens – see proceed as way opens.
Weighty Friend – an informal term for a Friend who is respected for spiritual depth, experience, or wisdom.
Witness – to let one’s actions and words spring from deep convictions or spiritual leadings. Many unprogrammed Friends do not talk often about their beliefs, but allow their lives to bear witness to their beliefs.
Worship Group – a group of worshipers who gather regularly to follow Friends practice, who may or may not have a formal affiliation with a Monthly Meeting.
Worship-Sharing – a structured worshipful experience in which all participants are invited to speak (usually to a query). Worship-sharing provides an opportunity to reflect deeply on a topic, to build community with others, and to feel the movement of the Spirit within the group. See also Quaker dialogue.
Yearly Meeting – A body consisting of monthly meetings from a geographically extended area, whose members are invited to gather in annual session to worship and conduct business together. This term is also used to denote the total membership of the constituent monthly meetings of a designated yearly meeting.