A Glossary of Quaker Terms

Quaker FlowerThis is a list of terms Friends sometimes use.  These words can be confusing for newcomers, so we have attempted here to make our language more accessible by providing this glossary.*

ADVICES – Ideals stated as a continuing reminder of the basic faith and principles held to be essential to the life and witness of Friends.  Friends have found it useful regularly to remind each other of their nature through the periodic reading and discussion of advices along with related queries.

AFFIRMATION – A legal declaration made by Friends or others who conscientiously decline to take an oath.

ATTENDER – One who attends and participates in meeting activities fairly regularly but has not become a member.

CLEARNESS COMMITTEE – A group of Friends appointed or selected to assist a person or the meeting to clarify a decision or concern.

CLERK – the person responsible for administering a monthly meeting or other body.

CONCERN – A deep interest, whether by an individual or a meeting, in some spiritual or social matter.  An interest so deep and vigorous that often it must be expressed in action.

CONVINCED FRIEND – A person who becomes a Friend as a result of being led to this decision by the Inward Light, often after careful study, thought, and seeking.

DISCERNMENT – The process of discerning whether a decision, direction, or leading comes from the Spirit, and for gaining greater clarity about its full character and import for a Friend or a meeting.

ELDER – A person within the meeting chosen to support and encourage members or attenders in the flowering of spirit-led ministry. It also 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.

ENQUIRER – Someone who might attend one or more Meetings to find out more about Quakerism and Quaker worship. All enquirers and visitors are most welcome to attend our Meetings and enjoy the fellowship of the Quaker Community.

FRIEND – The formal name for a Quaker.

GATHERED MEETING – A meeting for worship or for business in which those present feel deeply united in the Divine Presence.

HOLD IN THE LIGHT – To ask for God’s or the Spirit’s presence to illumine a person, situation, or problem, whether in concern or thanksgiving.

INNER LIGHT – A term that represents the direct, unmediated experience of the Divine.

LAY DOWN – To terminate a committee or concern when its work is completed or no longer felt necessary. A monthly meeting may be laid down when it is no longer functioning.

LEADING – An inner conviction that impels one to follow a certain course under a sense of divine guidance.  A Friend may submit a leading to the meeting for testing by corporate wisdom.

MEETING FOR WORSHIP A gathering of the Quakers for worship, characterized by periods of silence and by members speaking as moved by the Spirit.

MEETING FOR WORSHIP FOR BUSINESS – The monthly Meeting for Worship for Business is the primary means for making decisions, translating concerns into action, and considering matters relating to the organization of the Meeting and its program and activities as an ongoing religious group.

MEETING HOUSEA Friends Meeting House is a Meeting House of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), where Meeting for Worship and other Friends activities are usually held

MEMBER – A member is an attender who has formally applied for and been accepted into membership of a monthly meeting.

MINISTRY OR VOCAL MINISTRY – The sharing of a message, prayer or song during meeting for worship.

MINUTE – A statement of an item of business approved by those in attendance at a given meeting for worship with a concern for business.

MONTHLY MEETING – A group of people who have established a community that generally meets every week for meeting for worship and once a month for meeting for business.  Generally, the monthly meeting is considered the foundation of Quaker life. A particular Quaker community is commonly referred to as “The Meeting”.

MOVED TO SPEAK – An experience, in the quietness of the meeting, of feeling led by the Spirit to speak.

OPENINGA new spiritual opportunity or leading.

PLAIN SPEECH – Forthright and divinely-led speech that is simple in language.

QUAKER – The unofficial name of a member of the Religious Society of Friends.  Originally the use was pejorative but the word was reclaimed by Friends in recognition of the physical sensation that many feel when being moved by the Spirit.

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.

REGIONAL MEETING – A collection of local Monthly Meetings within a specific geographical area, for example the Canberra Regional Meeting.

RIGHT ORDERING – Those procedures for the conduct of Friends business and witness that encourage a meeting or Friends organization to carry out its business and activities under divine leading. The term “good ordering” is also used in this sense.

SENSE OF THE MEETING – A perception of Truth that emerges from the corporate business process as Friends seek God’s will.  After full consideration of a matter and allowing for the development of new insights and wisdom with God’s leading, if the clerk feels that a decision has been reached, she/he states the sense of the meeting as a minute for the meeting’s approval.  No vote is taken.  Unity is sought, but if it is not attained to a reasonable degree, the clerk can hold the item over for reconsideration at a later time.  The clerk must decide on the degree of unity required, basing that judgement on the importance of the subject and the experience and wisdom of those who speak to it.

SPEAK TO MY/ONE’S CONDITION – The conviction that a message, whether directly from Spirit or through the words or actions of another, meets one’s own deepest needs and purposes.

STOP IN THE MIND – An expression that Friends may use to explain that they cannot follow a course of action.  Scruples about engaging in an activity or approving a minute that are felt but not easily explained.

TESTIMONIES – Speech or actions which derive from and demonstrates deeply held beliefs; 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.

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.

UNPROGRAMMED MEETING – A meeting for worship which has no pre-determined order of service.  The gathered Friends sit in silence, waiting upon God and “leadings of the Spirit” which may give rise to vocal messages to share with the meeting.  Some meetings for worship can pass without any vocal message and still be occasions of great inspiration.

WEIGHTY FRIEND – A Friend who is informally recognized as having special experience and wisdom.

WITNESS – To let one’s words or to or take action based on spiritual conviction, often at some personal cost. Many Friends do not talk often about their beliefs, but allow their lives to bear witness to their beliefs.

YEARLY MEETING – A collection of monthly and regional meetings that organize together to share witness and resources, for example the Australia Yearly Meeting.  It generally meets at least once a year to conduct business.

*Adapted from the New York Yearly Meeting & 0thers