Jargon

This guide is intended to help people who are new to Quakers to navigate the minefield of Quaker language. Quakers have a great sense of history. They continue use words and phrases that are antiquated, anachronistic, obscure – and just plain quaint.

Advices and queries – a slim volume of gentle reminders of how we might try to live our lives. It forms part of Quaker faith and practice.

Area Meeting (AM) – three main meanings:
(a) An area community of Friends (akin to a parish, but often covering a much wider geographical area) in which membership resides. Comprises several Local Meetings.
(b) A Meeting for Worship for the whole Area.
(c) A meeting for decision making and administration relating to the area community.

Attender – A person who worships regularly with Friends but has not joined the Religious Society of Friends.

Birthright – Until the late 1940s a person who was born to a Quaker family automatically became a member of the Society by right of birth, hence birthright! Nowadays an application must be made to become a member of the Society. Since then the term has come to be used more loosely to describe any Friend born of Quaker parents. Compare with convincement.

Britain Yearly Meeting – a meeting for decision making and business administration for Friends in England, Scotland and Wales. It meets over several days at Friends House, though every third year it meets at a provincial venue to enable more people to attend it. Abbreviated to BYM.

BYM – an abbreviation of Britain Yearly Meeting.

Centred – the state of an individual or group in touch with the divine presence.

Christocentric – A Quaker whose inspiration is essentially Christian and who holds that the Religious Society of Friends is essentially a Christian denomination. Compare with Universalist.

Clearness – confidence that an action is consistent with the divine will. Clearness can be tested through a Meeting for Clearness.

Clerk – a person appointed by a business meeting or committee to take a meeting through its business and write the minutes. See also convener.

Committee – there are lots of these, so various and fair. It is said that God so loved the world that she didn’t send a committee. We are trying to build the commonwealth of the Spirit by using committees!

Concern – a idea or prompting by the Spirit which leads a Friend to take on an issue as a personal crusade. The Friend will probably bring their concern to their business meeting to be tested, that is to see if it is a true concern or simply a notion.

Convener – usually applied to a person who is responsible for the organisation of a one-off meeting for business. Compare with clerk.

Convincement – a discovery of truth, as in “Quaker by convincement”, one who has become convinced of the truth of the Quaker way. It is used to describe anybody who joins the Society. Compare with birthright.

Daffodil ministry – every spring a Friend notices how lovely the daffodils look as they come to meeting for worship, and they minister about how lovely the world is. Generally a pejorative term to describe uncritical and predictable ministry.

Elder – as a noun: a member of a meeting charged with responsibility for the ordering of the spiritual life of that meeting. As a verb: the process of gentle redirection of a person by an elder back onto the path of right ordering.

Enquirer – someone enquiring about Quakerism!

Epistle – Quaker gatherings often send a report of their deliberations to other Quakers. The best known example is the Yearly Meeting Epistle. They often start “To Friends everywhere…”

FMH – an abbreviation of Friends Meeting House.

Friend – A member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). We get our name from the original title of “Friends in the Truth”. This doesn’t means that we have to be nice to each other, rather our first loyalty is to Truth. Quakers often refer to themselves collectively as Friends and will address a Quaker as “Friend” if they don’t know the person’s name. Loosely speaking, the term ‘Friends’ also includes Attenders.

Friends Book Centre – a very useful source of books on all matters Quakerish, you’ll find it at Friends House.

Friends House – the central offices of Britain Yearly Meeting, opposite Euston Station.

Friends Meeting House – a longer version of Meeting House.

Gathered Meeting – (a) a worshipping group where divine presence is felt;  (b) a term used when those gathered are clearly united in thought.

Inner Light – that of God within us.

Leading or Opening – a prompting thought to be received from the Spirit. It can turn into a concern!

Local Meeting (LM) – a local community of Friends who gather regularly in Meeting for Worship. Local Meetings hold regular business meetings for administration and decision making.  These meetings are in preparation for an Area Meeting and are called ‘Preparative Meeting for Business‘, since there is an opportunity to forward any local concerns to Area Meeting.

Meeting – used in different contexts, and so confusing. It can be as shorthand for meeting for worship, or it can refer to a meeting of Quakers that has gathered for business and administrative matters, for example: preparative meeting, monthly meeting, Six Weeks Meeting and yearly meeting.

Meeting for Worship (MfW) – a gathering of Friends for the purpose of worship. We don’t actually worship using a liturgy, agreed words or ritual in the way that other traditions do. Quakers believe that when we gather together in silence we can engage in a direct and personal relationship with God. (But we disagree on the nature or existence of God!) When an awareness and presence of God is felt, the Meeting is said to be “gathered”.

Meeting for Worship for Business – A meeting for decision making and administration for a Local Meeting. Some times called a ‘Local Meeting’.

Meeting for Sufferings (MfS) – a meeting for decision making and business administration for Friends in England, Scotland and Wales. It is the executive body of Britain Yearly Meeting and meets regularly at Friends House.

Meeting House – a place where Quakers gather for worship, though not the only place that they may do so. When early Quakers referred to churches as “Steeplehouses” it wasn’t meant as a compliment. A short  version of Friends Meeting House.

Membership – what you apply for when you decide to want to join Friends. Visitors will then come round to see you! Contrast with Attender.

Ministry – this is our term for what a person gives when they stand up and speak during meeting for worship. Ministry is inspired by the Spirit.

Minutes – these are the record of the proceedings of a business meeting written by the clerk or convener of that meeting. Quaker minutes are written and agreed as the meeting proceeds with its business.

Notion – (a) any approach to religious matters not based on first-hand spiritual experience. (b) a leading that didn’t turn into a concern, someone else’s concern that isn’t important to you, or any religious and spiritual practice that you don’t feel is relevant. Quakers rarely exert judgement, but deciding when something is a notion is one time when they do. A derisive term.

Occur – as in “This Friend’s name would not have occurred to me.” A Friendly (i.e. devious) way of damning a suggestion.

Overseer – a member of a meeting charged with responsibility for the general welfare of the members of that meeting.

Plain speech – this is how Quakers aspire to speak (“Let you Yea be your Yea”) but too often they will couch their meaning in obscure and devious phrases, see occur.

Popcorn ministry – There are days when everybody seems to have something to say at meeting for worship. There is little or no silence. People keep bursting into ministry like a panfull of popcorn on the stove. A pejorative term.

Preparative Meeting for Business (PM) – a Local Meeting’s business meeting, to consider business concerns to be forwarded to Area Meeting Business Meeting – i.e. preparative to Area Meeting.

Programmed – describes a meeting for worship that has an order of service and is led by a pastor. Two thirds of Friends world-wide belong to yearly meetings that hold programmed meetings. Meetings for worship in Britain are unprogrammed.

PM – an abbreviation of Preparative Meeting.

Quaker – originally a pejorative name for a member of the Religious Society of Friends, now a title worn with pride and probably more widely known by the public than the more correct term of Friend.

Quaker faith and practice – a book which seeks to express in words the workings of the Spirit as experienced by Quakers over three hundred years. It is both an anthology of Quaker thought and guidance on the right ordering of Quaker affairs. It is revised every generation to reflect the continuing revelation and understanding of the Spirit. It is also known as the Book of discipline.

Regional Meeting – two main meanings:
(a) An regional community of Friends (akin to a diocese, but often covering a much wider geographical area) in which membership resides. Comprises several Area Meetings.
(b) A meeting for decision making and administration relating to the regional community – sometimes called a Regional Gathering.

Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) – the correct title of the organisation to which Friends/Quakers belong.

Right ordering – done in the correct manner, in keeping with Quaker tradition and practice. A body of wisdom and insights that has evolved over three hundred years of seeking the guidance of the Spirit, it is captured in part by the Book of discipline, but only in part.

Sense of the Meeting – What the clerk is seeking to record when drafting a minute.

Swarthmore Lecture – a lecture given at the time of Britain Yearly Meeting by one or more Friends, it is an important platform for the continuing development of Quaker thought and theology.

Testimonies – The cumulative lived witness of generations of Friends. Aspects of our witness on which most Friends can actually agree! They include (in alphabetical order) equality, peace, simplicity and truth.

Testing a concern – a process of deliberation by a preparative or monthly meeting to examine whether a Friend’s concern has religious validity and should be promoted and supported by that meeting.

Truth – A synonym for Christ or the divine guide; the complex of Quaker ethical traditions; the Quaker gospel.

Universalist – A Quaker who believes that there is a universal truth that may be found in all faiths, as opposed to Christocentric.

Unprogrammed – describes a meeting for worship where all ministry and prayer is inspired by the Spirit rather than by a predetermined order of service. This is the practice in Britain. Compare with programmed.

Visitor – (a) If you apply for membership two people will be appointed by your local monthly meeting to help you and the monthly meeting decide if the commitment to membership is right for you. They will write a report to help your monthly meeting reach its decision. (b A Friend visiting from another PM. (c) Somebody new to meeting.

Weighty Friend – one who is influential (i.e. their opinion carries weight) within the Society (while remaining consistent with our testimony on equality, of course).

Woodbrooke – the Quaker study centre in Birmingham.

Worship – see meeting for worship.


QuakerSpeak by Alastair Heron looks at Quaker terms, titles, expressions, and abbreviations in more depth.