Quaker Terms

If you’re new to Quakers, some of our terminology might be unfamiliar to you.  Click on any of the terms below for an explainantion of what they mean. You can also ask someone at a local Quaker meeting if you’d like to know more about these terms or the ideas they describe.

Advices and Queries

A short collection of questions and suggestions which Quakers use to help them think, pray and reflect on their spiritual lives. It is also part of Quaker Faith and Practice. Read Advices & Queries online.

Area Meeting

A group of Local Meetings in a small area of the country, who share friendship, resources and decision making.  Also used to describe the body of Friends who are members and attenders of that area.  Most Area Meetings will have their own Clerk, and hold an Area Business Meeting about once a month, with representatives of the Local Meetings. Read more about Quaker structures.

Attender

Anyone who regularly goes to a Quaker meeting but hasn’t formally become a member of the Religious Society of Friends.

Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM)

All the Local and Area Meetings in England, Scotland and Wales, make up Britain Yearly Meeting.  Also used to refer to the whole body of Quakers in Britain.  Once a year there is a Yearly Business Meeting with representatives of the Area Meetings, to make decisions concerning Quakers nationally.  This is the highest decision making meeting. Read more about Quaker structures.

Business

Decisions that Quakers make together: from how to spend the meeting’s money and practical decsions about our buildings and resources; to recognising which issues we are called to act upon, and making sure that what we do reflects our spiritual understanding.

Business Meeting

A special type of Meeting for Worship used to make decisions: from how Quakers spend our money, to adopting a Concern.  Any Quaker can attend these meetings and take part in decision making.  The meeting will be chaired by a Clerk, who will introduce items of business to be discussed, and allow questions to be asked.  Members of the meeting sit silently in worship, reflecting on the matter in hand and try to Discern the way forward. Read more about Quaker structures.

Clerk

The Clerk is appointed to take a meeting through its business and to write the minutes. It is the role of the Clerk to put aside their own thoughts and opinions, and instead listen for the sense of the meeting.

Concern

An issue or idea that Quakers feel spiritually led to take action on: the leading could be for an individual to act, or for Quakers to take action collectively.  Quakers who feel they have an idea that might be a Concern will ask their meeting to help them test this.

Discern / Discernment

A process of deep spiritual reflection, where Quakers try to put aside our preconceptions and listen to where the spirit is leading us.  It’s difficult to explain in theory: discernment is something you have to learn by experience!  We each contribute individually to discernment: either silently, or by feeling called to stand and speak; but it is the collective feeling that helps us to reach a decision.

Elder

A Member of a Meeting appointed with ordering the spiritual life of the meeting and ensuring that ministry or business is conducted in the spirit of Quaker worship.

Friend

Another name for a Quaker.  The early Quakers called themselves ‘Friends in the Light’.

Friends House

The central offices of Britain Yearly Meeting, a large building opposite Euston Station in London.

Local Meeting

An individual Quaker Meeting, which holds regular Meetings for Worship: for most Quakers the local meeting is their worshipping community.  Also used to describe the body of Friends who are members and attenders of that meeting.  Most Local Meetings will have a Clerk, Elders and Overseers, and hold a Local Business Meeting once a month, ahead of their Area Business Meeting. Read more about Quaker structures.

Member

A person who has formally joined the Religious Society of Friends.  Friends become Members of their Area Meeting.

Meeting

Can be used as shorthand for Meeting for Worship or to refer to the Friends (including members and attenders) who go to a particular meeting.

Meeting for Worship

The bedrock of the Quaker way is the silent meeting for worship.  We seek a communal, gathered stillness, where we can be open to inspiration from the Spirit of God.  During our meetings for worship some may feel moved to speak: something anyone can do, as all are considered equal.  Meetings can be held anywhere, at any time, although they are often on Sundays in our Quaker meeting houses.

Meeting for Sufferings

The executive body of Britain Yearly Meeting. It is made up of representatives from each Area Meeting and meets regularly at Friends House. It is responsible for decision making and administration for BYM between yearly Meetings. Read more about Quaker structures.

Ministry

In worship some people may feel prompted to speak.  In the stillness someone may stand and share something that sits high on their heart, perhaps something they see with sudden clarity or that weighs heavily on them.  We call this ministry: both in our weekly meetings for worship, and our business meetings.

Overseer

A member of a meeting appointed to care for the general well being of all those within a Meeting, often on a practical level.

Peace Testimony

The most well known of the Quaker testimonies: the shared view that there is ‘that of God’ in everyone leads Quakers to witness against war and killing and to work positively to remove the causes of conflict and injustice.

Quaker

Informal name for a member of the Religious Society of Friends. It comes from a quote from a magistrate called Justice Bennett who ‘first called us Quaker’ in 1650 ‘because we bid them tremble at the word of God’. Originally intended to put down Quakers, it stuck, and we learned to like it.

Quaker Faith and Practice (QF&P)

A collection of Quaker thought and words as well as guidelines on how Quakers organise ourselves affairs. It is revised every generation to reflect continuing revelation and understanding of the Spirit. Read Quaker Faith & Practice online.

Quaker Life

A department of Friends House responsible for Outreach, work with Children and Young People, Eldership & Oversight and other work aimed at supporting the life of meetings.

Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW)

A Friends House department responsible for Quaker work in the areas of peace non- violence and promoting economic and social justice.

Testimonies

Our religious experience leads us to place a special value on truth, equality, simplicity and peace.  These testimonies, as they are known, are lived rather than written.  They lead Quakers to translate their faith into action by working locally and globally for social justice, to support peacemakers and care for the environment.

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