Westerly Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends
57 Elm Street, Westerly, RI 02891-2136
(401) 474-9635

Quaker Words and Phrases

Because Friends worship, decision making, testimonies and witness are quite distinctive, and because integrity is one of our prime testimonies, Quakers tend to be precise in their use of language. However, this distinctiveness is such that sometimes only other Quakers know what we are speaking of. We hope this glossary will help make Quaker words and phrases plain and clear to all.

Advices: Ideals stated as a continuing reminder of the basic faith and principles essential to the life and witness of Friends. Advices were put into print as early as 1702. Friends have found it useful to remind regularly one another of their nature through periodic reading and discussion along with related queries.

Affirm: A legal declaration made by Friends or others who conscientiously decline to take an oath. Since Quakers try to be truthful at all times, it is considered unnecessary to swear to tell the truth, thereby giving the impression of a double standard of truth. Friends in the 17th century were often imprisoned for refusing to swear an oath in court.

Allowed or Indulged Meeting: A worship group of Friends under the care of an organized body of Friends, usually at quarterly or monthly meeting level, but less formally organized than a preparative meeting. This term has been applied to Friends from various monthly meetings who gather at a common vacation site during the summer, or to the occasional use of an historic Friends meetinghouse.

As Way Opens: A process of waiting for guidance, to eschew hasty judgment or action, to wait for further circumstances to help solve the problem. The spiritual guidance that may come is referred to as a “leading”. Leadings may come in a time of seeking or entirely unexpectedly, bringing suggestions for previously unforeseen action.

Attender: One who attends and participates in the meeting activities but has not become a member.

Birthright Friend: Friend born of Quaker parents, recorded at birth on the membership rolls of a meeting. No longer a practice in NEYM.

Book of Discipline: A book describing a yearly meeting’s history, structures, and procedures, including advices, queries, and often quotations, or extracts, from the experience of Friends. Faith and Practice is a Book of Discipline. The word discipline comes from the root word disciple.

Breaking Meeting: Term used for closing Meeting for Worship when a designated Friend shakes hands with the persons next to him or her.

Called Session: A meeting of the monthly, quarterly, or yearly meeting specially called by its clerk to address some concern or item of business. In a called meeting for business, decisions are recorded as in a regular meeting for business.

Center Down (Centering): This refers to the practice of Friends in trying to eliminate all secular thoughts and feelings from their minds in meetings for worship so God can speak to them directly. We endeavor to reach down to a deeper area in the mind than that of conscious thought.

Clearness: Confidence that an action is consistent with the divine will.

Clearness Committee: A small group of people appointed to assist a person or the meeting to clarify thinking about a decision or concern.

Clerk: The Friend who conducts all business meetings and carries out the instructions of the meeting on all matters pertaining to the accomplishments of its business. As a verb: to preside or record minutes.

Closing Meeting: The closing of the meeting for worship when a designated Friends shakes hands with the persons next to her or him. Following this, all shake hands with their neighbors.

Concern: A concern, whether of an individual or a meeting, implies a deep interest in some spiritual or social matter, an interest so deep and so vigorous that it often moves to action.

Conscientious Objection: A principled refusal to participate in certain social or political practices; commonly applied to the refusal to undertake military service or pay war taxes.

Conservative Friends: Three unaffiliated yearly meetings—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 more explicitly Christ-centered than most meetings in Friends General Conference.

Continuing Revelation: A central Quaker belief that the revelation of God’s will is an ongoing process.

Convener: Member of a committee, usually the first-named, whom the meeting asks to call together the first meeting of that committee.

Covered Meeting: A meeting for worship or business in which the participants feel the power and inspiration of God so strongly that they are united in silence that is often a reward of “waiting upon the Lord.” Also called a gathered meeting.

Convinced Friend: One who has studied the background and beliefs of Quakers and who has been led to become a member of the Religious Society of Friends.

Discernment: Wisdom to see clearly, to differentiate the truth or a true leading from other impressions.

Discipline: 1. A term related to discipleship, following a particular path. 2. The books of Faith and Practice of the Religious Society of Friends. Each yearly meeting may draw together its own book of discipline, so Friends may refer to Britain Yearly Meeting’s discipline, for example, or that of other yearly meetings.

Disownment: The practice of dismissing an individual from membership in the Society of Friends. A person could be put out of a meeting (or “read out”) by monthly meeting by violating prohibitions or practices regarding worldly dress, amusements, marrying a non-Quaker. There were 13 prohibitions in Faith and Practice over 100 years ago. A decision could be reversed if the person repented and asked to be reinstated.

Elders: Discerning Friends chosen to offer guidance and counsel to individuals and the meeting as a whole. This was essentially a nurturing role given to Friends “well-grown in the truth”. Often elders were paired with recorded ministers, Friends whose capacity for spoken ministry was publicly recognized. In such cases, the elders provided an important form of feedback.

Eldering: Originally viewed as a form of tender evaluation and questioning by the elders. Overtime, however, the term took on a negative connotation. Sometimes during the eldering process, a lack of open tenderness was felt, and an oppressive quality became associated with eldering, Today, the Ministry and Counsel Committee will gently elder or guide a Friend if they feel it is appropriate.

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.

Evangelical Friends International, North American Region (EFI NAR): Six yearly meetings in the United States constitute this group. Through their deep concern for mission, they have parented groups of Friends in Latin America, Africa, and India; many have now become independent yearly meetings. Their worship is programmed and their theology is evangelical, with a strong scriptural base. Like other Friends, they hold testimonies of peace, simplicity, and equality.

Exercise: The exploration of a deep concern that has been brought to a meeting. The meeting may record this exploration as a “minute of exercise.”

Experiential Religion: A religion in which personal spiritual experience is the foundation for belief and practice. The word experimental was used by early Friends with this meaning.

Facing Benches: In older Friends meetinghouses, rising tiers of benches facing the meeting, traditionally occupied by recognized ministers and elders. Metaphorically, the group of leaders occupying those benches.

Faith and Practice: A book that sets out the beliefs or a group of Friends (usually a yearly meeting) and its ways of doing business. It is sometimes called “The Book of Discipline”.

First Day: Sunday. Biblical practice before Babylonian Captivity was to number the months, not name them. The Society of Friends has followed this practice for days and months rather than using names that come from non-Christian sources. Although in recent years the practice is declining in common usage, it is generally followed in official documents. (See Plain Speech)

Friends: Members of the Religious Society of Friends; also called Quakers. The term Friends comes from the Gospel of John in the New Testament. The expression “Friends of the Truth” was used in England as early as 1652.

Friends General Conference (FGC): An association of yearly meetings and other bodies of Friends in North America. Its purpose is to nurture their members by developing and providing resources and opportunities for spiritual growth. Those meetings belonging to FGC tend to be liberal in theology and to have an unprogrammed form of worship.

Friends United Meeting (FUM): A confederation of yearly meetings whose pattern of worship is largely programmed and led by pastors. While FUM Friends make a corporate faith commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ, their social testimonies are similar to FGC. FUM has member Meetings in Cuba, Jamaica, and East Africa, as well as North America. Some of its Meetings also belong to FGC.

Gathered Meeting: Phrase used to describe those special occasions when the Friends Meeting attains a more than usual sense of the Divine Presence, which touches the heart of all worshippers and unites them in a common experience of holy fellowship. (See “The Gathering Meeting” in A Testament of Devotion by Thomas R. Kelly.)

Good Order: Those procedures for the conduct of Friends business and witness that encourage a meeting to carry out its corporate activities under divine leading. The term rightly ordered is also used in this sense.

Gospel Order: A term used by George Fox and others to describe the new covenant order of the church under the headship of Christ. It concerns how we live faithfully in relationship with God and with each other. This term is coming into renewed use among Friends.

Hat Honor: The Englishman’s custom of tipping the hat to recognize the higher position of another, expected by the rich and the court. Violations of that custom in the 1600’s by Quakers who believed that all were equal in the sight of God led to their imprisonment in England.

Hold in the Light: To contemplate someone’s well-being in a spiritual way, to wish a distressed person well, to pray for.

Inner Light: This refers to the presence of God in our hearts and lives, a reality which guides and directs us, which gives us strength to act on this guidance and which brings us into unity with the spirit of God. This presence of God is different from conscience, which is developed awareness of the merits or faults of our conduct, intentions or character. The Inner Light is also called the “Inward Light”, the “Light Within”, the “Christ Within”, the “Light of Christ”, or the “Holy Spirit”.

Integrity: One of the basic practical principles or testimonies of Friends. It involves both a wholeness and harmony of the various aspects of one’s life, and truthfulness in whatever one says and does. Friends commonly link this principle with the testimony of simplicity.

Labor With: Struggle with a concern or problem and work through to a solution, perhaps over a period of months. Laboring may be an individual or a group process.

Lay Down: Terminate a committee when its work is completed or no longer felt necessary. A monthly meeting may be laid down when it is no longer functioning as such.

Laying Over: To postpone the discussion of an issue or the presentation of a report from one meeting for business to another.

Leadings: Direction or guidance coming from the Spirit of God for right ways of living; a Friend may submit a leading to the meeting for testing corporate wisdom. A corporate leading is divine guidance received by a group of worshippers.

Lift Up: To emphasize or make explicit a particular point or concern.

Meeting for Business: A regularly appointed time when business concerns of Friends are addressed under the leading of the Spirit. A called meeting is a specially scheduled Meeting for Business.

Meeting for Worship: The gathering of Friends to worship under the leading of the Spirit. (See “Programmed Meeting” and “Unprogrammed Meeting”)

Mind the Light: An admonition to attend to the Light Within for guidance in one’s life. It means both active obedience to divine leadings and careful nurturing of one’s openness to the Light.

Ministry: Sharing or acting upon one’s gifts, whether in service to individuals, to the meeting, or to the larger community. [See also Vocal Ministry]

Minute: Record of actions taken in Meeting for Business

Minute of Exercise: An expression of a clerk’s insights and concerns at the close of a meeting for business. Historically, a closing summary of vocal ministry and spiritual concerns expressed during yearly meeting sessions.

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 worship and business.

Moved to Speak: An experience, in the quietness of the meeting, of feeling led by God to speak.

Opening: A term often used by early Friends to designate a spiritual opportunity or leading.

Passing Meeting: Acceptance by a monthly meeting of a written request, usually for membership or for marriage under its care.

Peace Testimony: Witness against war and in favor of peacemaking. Because all life is sacred to Friends, they reject all wars. This testimony was first clearly enunciated in 1661.

Plain Speech/Plain Dress: The witness of early Friends to the testimonies of equality and integrity by dressing and speaking simply. Refers to the use of “thee, thy, thou and thine” by Friends. People spoken to by given names and no titles. Because the months were named for Greek, Roman and Norse gods, goddesses and emperors, some Friends prefer to use “First Day”, “Second Day”, and “First Month”, etc. These served into the 20th century as outward symbols and reminders of our distinctive beliefs.

Preparative Meeting: An organized group of members of an established monthly meeting which ordinarily gathers for worship at another place.

Proceed As Way Opens: To undertake a service or course of action without prior clarity about all the details but with confidence that divine guidance will make these apparent and assure an appropriate outcome.

Programmed Meeting: Meeting for worship usually conducted by a pastor with prearranged program, including music, an offering, a sermon. Some programmed meetings provide periods of silence and reflection.

Quakers: Unofficial name of the Religious Society of Friends, who were said to quake before God’s word, originally a derogatory term.

Quarterly Meeting: A regional gathering of members of constituent monthly meetings, traditionally on four occasions each year. Some quarterly meetings also oversee the operations of institutions.

Queries: Questions for spiritual guidance to be asked and answered by both individuals and meetings. A listing of queries is in each yearly meeting’s Faith and Practice. New queries may also develop as new concerns arise.

Recorder: The person appointed by a Meeting to maintain statistics of the members and attenders of that Meeting.

Recording Clerk: The person appointed to take minutes at regular and called meetings for business of a Meeting or other Friends body.

Released Friend: A Friend whose leading to carry out a particular course of action has met with approval from a Meeting which then promises to provide such support as would enable the Friend to follow that leading.

Seasoning: A process to ensure that decisions truly are grounded in God’s will or in the Light usually by giving extra time to consider what best represents God’s will.

Sense of the Meeting: When the Meeting for Business under the guidance of the Holy Spirit comes to be of one mind, one spirit, on the item of business before it, the clerk will state “the sense of the meeting”, the unified (not necessarily unanimous) decision of the meeting. When there is division or lack of unity, an action may be postponed until a later time. Occasionally, a member or members who are in disagreement will “step aside” so that the matter may be carried forward.

Simplicity: One of the traditional Quaker testimonies that is closely associated with integrity, equality, and stewardship. Essentially, to limit the material circumstances of one’s life in a way that allows/enables one to follow divine leadings.

Sojourning Friend: A member of a monthly meeting who may temporarily reside at some distance from that Meeting, but close to another monthly meeting, and upon formal request is accepted by the latter as an active member without financial obligations.

Speaks to One’s Condition: Said of a word or action particularly appropriate to one’s needs, which touches one at the deepest level and helps to clarify a situation or make a right decision. Phrase originated with George Fox.

Speak Truth to Power: Take a stand for what is right before, for example, government officials and legislative bodies.

Standing Aside: Sometimes at a Business Meeting, a Friend will not be able to unite with the rest of the group, and yet does not feel he or she must try to stop the meeting from taking action. By standing aside, such Friends allow the recording of a minute with which they cannot unite.

Standing in the Light: A state of being guided by the Inner Light.

State of the Society: A statement of condition from the Monthly Meetings, Quarterly Meetings and the Yearly Meeting.

Stewardship: For Friends, stewardship is an element of integrity. Good stewardship directs Friends’ investment of time and money in sustainable and renewable resources and in work that supports Quaker values and beliefs.

Stop/Stop in the Mind: A clear uneasiness in the face of a proposed decision or action, and an unwillingness to follow it.

Testimonies: Public statements or witnesses, based on spiritual experience, which give direction to our lives. Traditionally, Quaker testimonies include simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality and stewardship (or service).

Threshing/Threshing Session: A gathering of Friends to consider in depth a controversial issue but in a way that is free from the necessity of reaching a decision. Seeking for truth as a group, especially in sorting out complex matters. It involves a deep listening with respect for that of God in everyone. Friends believe that truth is frequently found when a community seeks together in openness, love and respect.

Travel Minute: The endorsement a meeting gives to one of its members who is travelling under the weight of a concern.

Truth: The revealed will of God, as experienced in communion with the Inner Light or Inward Christ. Early Quakers called themselves the Religious Society of Friends of the Truth.

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 all be said to be under the care of a monthly meeting.

Under the Weight of: Giving high priority to an issue arising from a deep feeling of concern. Said of an individual or Meeting that is struggling to reach an appropriate decision about such an item of business.

Unity: Recognition of the truth emerging from a group’s corporate search and yielding to the Holy Spirit and showing an ability to evaluate the truth of a situation.

Unprogrammed Meeting (Silent Meeting): Meeting for worship with no previously arranged order. The gathered Friends sit in silence, waiting upon God and the leading of the Spirit, which might give rise to vocal messages to share with the Meeting. Meetings for worship spent in complete silence can also be occasions of great inspiration.

Vocal Ministry: The sharing of a message or prayer during a meeting for worship.

Wait Upon the Lord: To actively seek and attend to God’s will in expectant, quiet worship.

Weighty Friend: Friends recognized for speaking in a manner which reflects the leading of the Spirit and showing an ability to evaluate the truth of a situation.

Witness: Used as a noun or verb; one who testifies to or shows evidence of religious beliefs and convictions.

Worldly: Having to do with secular values.

Worship Group: A group of worshipers who meet regularly, but who may or may not have established a formal affiliation with an established meeting.

Worship Sharing: An informal middle ground between the messages given in meeting for worship and a friendly conversation. It is a Quakerly attempt to provide a way for everyone who might wish to do so and to discourage argumentative cross-talk. Like messages in meeting for worship, comments made in worship sharing should be based on one’s personal experiences of the heart and soul rather than on other’s theories or statements.

Yearly Meeting: Those Friends from a geographically extended area who 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.

Our thanks to New Haven (CT) Monthly Meeting, Philadelphia Monthly Meeting and New York Yearly Meeting for allowing us to use their lists of Quaker words and phrases.

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