Glossary of Quaker Terms and Phrases
I know some Friends who disparage or bemoan our Quaker terms and phrases as quaint or as trying to have special language that keeps non-Quakers from understanding what we are saying. They argue that the modern way of observing the "plain speech" practice would be to not use specialized words and phrases, as they see them as causing outsiders to feel uncomfortable and not welcome. I could not disagree more. When first I began to read the writings of the early Quakers, I knew I was finally on the right path because they used these strange, unique words and turns of phrase that exactly
described my experience in a way no other words I knew could. It made it clear to me that the Truth I experience today is the same Truth they experienced 400 years ago. Abandon these words, abandon their import, and thee abandons Quakerism. "Christianity is not a notion, but a Way."
- Use of Friend versus Quaker
While functionally interchangeable, audience is probably the fundamental factor in choosing one or another of these terms to describe members of the Religious Society of Friends. Friend is invariably used when the audience to the reference are members/attenders of the Religious Society of Friends. I will say, "I am a Quaker" to a stranger on the street, but in meeting I would say "I am a convinced Friend." In the world, I would say, "As Quakers, we . . ." and within my faith community, I would say, "As Friends, we . . ." I have also heard from one source that Evangelical Friends favor "Friends" and leave "Quaker" to the liberal branch. Myself, I have seen the sign "Quaker Church" which would seem to contradict that.
- Use and implications of meeting versus church
Historically, Quakers did not call their places of worship "churches" and did not call their worship "church." Instead, they called their places of worship "meetinghouses" and called the worship held there "meeting" and also "meeting for worship." There is also "meeting for business." None of this was "church." Church was the people, not the building or the worship. They also called the "churches" (as in the buildings) of other Christian denominations "steeple-houses" to preserve their witness that the church is the people.
Evangelical Friends generally have a paid ministry, do not sit in silent waiting worship, but have a "program." They tend to call their places of worship "church." A name like "First Denver Friends Church" suggests an Evangelical Quaker worship while "Denver Monthly Meeting" would suggest either FGC or Conservative unprogrammed worship.
- Use and implications of programmed versus unprogrammed
Programmed refers to the practice of having a prepared plan for the worship service, or program, usually including songs sung from hymnbooks and a prepared sermon delivered by a minister, usually paid. There is generally a great deal of standing up and sitting down. These churches tend to strongly resemble traditional Protestant churches.
Unprogrammed refers to the practice of gathering together in silence, each able to stand and speak as they feel led, with worship ending when a designated Friend shakes hands with a neighbor. There is no paid ministry. Committees and meetings for business are used to handle all meeting affairs. In both meetings, anyone make speak, and silence is expected to be observed before someone else rises to speak. Argumentation or speaking directly to what a previously speaking Friend shared is considered improper, even in a meeting for business. This structure grew out of Friends' conviction that they needed to wait for the Spirit to move them to speak, and to help them keep to their Inner Guide (Christ), so that all Friends could know God's will in the matter, which would be most clearly shown by all Friends being in unity on a decision.
I have heard of "semi-programmed" existing in the world of Quakerism, but haven't experienced one and can't speak to it.
- "an Elder" versus "to elder" (some problems with the use of the verb)
An Elder is someone who is recognized by his or her meeting that they have a particular gift for eldering public Friends, such as recorded ministers and those traveling in the ministry.
To elder is to offer a minister advice, positive or negative, that a Friend feels must be shared. It is considered a form of ministry among those yearly meetings that still name elders. Rightly engaged in, prayerfully and in obedience to God's will in the matter rather than looking to one's own will, it is a powerful assistance to recorded ministers and those growing in vocal ministry. "Most groups of Friends scaled back the duties of Elders in the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century because of a reticence that anyone else should 'judge' the leadings of a minister." (A Plea for Strong Eldership, Seth Hinshaw, The Conservative Friend, No. 40, p. 6.)
Liberal Friends, existing in meetings that have no named elders, invariably and troublingly use the phrase as a verb when they feel they need to correct someone or someone's behavior. "I eldered John that he needed to pee in the restroom, not out the cabin door." (This is a verbatim quote of its use by a liberal Friend.) Among Conservative Friends, "elder" is a clearly named ministry, just as "overseer" and "recorded minister" are, as it has been for several generations in the Society, though not in the beginning. ". . . Friends were not being specifically named to either office [minister or elder] until the early 18th century." (A Plea for Strong Eldership, Seth Hinshaw, The Conservative Friend, No. 40, p. 6.) I have heard it usefully phrased that, elders are named, overseers are appointed, and ministers are recorded. (for more on elders, overseers and ministers--see below)
- convinced versus birthright
A convinced Friend is someone who experienced a convincement (either quickly or evolving over time) and chose in adulthood to join a Friends Meeting.
A birthright Friend is someone whose parents were already members of a meeting when they were born, and the infant was named a member of that meeting at birth. I know of one Friend who described himself as a Convinced Birthright Friend. The naming of birthright Quakers ranges from the norm to controversial through discouraged to not allowed in various yearly meetings.
- "thee was favored"
The preferred phrase for one Friend to offer another when their ministry has seemed particularly powerful and Spirit-filled.
- "proper Quaker order" or "Gospel order"
When things are accomplished using the traditional unprogrammed committee structure and things are allowed to develop into unity as led by the Spirit. Doing something outside of Quaker order is considered questionable and not correct. This traditionally includes the Matthew 18:15-17 description on how to handle conflict.
- "sense of the meeting"
Clerks of committees and meetings are tasked with discerning the "sense of the meeting" that develops over the course of a meeting for business. Just as in a meeting for worship, Friends are expected to speak only when they feel they are led by God to do so and a period of silence is to be observed between Friends rising to speak.
- "to bear a burden"
I have personally experienced what this phrase tries to describe. When there is something I am Supposed to be Doing and I either don't (yet) know what it is or if I am (as is usually the case) avoiding Doing what I am Supposed to be Doing, I feel a burden. There is no other way to describe it. As I am bearing the burden, I often find that I am being "made tender" (see below). That the pain, distress that bearing the burden causes results in my being made more open to acting as God wishes and more capable of setting aside what the world is calling me to. I have also experienced this where I have had a strong opinion about something, and wanted to "stand in the way" of some proceeding, I will suddenly find that I am bearing the burden of preventing things going forward and that my opinion is not what is important in this situation. I can then choose to stand aside (see below) and allow things to proceed. Since decisions within the Society must be made in unity, bearing these burdens and standing aside when it is what is called for become active experiences of God guiding us all to unity.
- "stand aside"
Among Friends, this phrase is used during meeting for business when the speaker does not agree with the decision being made by the meeting, but does not sense that they should stand in the way of the decision moving forward. The speaker is saying, in essence, I don't know that I agree that this decision is God's will, but I can't say that God is opposed.
- "speak to [someone's] condition"
From George Fox's Journal "As I had forsaken the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those esteemed the most experienced people, for I saw that there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. When all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could I tell what to do; then, O! then I heard a voice which said, 'there is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition'; and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give him all the glory.
"After telling of an inward manifestation of the powers of evil 'in the hearts and minds of wicked men,' he goes on:
I cried unto the Lord, saying, 'Why should I be thus, seeing I was never addicted to commit these evils?' and the Lord answered, 'That it was needful I should have a sense of all conditions, how else should I speak to all conditions?' and in this I saw the infinite love of God. I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. In that also I saw the infinite love of God, and I had great openings...."
This entry from George Fox's Journal is the most powerful reference to the sense of the world "condition" as Friends use it. Too often, it seems to me, Friends use it as a special way of describing their spiritual state in an extremely general and almost trivial way. "That lecture did not speak to my condition." I feel it would be more accurate for Friends to understand this phrase as having a deeper meaning and that it be used with a deeper understanding. It seems apparent to me that Friends' foundation for this phrase is from the Bible:
"The light, which light is the life in Christ,
will also show you your condition, what is in your heart;
loving it, the light will change you and purify you,
as you repent, carrying your cross.
Believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light." John 12:36
This is not a light-hearted "where I feel I am at" phrase. This is a deeper look at the self, shown in the Light of Christ, shown in Truth. Our condition is, in fact, our salvation and we can lose it if we do not keep to our Guide and our Measure of the Truth.
- "To hold [someone] in the Light" (some problems with this phrase)
I have always been uncomfortable with the use of this phrase, which one hears primarily among liberal Friends. Robert Griswold has articulated in a way I never have been able to some of the problems with this phrase. From his essay, Reflection on the Inner Light at Work: I must confess to a level of discomfort every time I hear Friends ask that someone be 'held in the Light.' I appreciate our having a convention that directs us toward a care for others, but I have trouble reducing the Light to a convention. To me this approach seems to change the relationship between me and the Light. My experience is that the Light is a reality that uses me, calling me to account and making clear my path when I have been led astray by reliance on my own notions. Hence, I can understand that if I have knowledge of someone in distress the Light may point me toward an action that might relieve their distress. But I have no power to place them in the Light or hold them there. The Light for me is not something I can do and certainly there is nothing I can make the Light do. It is not something that I have in my possession and thus I cannot give it away."
- "that of God in you"
On various occasions, George Fox used the expression, "That of God in you" (Journal, Friends Book Store Edition, pp. 250, 264, 299, 304, 306). It is very plain that by this phrase, he meant nothing else than the Light of Christ, for on pages 304 and 306, he uses the two expressions interchangeably: "To the Light of Christ in your consciences, which searcheth and trieth you, turn your minds; stand still and wait there to receive the righteous law, which is according to that of God in the conscience." ". . . them that are out of the obedience to the Light of Christ Jesus in the conscience, which is the Guide and Leader of all who are tender of that of God in their conscience." From Kenneth Morse's The Fundamental Principle of the People Called Quakers--and Some of its Consequences.
Some Quakers use this phrase in such a way as to imply that we should be looking to the Good that is in everyone, or to otherwise find compassion for someone that is a difficulty for thee. That was not how Fox or the early Friends used the phrase. When "answering to that of God in all persons" we are calling them to mind the Seed of Christ within that will show them their path to the Truth and the Way. Often, this is to show them how they are outside of the Truth and in error and to try to help bring them to the Truth, to Christ.
- "under the care of the meeting"
When couples wish to be married under the care of the meeting, the meeting appoints a Clearness Committee to ascertain that both are free to marry, that any difficulties or objections others might have are worked through, and to advise the meeting that the marriage can proceed with no known impediments. Once the Clearness Committee reports to the meeting for business that there are no impediments, couples can then be married under the care of the meeting.
- "under the weight of a concern"
My experience is that first I will have an opening (see below), where some Truth is revealed to me. Then the waiting and listening time of seasoning (see below) begins. Eventually, the opening will become a concern (see below) that is more specific. I will move from knowing a piece of the Truth to seeing how it is lived out in this world and in my life. I develop a concern for something I have experienced or know others experience. This often results in a specific leading (see below). It gets particularly interesting if a Friend is under the weight of a concern but their meeting cannot unite with the Friend and allow the concern to move forward, then it becomes the meeting's responsibility to bear the burden.
"Indeed, as the Concern was weighty, so I was not forward, lest I should be found to Run before I was sent; therefore I waited patiently to be fully satisfied in the Matter, not only a Day, or a Week, but many Months; and then as my Concern grew heavier upon me, I gave up, begging the Lord to be with me, and to give me a full Mission for so weighty a Concern. Alice Hayes, A Legacy or The Widow's Mite.
- "disorderly walker"
Phrase used for members of the meeting who were deemed to be acting contrary to the Truth and the Way, particularly as evidenced by a Friend not observing the Rules of Discipline of their Yearly Meeting. Concerned Friends would labor (see below) with such a Friend (see "proper Quaker order" above) and try to help them see the error of their ways.
- "consistent Friend"
Phrase used for members of the meeting who were deemed to be acting within the Truth and the Way. In many cases, the phrase "consistent Friend" was used to designate those Friends who were being particularly obedient to the outward testimonies. "Plainness of dress and speech became the hallmarks of a "consistent" Friend."
- "at the rise of meeting"
This phrase describes the end of worship in a silent, >unprogrammed (see above), usually signalled by a designated Friend shaking hands with a person next to him or her.
- "gathered meeting"
This phrase is used to describe silent meetings that feel unusually deep and spirit-filled, that God has gathered the meeting together in one Spirit through the shared experience of Christ in the midst of us all. Some people seem to use this phrase if the meeting was entirely silent without any ministry, but that is not its original meaning or intent.
- "to lay down"
To set aside or cease. May be used to "lay down" or close a monthly meeting (see below), to "lay down" a committee that has fulfilled its purposes and no longer needs to meet, or to "lay down" the membership of someone who wishes to no longer be in fellowship with a meeting.
- "running ahead of one's Guide" or "to outrun one's Guide"
Used to describe actions or words that while the instigator started within the Truth, what Christ was showing that person to do or to say, they then go beyond that guidance. John Woolman mentions the experience in his "One day, being under a strong exercise of spirit, I stood up and said some words in a meeting; but not keeping close to the divine opening, I said more than was required of me.". Another recent example was the blogger Chronicler's use of it in his preparatory comments before a long series on the ministry among unprogrammed Friends, see: "I ask for forbearance from all if I outrun the Guide."
- "lagging behind one's Guide"
In this case, a Believer is being guided to some action or vocal ministry, but they are uncomfortable doing it or unwilling and so suffer somewhat for their recalcitrance. Jonah is a Biblical example.
- "to be made tender"
An action of God that opens us up to his Truth, his Way, his Path for us in this world.
- "way will open"
When a certain action is felt to be necessary, but no clear path to accomplishing the task is yet known. See seasoning below.
- "speak truth to power" (history)
From Larry Ingle's article "Living the Truth, Speaking to Power" as published in Chuck Fager's The Best of Friends, Vol. 1, Kimo Press, 1998: "The phrase 'speaking truth to power' goes back to 1955, when the American Friends Service Committee published Speak Truth to Power, a pamphlet that proposed a new approach to the Cold War. Its title, which came to Friend Milton Mayer toward the end of the week in summer 1954 when the composing committee finished work on the document, has become almost a cliche; it has become common far beyond Quaker circles, often used by people who have no idea of its origins.
"To speak truth to power sounds so much like an integral part of Quakerism that some modem Friends have simply assumed the phrase goes back to the seventeenth century rather than arriving late in the middle of ours. It reflects what many contemporary Friends would like to believe is the characteristic Quaker stance toward political authority, hallowed in practice if not the exact words. Yet in its origins it was a political statement, entitling an explicitly political document."
- "Let your life speak" versus "Let your lives preach"
There is an error propagating among Friends about the statement "Let your life speak." There seems to be near-universal acceptance that this was a phrase used by Early Quakers. Annoyingly, Parker Palmer entitled a book "Let Your Life Speak," where he describes the phrase as "the old Quaker saying" (p. 2). I have never found a reference to any Early Friend actually saying either "Let thy life speak" (as they would have said it in the singular) or "Let your lives speak." Martin Kelley (Quaker Ranter) tried to track it down back in 2005 to no avail. The phrase was most likely derived from "Let your lives preach." Not only is that the historically accurate phrase, if one wants to be referencing what Early Quakers actually said, but "preach" is also much more powerful.
Two examples from George Fox, one from his Epistle 200 "So let your lives preach, let your light shine, that your works may be seen, that your Father may be glorified; that your fruits may be unto holiness, and that your end may be everlasting life." And also in his Journal: "This is the word of the Lord God to you all, a charge to you all in the presence of the living God; be patterns, be examples, in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people . . ."
A Truth that God opens up for someone. For instance, John Woolman's opening that slavery was not part of God's Divine Will, or George Fox's opening that "There is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition."
A word used to describe a period of waiting, where action is not taken because "way" has not yet "opened" or some other "stop" is felt. "Seasoning" is a good way of testing a leading (see below) to be sure it is in God's will, not our own will.
When someone witnesses to the Truth, either through word, action, or other public demonstration that is required by God.
When one Friend prays, sits in silence, speaks with or otherwise expresses concern for a Friend's condition. Friends will "labor with" another Friend to try to help them with behaviors that are seen as preventing them from being in unity with others in the yearly meeting or causing them to be outside of the Truth and the Way. This can include private and public behavior that is made known to Friends.
Often used to describe a public action called for by God to show the world the error of its ways. Quakers would "witness" to the Truth.
After having borne a burden and being under the weight of a concern and having properly testified, the Friend will feel that it is now time to cease, that they have fulfilled God's wishes for the moment. On his deathbed, George Fox said something about at last "being clear."
- Clearness Committee
Friends form Clearness Committees for a number of reasons, including membership considerations, marriage under the care of the meeting, and difficult discernments. In some yearly meetings, clearness committees oversee ministers, particularly in those yearly meetings that no longer name elders.
In Friends' experience in general, a concern is not a troubled state, but rather "It is an urgent interest, implicitly God-given, or, as a verb, to have such an interest. One might say, 'I am concerned to visit Friends west of the Mississippi. If the meeting unites with this, I hope there will be someone who can accompany me.' Or 'He had a lifelong concern for the education of our young people.'" (from private correspondence, Susan S. Smith, Rockingham Monthly Meeting, Ohio Yearly Meeting)
- Concerned Friend
One who recognizes that personal faithfulness to the Lord's directions contributes to the health of the Society of Friends as a whole.
Quaker term for what is more widely called in Christianity a "conversion experience." From Lancaster PA Quakers: "Early Friends spoke of their coming to Quakerism as being 'convinced of Truth'. This is not so much an intellectual assent to some doctrine, but a deep conviction, based in experience, that God is present in our lives, and moves us to certain actions and to a way of life congruent with God's purposes."
A sense that there is a specific course of action that the person with the "leading" must take per God's Divine Will.
- Minister, Elder, Overseer
From the Minutes of Rockingham MM, Ohio YM, 11-1987: "We recognize that there are not sharp distinctions to be made among the three offices (minister, elder, overseer), but that their differences are those of emphasis. To summarize the three offices as we have considered them: ministers are called to express, especially vocally, the message of God; elders encourage the indwelling of the Lord's Spirit; and overseers help put the Lord's message to work in our outward lives. A blending of the three is necessary for the good functioning of the meeting in our Lord's business." I have heard it usefully phrased that, elders are named, overseers are appointed, and ministers are recorded. For more on overseers, see Overseer in the Usage of Friends by Lloyd Lee Wilson. For more on eldering, see The Giftedness of Elders by Marshall Massey. For more on ministers, see Chronicler's Four-Part The Landscape of Ministry.
Friends speak of Christianity not being a "notion" but "a Way." Notion is a negative term for something considered worldy and human-made, not part of God's plan, a creation of the mind that the mind engages with and gives importance, but which has no part in God's plan. It is essentially an empty action or plan that will not be blessed by God to succeed because for all that we might think it is a good idea, it is not what he wants us to do. Notions must be set aside to ensure that God's will is done.
- an opportunity
When one Friend would seek to share silent worship with another Friend in their home, particularly traveling ministers. Opportunities are still practiced among Conservative Friends.
Someone who "professes" something he or she does not "possess." George Fox used this a great deal to describe people who claimed to be Christian, professed Christianity, but did not act like Christians.
- a stop
Rather than a leading to *do* something, a stop is the sense that a Friend should not do something. "I feel a stop in my heart."
A testimony is any act that a Friend feels impelled to do to testify to the Truth and the Way. Originally, testimony meant vocal and other public witness offered by Friends. Now more associated in liberal Branches with "The Testimonies" often delineated as the "SPICE testimonies" (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality) of which I speak at great length elsewhere.
As used by Alice Hayes in her The Legacy circa 1700: "After some Time of Silence, a Woman stood up, and spoke, whose Testimony affected my Heart, and tendered my Spirit, so that I could not refrain from Weeping . . ." It was originally described in terms of "branches," as in Tottenham Meeting's Testimony to the Life of Alice Hayes: "And we had True Unity with her, both with Respect to her innocent, exemplary Life and Conversation, and also her Gift in the Ministry, in which she was made very serviceable to us here-away, for the Encouragement of Friends to Faithfulness, in every Branch of their Testimony."
- the Truth
The Truth is God, Christ and the Holy Spirit, and also the action of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit in the world. Quakers originally called themselves "Friends of Truth."
When coming to a decision, unprogrammed Friends must be in unity. This is not consensus, no vote is taken, and a single dissenter means the "motion" cannot be approved. Clerks of meetings and committees are designated to "discern" the sense of the meeting. A Friend can stand aside to allow the motion to move forward, even if they do not personally agree and wish to have that recorded in the minutes.
Organizational Terms, from the Conservative Perspective
- to describe a Friend
- seasoned Friend
A Friend with much experience within the RSoF.
- weighty Friend
A Friend considered to have a deep spiritual life whose insight into events is highly valued and deemed "weightier" in relation to Friends who are younger in the Truth and the Way.
- ancient Friend, also ancient worthies
Terms used to describe the first generation of Friends.
- See also: Organization of the Society of Friends by Bill Samuel and Quakers in Ireland: Structure
Each committee, preparative, monthly, quarterly and yearly meetings will have a clerk. A clerk is not someone who is in any way in charge, rather it is their job to discern the "sense of the meeting" (see above).
Each level of meeting will form committees to accomplish the work of the meeting. Some will be standing committees, others will be ad hoc committees formed for a single purpose and then "laid down" (see above).
- worship group
A worship group is usually a small group of worshippers meeting informally. They may or may not be under the care of a monthly meeting.
- meeting for worship
Meeting for worship is what unprogrammed Friends call their religious gatherings. For Conservative Friends, meetings for worship are considered to be held under the headship of Christ, who anoints his ministers as he sees needful and necessary, therefore, among Conservative Friends, anyone can stand and speak in meeting for worship and be considered to be speaking the Truth on behalf of Christ. No one should speak unless specifically directed by God to do so, so it is possible to have meetings where no one speaks.
- meeting for business
The meeting for business is considered among Conservative Friends to be a "session" of worship that is designed to allow Friends to discern God's will for the matter at hand. It is not just business, and so, among Conservative Friends, photographs and recordings are not welcome during its proceedings, as they are not welcome during meetings for worship. For a thorough discussion, see Friends Business Meeting, as Conservative Friends Experience It
- preparative meeting
Preparative meetings are smaller meetings that join in the meetings for business of a larger monthly meeting. They are "designed" to grow into monthly meetings (in the US).
- monthly meeting
Monthly meeting is what a standard congregation of the Religious Society of Friends will call itself. It designates how often they meet for business, not how often they meet for worship.
- quarterly meeting
Quarterly meetings are made up of a number of monthly meetings and meet quarterly.
- yearly meeting
A yearly meeting is the yearly meeting for business of all of the quarterly meetings under its care. In Conservative Yearly Meetings, the Yearly Meeting has authority over the Quarterly Meetings, and the Quarterly Meetings have authority over the Monthly Meetings. That is not necessarily true of liberal yearly meetings.
Some Other Online Quaker Glossaries
- RSoF: Religious Society of Friends
- AFSC: American Friends Service Committee
- EFI: Evangelical Friends International
- FUM: Friends United Meeting
- FGC: Friends General Conference
- FCNL: Friends Committee on National Legislation
- YM: Yearly Meeting
OYM, NEYM, PYM, BYM [Ohio Yearly Meeting, New England Yearly Meeting, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Britain Yearly Meeting]
- MM: Monthly Meeting