The Quaker Jargon Buster

This guide is intended to help people who are new to Quakers to navigate the minefield of Quaker language.

Advices and queries - a slim volume of suggestions to help Quakers to evolve spiritually. It forms part of Quaker faith and practice.

Area Meeting. Until 2007 known as Monthly Meeting.

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.

Book of discipline - Now better known as Quaker faith and practice. Discipline is used in the sense of discipleship.

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 fourth year it meets at a provincial venue to enable more people to attend it. Abbreviated to BYM.

BYM - an abbreviation of Britain Yearly Meeting.

Charney Manor - a Quaker residential centre in the depths of Oxfordshire. It is used for retreats, gatherings, enquirers' weekends and the like.

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.

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, see 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.

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.

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

Local Meeting. Until 2007 known as Preparative 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 - the great mystery of Quakerism: what happens in meeting for 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 of God!)

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.

Meeting for Sufferings - 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.

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.

MM - an abbreviation of Monthly Meeting.

Monthly Meeting - a meeting for business administration and decision making for a group of local Preparative Meetings. Abbreviated to MM. During 2007 the name Monthly Meeting changed to Area Meeting and the name Preparative Meeting changed to Local Meeting

Notion - 1) any approach to religious matters not based on first-hand spiritual experience. 2) 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 - a meeting for decision making and business administration for a local meeting. Abbreviated to PM. During 2007 the name Preparative Meeting was changed to Local 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.

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.

Six Weeks Meeting - a committee of London and Middlesex General Meeting responsible for the administration of Quaker premises in and around London.

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.

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 - 1) 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. 2) A Friend visiting from another PM. 3) 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, (QOY, 3) looks at Quaker terms, titles, expressions, and abbreviations in more depth.

jargonThis 'Quaker Jargon Buster' text was originally used in a leaflet produced by Ealing Quaker Meeting's Communication and Outreach Group.