For those who are new to Quaker Meetings, Fort Myers Friends want to provide a translation of Quaker Speak or expressions so that you understand what they mean, where they came from, and how they relate to each other. Please let us know if there are others we should include.
Thanks to the Bethesda Friends Meeting (Baltimore Yearly Meeting) for the initial development of this glossary, which we modified to change their local references to ours.
word in italics = defined term
Abbreviations and acronyms:
- Quaker organizational names:
- FtMMM – Fort Myers Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. www.fortmyersquakers.org
- SEYM – Southeast Yearly Meeting, the grouping of Monthly Meetings and Worship Groups of which FtMMM is a part. Geographically, it includes all of Florida, some portions of South Carolina and Georgia, and a Worship Group in Havana, Cuba. SEYM has 15 established Monthly Meetings plus 12 Worship Groups. It has its annual gathering and periodic smaller gatherings. www.seymquakers.org
- FCNL – Friends Committee on National Legislation is a Quaker-based entity that lobbies Congress and the administration to advance peace, justice, opportunity, and environmental stewardship. www.fcnl.org
- AFSC – American Friends Service Committee describes itself as a Quaker organization devoted to service, development, and peace programs throughout the world. Its work is based on the belief in the worth of every person, and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice. www.afsc.org
- FCG – Friends General Conference provides services and resources for individual Friends, Meetings, and people interested in the Quaker way. It is made up mostly of Unprogrammed Meetings, such as Fort Myers Meeting. www.fgcquaker.org
- FUM – Friends United Meetings – similar to FCG but largely focused on the Programmed Meetings worldwide. It encompasses most of the large Quaker communities outside the U.S. such as those in Kenya, Costa Rica, Belize, and Palestine. (Note: African Quakers account for more than 50% of world Quakers. North America accounts for 20%.) www.friendsunitedmeeting.org
- QVS – Quaker Voluntary Services. A year-long fellowship program for Young Adults. QVS partners with community-based non-profit service organizations in selected cities. www.quakervoluntaryservice.org
- Fort Myers Friends Meeting’s committee name abbreviations:
- FinCom – Finance Committee
- Hosp – Hospitality Committee
- M&C – Ministry and Counsel Committee
- RE – Religious Education Committee
- Outr – Outreach and Communications Committee
- P&SC – Peace and Social Concerns Committee
- Tech – Technology Committee
Following are some Quaker Speak terms you may have wondered about:
- References to Spirit or the Inner Light occur numerous times. Because Quakers emphasize the experience of the divine, rather than beliefs about the divine, they use many metaphors to try to capture the essence of their experience.
- Some Quakers do use the word God, while others use words such as Spirit, the Inner Teacher, the Light, the Inward Light, the Seed, the Living Waters, the Inner Guide, or Divine Truth.
- Because the Quaker movement arose in a Christian culture (England), some also reference Christ and Jesus.
- Within the Quaker movement, some more clearly identify themselves as Christian, while others identify more with Universalism.
- Many people who attend a Meeting for Worship come from non-Christian traditions (e.g. Judaism, Islam, Buddhism) or no religious tradition at all. Quakers are held together by the belief that there is that of God, or the Inner Light, in every human being.
Other Quaker Speak terms you may hear (in alphabetical order):
Attender – Someone who attends Meeting for Worship and participates in Meeting but has not chosen to formally join. (See Member and Clearness Committee below).
Birthright Quaker – A Quaker who was born into a practicing Quaker family (as contrasted with a “convinced” Quaker who made the decision to become a member). Historically, a birthright Quaker was automatically considered to be a Quaker. This practice may differ among Meetings today.
Calling – A sense that you are being guided by Spirit to take an action. See Led as well.
Centering down – A process of becoming still and focused yet open to hearing the guidance of the Spirit or Inner Teacher.
The Quieter You Become, the More You are Able to Hear – Rumi
Clearness Committee – Quakers put a value on “discerning” whether something is the right thing to do or not – seeking to hear whether it is Spirit-led and grounded in truth vs. ego-led and reflects desires. Clearness Committees are convened routinely when someone asks to become a member or to be married under the care of a Meeting. A Clearness Committee can also be convened at someone’s request to help them discern whether some course of action they are contemplating is well-grounded or not.
Clerk – the person who presides at business or committee meetings. This role includes setting the agenda (in consultation with others), keeping track of issues and schedule, discerning/articulating the “sense” of the group on the issue at hand, and ensuring a Minute is generated that documents the activities of the group.
Concern – An interest or sense of unease based in Spirit.
Continuing Revelation – While in current Quaker practice, there is varying interest in and authority given to the Bible as a source of spiritual guidance, initially the Quaker movement used the Bible extensively as a source of inspiration and guidance. Even then, Quakers believed the Sprit that inspired the writers of the Bible continued to be active in the world and was accessible to all. Deeper understandings unfold as we allow ourselves to be guided. As Quakers, we believe we are meant to listen for continuing revelation and to help that emerge. For example, the Quaker testimony of equality initially applied to gender and social status, then was applied to race and later sexual orientation. It continues to unfold as we consider the humanity of every individual.
Convinced Quaker – A Quaker who has gone through the formal process of becoming a member by having a Clearness Committee created to discern whether the person has a clear leading for wanting to become a Quaker and aspires to live according to Quaker values.
Covered Meeting – A Covered Meeting goes further than a Gathered Meeting; not only does it infuse the group with the presence of Spirit, but there is also a sense that Spirit is conveying a deeply important sense of things or mobilizing the group in a specific direction.
Discern or discernment – Quakers are focused on distinguishing the right course of action. This involves listening deeply to the Inner Guide, or Spirit. This process takes patience and faith that a deeper truth will be revealed. Quakers engage in discernment both as individuals, in clearness committees and in Meeting for Business.
Faith and Practice – This is the handbook that describes what Quakers do and why. It is issued and periodically revised by the Yearly Meeting (in FtMMM’s case, by SEYM). It contains history, explanations, “statements of faith and advice on organization and practice”. www.seymquakers.org/resources/publications/
First Day – Sunday. Quakers were (and are) willing to question the decisions of the prevalent culture. In the 1600s, when Quakerism was founded, they rejected using the names of the days of the week, as they were named for Viking pagan gods. They called Sunday “First Day,” and subsequent days by their numerical order (Second Day, etc.). (They had issues with months too, but in most cases have stopped referring to months with numbers).
Friend – Quakers are also called the Religious Society of Friends, so “Friend” is a term often used to address others in the meeting. Some use “Friend” to refer to those who are members of a Meeting, and “friend” for attenders and visitors. FtMMM does not make this distinction.
Gathered Meeting – This is a Quaker term pertaining to Meetings where the presence of Spirit is palpable. http://quakerspeak.com/quaker-worship-gathered-meeting/
Holding in the Light – The Quaker version of “we’ll pray for you.” However, holding someone in the Light is more than a simple supplication on behalf of that person. Instead, there is a sense of joining with Spirit, or the Light, to enfold the person in love and comfort, or of joining with the Light in the faith that the Light will reveal what is deeply true for that person. Holding someone in the Light does not preclude trying to be of concrete use. One’s actions may be guided by one’s experience.
|Inner Light – Quakers believe there is “that of God” in each of us. It’s also referred to as the Light Within, Walking in the Light, the Inward Guide, Spirit, Tender Seed, the Divine Principle, the Spirit of Truth, or the Truth. Because of this belief, Quakers have tended to be pacifist and were early abolitionists. It is difficult to justify killing or enslaving someone who has divinity within.|
Lay down – To discontinue an activity, committee, or Meeting when the work is done or the energy to continue it is no longer present.
Lay over – A procedural step that delays reaching a decision by allowing time to consider how to proceed. Some items are laid over by tradition, such as applications for membership. This gives the Meeting an opportunity to reflect and seek clarity. Other items are laid over for a period of time, usually a month, to enable everyone to consider them further.
Leading/Being Led: Quakers speak of feeling led (or feeling a leading) when they sense they are being called by Spirit to undertake a specific action. Leadings often arise from a concern.
Let your life speak – This is a classic Quaker expression for reflecting the guidance of Spirit through actions. It’s the “walk the talk” of Quakerism and is demonstrated by how you show up, how you treat others, and what you give priority and attention to.
Meeting: Quakers focus on the group of people more than the space. Meeting refers to the people gathered. They could gather in someone’s home, or in a field, or in a Meeting House.
- Meeting House – the place where most Meetings take place. In an Unprogrammed Meeting, it is not a consecrated place. It is just a space for the Meeting to gather.
- Meeting for Worship – Meeting for Worship, usually held weekly, is a Quaker worship service. FtMMM is an Unprogrammed Meeting, which means there is no pastor leading the service. We gather and settle ourselves into silence, with the expectation that in doing so, we may create the conditions for connection to Spirit, or the “still small voice” of God. While many Quakers love music and readings, these are not part of Meeting for Worship in order to enable the silence needed to tune in internally. Sometimes people may rise to speak (or even sing) from this silence, which is called “vocal ministry”. Those who speak, attempt to do so from a sense of connection to the Spirit.
- Meeting for Business (the full name is Meeting for Worship with a Concern for (or Attention to) Business) – Once a month, we attend worshipfully to our business matters. The Clerk presides but does not make the decisions. The Clerk guides the gathering to listen deeply to one another and for divine guidance. In most cases, that leads to a “sense” of the Meeting. When there is no clear sense of the Meeting, the decision is laid over. It will be taken up at a subsequent Meeting for Business. Because there is no paid minister, all the business and tasks of the Meeting are handled by the congregation, and much of it in committees. Committees report to the Meeting for Business and bring issues that are best addressed by the full congregation. Decisions are documented in Minutes, which are available for all to see. FtMMM holds its Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business typically on the 2nd Sunday of the month after Meeting for Worship. All are welcome.
- Monthly Meeting – FtMMM is a monthly meeting. Once a month, we gather in a Meeting for Business to consider issues important to our community.
- Yearly Meeting – A “Yearly Meeting,” is a group of Monthly Meetings that come together once a year to consider and decide upon issues important to all the Monthly Meetings in that Yearly Meeting. FtMMM is part of Southeastern Yearly Meeting. SEYM has its Yearly Meetings each Spring (for the last few decades on the week ending on Easter Sunday) over about five days.
|Member – Someone who has formally gained membership, either by converting a junior membership into a full membership, by going through a clearness committee to become a Quaker, or by transfer of their membership from another Meeting.|
Minute – Quakers document what they’ve agreed to. A Minute is a formal record. There can be Minutes for a birth, a marriage, a death, a tribute to someone, a decision reached on an important issue, etc. A Minute is different from the minutes taken in committee meetings or Meetings for Business. A Minute concerns a specific issue.
Programmed Meeting – Some Quaker Meetings have a worship service much like regular Protestant services, usually with a minister. These are more common in the Midwest and western US, and in Africa and other regions. FtMMM, along with all the Meetings in SEYM, is an Unprogrammed Meeting.
Quaker – Originally “quaking” was a biblical description of a person experiencing the trembling of a spiritual experience. A judge derisively applied the term to George Fox, the founder of the movement in England in the mid-1600s. Quakers eventually appropriated it. Many early Quakers were persecuted, tried, and imprisoned for their beliefs.
Queries – Quakers have a tradition of asking themselves questions to stimulate reflection and spiritual deepening. These are called queries. SEYM, in its book of Faith and Practice, includes a section of Queries and Advices, with monthly themes. At FtMMM we read some at the beginning of each Meeting for Business, so people can contemplate them throughout the month.
Right Relationship or something Rightly done – Quakers are concerned about whether they are doing things from the right place and for the right reasons. If one is acting in accordance with Quaker values and responding to one’s Inner Guide, Quakers believe that one will be in right relationship with an issue or situation and will take spiritually sound actions.
Rise of Meeting – When Meeting for Worship ends, the Clerk shakes hands with the person next to them to signal it’s over. Sometimes, the Clerk also announces, “Meeting has risen.”
|Seasoning an issue – Quakers make decisions based on a sense of the Meeting. Sometimes an issue is sufficiently important and possibly controversial that it requires “seasoning.” This process may take months. It may involve gathering relevant facts and speaking to Quakers both within and outside the Meeting. After allowing open inquiry and discussion, Quakers believe they are better positioned to come to a spirit-led sense of how to proceed. That sense is called the “sense of the Meeting.” |
“Sense” of the Meeting – Quakers’ decisions are not made by majority rule, voting, or consensus.
|Those processes don’t factor in the role of Spirit in helping to guide decisions. Instead, there is discussion, debate and quiet reflection until a “sense” of the Meeting emerges. The person/Clerk guiding the process states what that “sense” is and gauges the response. If an individual doesn’t agree, they have two options. They may disagree but “stand aside” and allow the emerging “sense” to prevail, or they can continue to hold out if Spirit has led them to do so. In the latter case, a decision cannot be made by the group.|
This Friend speaks to my condition or speaks my mind – signals agreement with what someone else has said.
SPICES – This is an acronym for the most well-known Quaker testimonies or values: Simplicity; Peace; Integrity; Community; Equality; and Stewardship. They largely replace creed, doctrine or holy writings. Over the 400+ years of Quaker experience, there have been a larger number of testimonies. These are the best-known at present.
Spirit – Quaker faith and practice are based on the understanding that we can each have a direct experience of the divine. A direct experience of the divine lies at the heart of Quaker faith and practice. Words for it include: Spirit, Seed, Living Water, Light, Inward Teacher, or Christ. Quakerism emerged from a Protestant Christian tradition. Some Quakers use Christian terms such as God, Jesus, and Christ. Others do not. There is also a varying degree of interest in the Bible as a source of spiritual truth.
|Stand aside – Someone may choose to stand aside to allow an emerging “sense” of the Meeting to proceed, even if they don’t agree with it. |
Threshing session – A meeting held to fully discuss a controversial issue without the intention of making a decision. Unlike a traditional Meeting for Worship or Meeting for Business, it may be acceptable to speak more than once, and there may be more of a discussion of a topic. A threshing session is usually held in preparation for a later Meeting in which the Clerk will seek to clarify the “sense” of the meeting.
Universalism – the belief that the Spirit speaks to all people regardless of religion or culture; that all religions are humans’ attempts to respond to this Spirit. This led early American Quakers to believe the Native Americans and Quakers were responding to the same universal spirit.
Under the Care of a Meeting: This expression is often used in conjunction with marriage. People marry by standing up in the Meeting without an officiant. They are married “under the care” of the Meeting after they gone through a clearness process with a specially-appointed Marriage Clearness Committee, and after the Meeting agrees that they can support them in their decision.
Unprogrammed Meeting – A Meeting for Worship in which there is no pastor or individual in charge, no church, no liturgy, no music, and no sermon. Those gathered settle into worshipful silence, endeavoring to listen deeply to their inner sense of Truth or Love or Spirit. The Meeting for Worship may take place in complete silence or may include vocal ministry.