Meeting, clearness, clerk. Like other religions, Quakerism has its own language, and that can sometimes be confusing for newcomers. Here’s a quick guide to some of the words that have special meaning for Friends.
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Benjamin Camp: So Quakers have a set of vocabulary that can be useful and can be confusing to newcomers. Part of the reason that it exists is that, as a non-dogmatic religion, there are ways that things need to be framed that are both specific and broad. There are words that you can kind of interpret as you like and also words that you shouldn’t do that with. But I think that’s where that comes from. Also, there’s just a long tradition of people naming things and going with it.
A Glossary of Common Quaker Terms
Carter Nash: A Meeting is a gathering of Quakers, a gathering of Friends. Other denominations might use the term “church” or “congregation”. We use the term “Meeting”. Depending on the branch of Quakers, there are Quaker churches.
“Monthly Meeting” and “Yearly Meeting”
Kri Burkander: It’s called a Monthly Meeting because we gather monthly to do our business. Quakers organize themselves in terms of monthly meetings, most of those are nested within a quarterly meeting, most of those are nested within a yearly meeting. The structure can vary, but that tends to be the structure, and all of those are how often they get together to do their business.
Zachary Dutton: Quakers at some point decided that we really didn’t like the names of the weeks that we had—that we still have: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. So “First Day” is the Sunday of the rest of the world.
Laura Kinnel: When Quakers say “Convincement” they mean someone who has decided that the Quaker way of life is the right way for them, they would like to be a Quaker.
Kri Burkander: The difference between convincement and conversion is that conversion is something that’s done to you and convincement is a process that happens inwardly. That you–however long that process takes–come to clarity or clearness that Quakerism is where you find your spiritual home.
Norval Reece: Clearness or a Clearness Committee is when someone feels called to do something, an intent to do something–feels called to set up a Quaker meeting in Moscow or to get married, Quakers will often have a “clearness committee” and make sure that all the angles have been considered, that one is perfectly clear that this is what one should do. It’s a wonderful process and it works.
“Member” and “Attender”
Julia Carrigan: Members are people who have gone through a specific spiritual and administrative process to become a part of the meeting in a more tangible way. It often includes financial backing as well as being on different committees and really intertwining yourself in the community. Attenders are people who show up for the worship and also are very integrated, often spiritually.
Benjamin Camp: You can attend for as long as you want. People come for years as attenders. Once you’re a member, you’ve got to join a committee and you’re more responsible for the actions of the meeting. There’s also some spiritual stuff.
Laura Kinnel: Clerk is used in a couple of different ways. You have the clerk of a meeting who is responsible for overseeing the business of the meeting. You also have clerks of individual—not a whole monthly meeting but the clerk of a specific committee or the clerk
Julia Carrigan: They are in charge of showing up for the spiritual health of the whole group, as well as doing lots of logistical things like leading business meeting.
Laura Kinnel: Minutes, for the uninitiated, are just the notes of a meeting, basically.
Melinda Wenner Bradley: It is saying, “in this moment, here is a decision we have made that we are going to record for our history to be able to look back and know what we said, what we chose to do, and how spirit led us to discern a decision.”
Carter Nash: An elder is a person who was or is charged with maintaining the discipline of the meeting or holding the meeting in the light, the spirit, the presence of god—prayer—while the meeting is taking place.
Melinda Wenner Bradley: An elder is not just the old people in the meeting. I have met some 5-year-old elders and some 16-year-old elders. An elder is someone who has spiritual gifts particularly for holding the body. Someone who is able to help create that container for us to be faithful together.
“Programmed” and “Unprogrammed”
Benjamin Camp: I mean, it’s kind of literal. There are some meetings that have an order of services ,and often the programmed meetings come with some kind of minister. The unprogrammed meetings, there are no ministers, no one has planned it out in advance, they’re typically 60 minutes-ish or until you’re moved, but let’s try to keep it at 60 minutes.
“FGC” “FUM” “EFI” and “Conservative”
Zachary Dutton: Those are just the names of the various branches of Quakerism that exist in the United States. Quakers have had different splits in their history and so now the various branches are the various divisions of Quaker thought and theology in the U.S.
Julia Carrigan: The light is this idea of a uniting force within all people that may be a bit of God or a bit of the spirit or the metaphor of a candle in each of us that really connects all of humanity. Yeah.
- What was your first time encountering “Quaker-ese”? What are some of the more obscure Quaker vocabulary words that you still don’t quite understand?
- Were there any words defined in the video that you have a different understanding of? What would you add to the definitions in the video?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.