Glossary of Common Quaker Terms

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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Jon Watts

Jon Watts launched and directed the QuakerSpeak project for its first 6 seasons. Keep up to date with Jon’s work at his website.

6 thoughts on “Glossary of Common Quaker Terms

  1. Well done clarification of Quaker terms.
    I liked it and found it informative.
    The fuzzy part was the explanation of the “Elder”.
    I didn’t understand this portion and would like to understand what they were trying to convey.
    Thank you.

  2. Great topic. This video is especially important, I think, for non Quaker seekers, who may stumble on Quaker Speak, as I did, not so long ago.
    For me, Quakerism isn’t easy. The gentle messages in Quaker Speak gives the mass culture of You Tubers’ accessibility to the “unmitigated experience of the Light within” through real people, in their own works.

    (Really like the music, too, Jon.)

  3. Dear Friends, I hope my comments don’t discourage further reflection, sharing and efforts to articulate these things that are so difficult to capture! That being said, I did offer some reflections on this video to Jon, who suggested that I leave a comment here.
    In my experience, (and in the experience of many Friends past and present) there is a dynamic, living, Real Presence at the heart of our tradition. Quaker language, however we define it, should help us to orient toward and open to this living Word.
    “Minutes” don’t just capture our decisions, they trace and illuminate the movement of the Spirit within and among us. They indicate “sense of the meeting” which is very different from secular decision making.
    Unprogrammed Friends do have ministers, even ones that are formally recognized or “recorded.” We recognize ministers because they’ve been given the gift of ministry. We recognize ministers so that we might nurture gospel ministry within our society.
    The impulse to want to differentiate between convincement and conversion is also revealing. Early Friends would not have made this distinction: convincement without a complete conversion of the heart would not be real convincement.
    There is an insightful lecture by Ben Pink Dandelion (an unprogrammed, British Friend), in which he argues that modern liberal Friends have been strongly influenced by both secularism and individualism. It strikes me that this particular effort to define Quaker language illustrates Ben’s critique.
    To find the lecture, google: “pink dandelion Swarthmore lecture.”

  4. There’s a reason behind these words. For example, for the days of the week.. This bit from Clearwater Meeting begins to explain it.

    Days & Months: The early Quakers recognized that the names used for the months and days of the week reflected their pagan roots. They chose, instead, to refer to the months and days in a numeric fashion. January, then, becomes the First Month. December is the Twelfth Month. Sunday is First Day, and so on.

  5. Sunday, January and words like that refer to names of Gods

    So older Friends choice not to use those terms but rather First Day and First Month

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