Glossary of Quaker terms

We have compiled a short list of Quaker terms to help make Quaker language accessible to all.  We hope you find this helpful.

Below is a list of some of the most common Quaker terms. It is not an exhaustive list, and terms may vary in each section of FWCC. 

Quaker Processes and Terms:

    • Quaker: A popular name for a member of the Religious Society of Friends
      • How did Quakers get their name? Quakers initially called themselves ‘The publishers of Truth’, or ‘Friends of Jesus’. But early on in their Quaker history, George Fox, the British founder of Quakerism, was arrested. The judge accused Fox of not quaking (being afraid) of the law. To which Fox replied to the judge ‘no, it is thou judge, who ought to tremble and quake at the authority of the Almighty God!’. The judge, frustrated with Fox’s responses, calls him a ‘’Quaker’’. This was picked up by others and was a demeaning term, but Quakers soon took the name on for themselves. Furthermore, it suited Quakers to refer to themselves as Quakers since they would indeed ‘quake’ or tremble when they would speak in their worship because they felt they were speaking the words of the almighty God. Reference: Quaker Speak Video: How Quakers Got Their Name
    • Friend: Friend, with a capital F, is the term Quakers use interchangeably with Quakers, and one or the other may be used in different locations. It is a reference to the Religious Society of Friends.
  • Monthly Meeting (MM): the worshipping group that typically meets on Sunday morning, which also meets monthly to do the business of the worshipping community or meeting.  
  • Yearly Meeting (YM): a geographically distinct group of churches and meetings which gathers annually to do the business of this collection of monthly meetings.
  • Testimonies: a set of principles or values that Quakers live by in order to ‘’let their lives speak’’.  Guided by related queries or questions, Friends try to live thoughtfully in the areas of simplicity, community, peace, integrity or truth, equality, and stewardship or sustainability.  
  • Concern: a matter of very deep interest or meaning for a meeting, or person. It can be spiritual or social and often results in action. For example, the World Plenary Meeting in 2016 had a concern over the matter of sustainability, which resulted in the World Office creating a programme to explore what Quakers can do to help build a more sustainable world. 
  • Discernment: the process of coming to a decision, direction, or leading which comes from a sense of spiritual direction, often collectively, and not always easily. It involves listening to what might be uncomfortable, but what feels right for you and your community in your heart and mind.
  • Worship sharing: when Quakers come together to worship and focus on a prepared set of concerns. It allows for respectful, deep spiritual worship.
  • Epistle: a formal letter which explains the experience of a group of Friends/Quakers. For example, an epistle is written during each yearly meeting gathering for people to understand what was discussed, explored, and experienced, is approved by the gathered body, and is then shared with Friends around the world.

Types of Quaker Worship:

  • Meeting for worship: The name given to the worshipping time – often occurring on a Sunday morning – although it can be held at other times of day or week. It often takes place in a church or meeting house, but it can occur literally anywhere.
  • Programmed Meeting: Worship that has a structured programme with music, readings, and a sermon – often with a pastor to lead the service. 
  • Unprogrammed Meeting: Worship that is based on silence where Quakers will speak if they feel moved by God to offer ministry in the form of a thought, making reference to scripture, or even singing out of the silence.
  • Semi-Programmed Meeting: Worship that has part unprogrammed worship (with silence and space for those to speak who feel moved to) and a part structured worship through song, readings, or a sermon.

Quaker Roles

  • Committee: a group of people who have been appointed to look after or handle a certain activity. For example, the ‘local arrangements committee’.
  • Clerk: a person who is nominated by Quakers, or the group of Friends, to be the leader or head of a committee.
  • Elder: a person appointed to uphold the spiritual health of the meeting’s worship or business. This includes welcoming newcomers, holding the silence in the worship space, and tending to anyone who might disrupt the worship space. 
  • Pastoral Care (previously Overseer): the name of a person or committee which is given the pastoral care of the meeting’s membership. 

If you want to explore more Quaker terms, see The Quaker Glossary from Lansdowne Friends Meeting in Pensylvania