Friends Glossary



If you are interested in the Society of Friends, or in attending our Meeting there are some terms you may hear that you may not recognize or know the definition of.  We have gathered a list of common words that Friends use to assist you in understanding.  Terms and descriptions were taken from Faith & Practice, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Advices:  These are extracts of minutes and epistles of early Friends that help guide, caution or connect individuals and monthly meetings on various aspects of daily life.

Birthright Friend:  An individual whose parents were both members of a Friends Meeting and who was automatically registered at birth as a member of that meeting.

Centering/Centering Down:  The beginning stage of worship when Friends clear their minds and settle down to achieve a spiritual focus.

Clearness:  Confidence that an action is consistent with Divine will.

Clerk: The person responsible for administration of a Friends body and sensitive to the guidance of the Spirit in the conduct of business.

Concern:  A quickening sense of the need to do something about a situation or issue in response to what is felt to be a direct intimation of God’s will.

Convinced Friend:  A person who, after deciding that the Religious Society of Friends provides the most promising home for spiritual enlightenment and growth, becomes a member of a monthly meeting.

Discernment:  Determining God’s will in our lives.  Listening in silence to that still small voice within that can guide each of us in the way of the Spirit or Light.

First Day School:  Friend’s designation for Sunday religious education.

Gathered Meeting:  A meeting for worship or business in which those present feel deeply united in the Divine presence.

Hold in the Light:  To desire that Divine guidance and healing will be present to an individual who is in distress or faces a difficult situation; also, to give prayerful consideration to an idea.

Leading:  A sense of being called by God to undertake a specific course of action – often arising from a concern.

Meeting for Worship:  A gathering of individuals in quiet waiting upon the enlightening and empowering presence of the Divine.  It means both active obedience to divine leadings and careful nurturing of one’s openness to the Light.

Meeting for Worship for Business: A meeting for worship during which the corporate business of the meeting is conducted – often referred to as meeting for business.

Ministry: Sharing or acting upon one’s gifts, whether in service to individuals, to the meeting, or to the larger community.

Minute: The record of a corporate decision reached during a meeting for worship for business.

Plain Dress/Plain Speech:  The witness of early Friends to the testimonies of equality and integrity by dressing and speaking simply.  These served into the 20th century as outward symbols and reminders of our distinctive beliefs.

Proceed as Way Opens: To undertake a service or course of action without prior clarity about all the details but with confidence that divine guidance will make these apparent and assure an appropriate outcome.

Quaker: Originally, a derogatory term applied to Friends because their excitement of spirit when led to speak in a meeting for worship was sometimes expressed in a shaking or quaking motion.  Now this term is simply an alternative designation for a member of the Religious Society of Friends.

Queries: A set of questions, based on Friends’ practices and testimonies, which are considered by Meetings and individuals as a way of both guiding and examining, individual and corporate lives and actions.

Sense of the Meeting:  An expression of the unity of a meeting for worship for business on some issue or concern; the general recognition, articulated by the clerk, or some other person, that a given decision is in accordance with the divine will.

Simplicity: One of the traditional Quaker testimonies that is closely associated with integrity, equality, and stewardship.  Essential, to limit the material circumstances of one’s life in a way that allows/enables one to follow divine leadings.

Standing Aside: An action taken by an individual who has genuine reservation about a particular decision, but who also recognizes that the decision is clearly supported by the weight of the Meeting.

Testimony:  A guiding principle of conduct that bears witness to the presence of God in the world and in our lives.

Threshing Session: A gathering of Friends to consider in depth a controversial issue but in a way that is free from the necessity of reaching a decision.

Under the care of:  Describes an activity, program, or event for which the Meeting takes responsibility and to which it gives oversight; thus, a marriage, a preparative meeting, and a school might all be said to be under the care of a monthly meeting.

Unprogrammed Meeting: A Friends meeting whose worship is based on quiet waiting for the presence of God revealed through spirit-led vocal ministry and the gathered communion.

Vocal Ministry: The sharing of a message or prayer during a meeting for worship.

Weighty Friend: An informal term for a Friend who is respected for spiritual depth, wisdom, and long service to the Religious Society of Friends.

Yearly Meeting: Those Friends from a geographically extended area who gather in annual session to worship and conduct business together.