Quaker jargon – by Chris Lawson

At the February meeting for worship for church affairs (to give ‘business meeting’ its full title) the subject of Quaker jargon was aired. In case helpful, particularly to those newer Quaker jargon – by Chris Lawson

At the February meeting for worship for church affairs (to give ‘business meeting’ its full title) the subject of Quaker jargon was aired. In case helpful, particularly to those newer to the Society of Friends, here’s a bit of demystifying:


Usually means either the group of us associated with local Meeting (for us Lewes Quaker Meeting) or the open gathering together on Sunday morning for meeting for worship.

Historically, the basic unit and event of the Quaker movement.

Area Meeting

Two uses: The grouping of Local Meetings for mutual support and responsibilities. We are in Sussex East Area Quaker Meeting. Also used for the actual regular gatherings of members from the Local meetings in the Area. Area Meeting links us formally into national Quaker work in various ways.

Historically: George Fox’s key invention for ensuring the Quaker movement didn’t splinter into autonomous little groups or develop a hierarchical structure. The outcome was a network for working together at area, regional and national levels.


Somewhere between a secretary and a chairperson. Ensure ongoing organisation happens. Conducting the meetings for worship for business, including presenting draft minutes of decisions for agreement at the time.Whether or not you are clerk, sensitive listening to each other and looking for what is right for the Meeting as a whole is key to participating in such meetings.

Historically: The belief that by holding the attentive quiet, as in a meeting for worship, and seeking to be aware of a guiding spirit, the right decision will become known – voting is unnecessary and indeed wrong because it implies trusting in human and not divine judgements.

Eldership and Oversight: (Nowadays Meetings are doing these roles in a variety of ways. In Lewes, they are combined into EORG, the Eldership and Oversight Resource Group)

Members appointed, for a limited time, to be responsible for the right holding of meetings for worship, the learning, spiritual and personal care of the members and attenders.

Historically: the first roles seen as needed. Advice was given in 1653 that in every local meeting there should be one or two “most grown in the Power and Life to take care of the flock”.

In our Meeting much mutual caring is done through our Circle Groups and the work of elders and overseers is shared through the Eldership and Oversight Resource Group.

At the national level, two key roles are:

The Recording Clerk

In effect, the chief executive officer for the Yearly Meeting, based at Friends House.

Historically: the first Friends soon found that to function as a national group they needed a full-time secretary, particularly to keep up with recording the sufferings of  Friends. The role has evolved over the years but the holder still sits alongside the Clerks at Yearly Meetings.

Meeting for Sufferings

The regular meeting of representatives of all the area meetings to conduct the affairs of the Society of Friends between Yearly Meetings.

Historically, was set up in 1675 in order that a register could be kept nationally of the imprisonments and other sufferings of Friends. The names of Friends sentenced for witnessing to their Quaker convictions are still recorded.

For those who like such things, there is also more esoteric Quaker phraseology such as

“The table feels…”

Not a reaction to a lot of weighty Quaker books being put on it, but a formal way in a meeting for business for the Clerk and Assistant, or Co-, Clerk to speak in role and distance themselves from their personal views.

Sorry, I have no idea when this came into use.

Disorderly walking

Not the Meeting walk across the Downs, and not in use these days, but

Historically the phrase was used to indicate that (in the view of Friends as a whole) a member’s behaviour or views were out of line with what was expected and would bring the Society into disrepute. “Disownment” of the person’s membership could result.


If you want more of the details of the Society’s organisation, current arrangements are in Quaker Faith and Practice and for the historical aspects I use Quaker Organisation and Business Meetings by L. Hugh Doncaster published in 1958 but full of interesting details.

By Chris Lawson (who once found himself Clerk to a nominating group for the YM Committee on Clerks – an extreme of careful Quaker processes)