This page offers working definitions for may Quaker terms. If you are somewhat new to Friends and you'd like to dig deeper into Quaker practice, this page can be a good starting point. It does not speak for all Quakers, of course, but it may spur new understanding for some people.
Discernment – Discernment is about listening carefully to God, or Spirit. At Forward in Faithfulness, we tend to think of discernment as listening for guidance, and also as waiting, when you don't know why. In our experience, discernment can happen quickly or slowly. Sometimes a person might pause, very briefly, and check in with their Higher Power. They may receive an indicator or a hint. Discernment can happen in silence or through movement, conversation, singing, yoga. Having a conversation to reason things out is, in our opinion, one form of discernment. Discernment helps us listen to our Higher Power.
Elder – An elder is someone who holds space for transformation. Being an elder is like being a witness. This person may offer prayer or companionship, both of which are forms of spiritual accompaniment. In of a meeting community, an elder might help to organize a group for healing or discussion. Elders are not necessarily the oldest people present. Through our work at Forward in Faithfulness, we have learned about people holding space when they are in their teens, for example.
In many groups of liberal, unprogrammed Friends, the practice of naming elders has fallen away. For this reason, this page does not currently include a list of elders who acknowledge their gifts publicly. In time, however, that might change.
Faithfulness - A working definition we have of faithfulness is: "a consistent awareness of the present moment, and responsiveness to it." This includes staying with uncertainty, without trying to force control over a situation. Faithfulness is about not running away. It is linked to being steadfast, which can be difficult at times. Faithfulness happens in community. It's also linked to willingness, trust, and good listening. At Forward in Faithfulness, one way that we make sense of these concepts is to say: surrender + obedience = the essence of faithfulness.
Minister – A minister is anyone who lives their faith and their gifts out visibly. In the Quaker community, anyone can offer ministry, provided that their words and actions are guided by Spirit. Ministry is about sharing our gifts. Traditionally, a 'minister' refers to someone who speaks during Meeting for Worship. However, giving ministry is much broader than that. Sharing our gifts in an outward way can happen in many forms. Often, the work of ministry happens in a community. For example:
Advocating for fair trade, which is the work of Yoko Koike Barnes.
Vanessa Julye, who works to help the Religious Society of Friends become more welcoming to People of Color
Living out a traveling ministry of healing, as John Calvi does.
Peterson Toscano, who offers transformative performance art that is "quirky, queer, Quaker"
This is a very small sample. There are many more.
Spiritual Practice - A spiritual practice is a set of habits (formed daily, weekly, or occasionally) that support integrity and right living. These can also be called a "spiritual discipline." Traditional spiritual practices may include silent prayer and stillness. However, different methods work for different people. A spiritual practice can be biking, making the bed each morning, or even praying naked in front of the mirror. It is whatever a person does to stay grounded, connected, and faithful in the world. At Forward in Faithfulness, we often think of spiritual practices as "something that I start doing because it's good for me, and that I keep doing because it makes me feel good."
One resource to seek out to learn more is Peggy Senger Morrison's book, Le Flambeau School of Driving. The book is witty, creative, and relevant to today's times. Peggy outlines Spiritual Disciplines for the 21st Century. (For example, the Spiritual Practice of Gratitude: "Dear God, thanks for this mess – I have no complaint – please get my back as I step into the middle of it.") Peggy's blog highlights the Spiritual Practice of Attendance.
Spiritual State of the Meeting – This is a report offered to a local meeting. It describes some of the spiritual highs and lows of the past year, sort of like a progress report. The focus is on the "sense of a meeting as a whole." Friends may describe activities that they did together, queries that they struggled with, or other trends that pertain to spirituality. In many cases, this document is drafted by Worship and Ministry Committee, with input offered from the community.
More definitions arriving soon. To contribute, see the bottom of this page.
Our work to decode Quaker-ese prompted a Friend to reach out and offer us a wonderful gift. Selden Smith let us know about a Quaker glossary that his father, Warren Smith, published in 1983. This book unrolls a playful list of descriptions that addresses many common Quaker words. Mae Smith Bixby, Selden's mother, revised the glossary with new additions after Warren's death.
Selden offered to share the book here for free, so it can reach a new generation of Friends. (Note: It was originally published by Quaker Press of Friends General Conference. The book has been out of print since 2002, making it very diffiult to find.) Thank you, Selden!
Click "Download PDF" to access the entire file, or browse of the first few pages here. Enjoy!
We are seeking help from long-term Friends who can submit working definitions for the following terms:
To share submissions, please email us with the word "GLOSSARY" in the subject line. Thank you!
Convinced Friend, Gathered Worship, Worship-Sharing, Ministry, FGC Gathering, Pendle Hill, Pendle Hill Pamphlets, Yearly Meeting.
FORWARD IN FAITHFULNESS
We are a network of Quakers who work for inner transformation and collective renewal. Our goal is to motivate one another toward revitalization, so that people of faith may become creative, relevant, and thriving for years to come.