Quakers are committed to "plain speech." This scrupulous use of language has led to some peculiar Quaker expressions. For example, Quakers are careful to distinguish between the church (which is people) and the meeting house (which is brick or wood or cement). At the same time, Quaker speech can become downright poetic. Quakers talk about "being centered" and "minding the light."

Here are some popular Quaker words and phrases.

Quaker to English


When Friends gather to consider the business of the church (e.g. creating a budget), everyone listens for the guidance of Christ's Spirit within and to what others in the community might say. When the Clerk discerns that the community has arrived at some conclusion, he or she will articulate this conclusion to the meeting. If Friends agree that the Clerk has captured the sense of the meeting, they will respond, "Approved."


Think of a concave surface, like an empty bowl. Often, the pressures and demands of daily life send us scrambling up the side of the bowl (where our footing becomes more treacherous, the further we go). At the center, we can find stability and rest. Friends often seek to center themselves in God's presence before taking up whatever task is before us.


While we might care about a wide range of causes, we can only apply our best energy to one or two. Friends label the one or two matters that rest closest to our hearts, "concerns." A Friends might speak of having a concern for homelessness or for welcoming visitors to our meeting house. As each Friend devotes energy to his or her concern, the whole body of Christ does its work.

Facing Bench

Traditionally, some Friends were recognized for their vocal ministry. As a practical matter, these Friends were seated on a bench that faced the meeting (which made it easier for others to hear them).

First Day

The first Friends were very cautious in matters of speech. They felt it was idolatrous to call days of the week (and months of the year) by the names of pagan gods. Instead, early Friends established the practice of using numbers: Sunday became First Day, Monday became Second Day, etc. To make this matter more complicated, England used the Julian calendar until 1751. In the Julian calendar, "First Month" begins March 25th!

Inward Light

The early Quakers often refered to Jesus Christ as "Light." This title reflects the language of John's gospel (chapter one). Although "Inward Light" sounds nebulously spiritual, early Friends were quite clear: the Inward Light is the presence of Christ at work within our hearts.


A number of prominent Friends have left Journals to inspire later generations. Today, it's not uncommon to find Friends who keep a journal as an aid to their own spiritual development. Unlike the contemporary practice, most of the early Quaker Journals are more like memoirs than a daily record kept over time.

Meeting for Business

Friends conduct the business of the church (e.g. creating a budget) in the context of worship. In fact, Friends often call their business meetings, "meetings for worship for the conduct of business." While we can often identify a "preference" for one course or another, Friends try to set aside our various personal wishes and follow the Spirit. We gather together and listen to the voice of Christ within. We wait until we find clarity as a group before we consider the matter resolved. Through this process of careful listening and waiting, we hope to carry out God's plans for the church.

Meeting for Clearness

When individual Friends face an important decision (e.g. whether or not to change careers), they may decide to invite others to help them find clarity. In practice, a meeting for clearness is very similar to a business meeting: Friends gather in a spirit of worship to listen for the guidance of God's Spirit.

Meeting for Worship

Traditionally, when Friends gather for worship, these gatherings are called, "meetings for worship." At the heart of Quaker worship is the task of listening and responding to the presence of Christ within.

Monthly Meeting

A local group of Quakers is known collectively as a "monthly meeting." Even though Friends meet for worship each week, they gather once per month to conduct the business of the local church (e.g. to examine the budget). "West Hills Friends Monthly Meeting" is just another way of saying "West Hills Friends Meeting" or "West Hills Friends Church."


Friends would rather know God than know about God. Consequently, we have been skeptical of creeds and theological abstractions. Human ideas are sometimes called "notions," (or even "airy notions") as a reminder that their value is limited.

Open Worship

Because the practice of listening is at the heart of Quaker worship, Friends tend to value silence as part of their worship experience. Even though silence is important to us, it may be misleading to label our style of worship "silent worship." "Open worship" is probably a better term -- because it reminds us that silence is not necessarily the goal of worship. Rather, the structure of worship is left open (or "unprogrammed") so Friends may listen and respond to the immediate guidance of God's Spirit.


When early Friends identified someone as a "professor," they weren't testifying to that person's position in academia! Rather, a professor "professes" to be follower of Jesus. In other words, they "talk the talk." Whether or not they "walk the walk" remains an open question...


Because Friends have been skeptical of creeds, we tend to prefer insightful questions to dogmatic answers. Because they ask us to consider our present situation, Queries have a freshness that answers lack. Queries have the power to nudge us deeper.

Recorded Minister

Most other Christian groups "ordain" their leaders. Typically, some sort of ceremony empowers these leaders to perform the duties of their office. Friends, however, believe that God alone makes spiritual leaders. Rather than trust in a human ceremony to equip leaders, Friends observe those people who exercise gifts of leadership then record this observation of what God has done.

Released Minister

Early Friends were openly hostile to "hireling priests." In those days, people were forced to support the local clergy, whether or not the appointed leaders offered anything of value. That members of the clergy enjoyed a higher social status and a comfortable lifestyle seemed at odds with the injunction of Jesus: "The greatest among you must be the servant of all." To this day, some Friends remain opposed to providing spiritual leaders with any sort of financial support. In our branch of the Quaker family tree, those who do pastoral ministry are sometimes "released" for this task. Local Friends might discern that someone's ministry is vital in the life of the meeting, then offer this person a level of financial support that "releases" him or her from the burden of earning money for food, rent, etc. Being a "released minister" is a function in the meeting, not a status.


Some of the first Quakers had a background as "Seekers." For more information on this 17th Century movement, please see the Quaker's View article on Seekers. The word "Seeker" is still fairly common in Quaker circles, and is used to denote a spiritually sensitive person who has yet to commit to any particular spiritual path. Friends endeavor to be a safe and welcoming community for Seekers.

Sense of the Meeting

When Friends gather to consider the business of the church (e.g. creating a budget), we do so in a spirit of worship. By listening to God and to one another, we hope to find unity about what God is asking us to do. Some call this unity, "consensus." Others prefer to call it, "the sense of the meeting." Using this second term helps distinguish our process of seeking God's direction from the more common practice of consensus (which may have more to do with compromise that with spiritual seeking).


For many years, Friends addressed others as "thee" or "thou." This language sounds antiquitated to our ears. It also sounds vaguely formal (perhaps because we only hear it when reading from the King James Bible, which tends to happen in formal settings). Originally, however, "you" was applied to those of higher social rank and "thee" was how one would address a friend. By calling all people by the more intimate "thee" and "thou," Friends were hoping to emphasize the equality of all people. Since the style of our language has changed, this practice has become uncommon.


Early Friends used the word "Truth" as a synonym for God. The pursuit of Truth, the power of Truth and the authority of Truth were all of vital interest to Friends.

Waiting in the Light

Quakers often have a poetic way of describing the spiritual life. They were inclined to use the imagery of Truth and Light when speaking about God. And they often described the process of worship as "waiting in the Light." To wait in the Light often meant being searched by the light, having our rough edges and blind spots exposed. While the process led to healing and growth, Friends recognized that it could be uncomfortable!

Weighty Friend

While Friends have always emphasized the equality of all people, we have also recognized that some Friends have a gift for leadership. Those who often speak in edifying ways are sometimes called, "Weighty Friends."

Yearly Meeting

Once each year, all the Friends in a geographic area gather to conduct church business (e.g. create a budget), to meet for worship and to deepen the bonds of friendship that connect us to one another. These gatherings are called yearly meeting sessions, or sometimes simply "yearly meeting." The collective name for all those Friends who participate in this gathering is also the Yearly Meeting! So, all the Friends churches in Oregon, Washington and Idaho comprise Northwest Yearly Meeting. These same Friends gather once per year on the campus of George Fox University for yearly meeting.