Organisation in Britain

Society of Friends

The term Society of Friends is the official designation for the worldwide Quaker movement. There is no organisation that has global authority over the movement. However, there is an umbrella organisation –  FWCC (Friends World Committee for Consultation) – whose purpose it is to encourage fellowship amongst all the branches of the Society of Friends throughout the world. There are about 112 groupings spanning 51 different countries.

Organisational hierarchy of Quakers in the UK

In Quaker terminology, the term meeting is used in two ways:

  1. Meeting for Worship, which is an event – a getting-together of people – for the purpose of
    • ordinary Meetings for Worship, which normally take place on a Sunday morning
    • weddings and funerals
    • Meetings for Worship with a Concern for Business
  2. A geographic unit, which can be at one of several levels, namely
    • at the national is the (Britain) Yearly Meeting
    • below that are Regional Gatherings
    • then below these are the Area Meetings
    • and below these are the Local Meetings.

Members of the Society of Friends are known or informally as ‘Quakers’. Attenders are those who worship alongside and get involved in Quaker activities, but are not registered members. Quakers refer to each other as ‘Friends’, often informally including attenders in this reference. The name ‘Friends’ comes from Jesus’ remark “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).

Quakers have no clergy. Some members may be appointed, for a spell of three years, by Area Meetings as:

  • elders, whose responsibility is ‘The right holding of Meeting for Worship’ and who supervise weddings and funerals;
  • overseers, who ensure the pastoral care of the members of the Meeting.

Elders, Overseers and the Clerk of each Local Meeting, with co-opted members, meet together regularly.

Prospective meeting room

Meetings for Worship with a Concern for Business

Individual Quaker Meetings at all levels (geographically speaking) carry out matters of business and administration through Meetings for Worship with a Concern for Business.

The whole of such a meeting is regarded as worship. Thus Friends carry on the business of their Society in a framework of silent worship, the intention being to place themselves and their affairs in the presence of God. The proceedings are conducted by a Clerk (who also looks after the correspondence of the Meeting), possibly in conjunction with an Assistant Clerk and a. Decisions are not based on a majority or a consensus, but on the “sense of the meeting”. Friends take it in turn to serve in roles such as clerk, assistant clerk and tea & coffee maker.

Friends do a lot of their business via Committees. Friends and Attenders are proposed for positions and committees by Nominations Committees.