Some of the terms used among contemporary Quakers can sound a little odd to the modern ear. Many of them date back to the mid 1600’s when the Religious Society of Friends was first founded. We don’t usually say thee, thy, or thine anymore, but it might be helpful to understand the meaning of some of our quainter expressions.
Days & Months: The early Quakers recognized that the names used for the months and days of the week reflected their pagan roots. They chose, instead, to refer to the months and days in a numeric fashion. January, then, becomes the First Month. December is the Twelfth Month. Sunday is First Day, and so on.
Most Quakers today do not retain that same aversion and typically use the generally accepted names in their day-to-day activities. However, those traditional customs are frequently honored within the internal activities. Instead of meeting on Sunday, we gather on First Day. We do not offer Sunday school. Instead, children attend First Day School.
Meetings: In the early days of Quakerism, the members did not have church buildings. Instead they often gathered in homes wooded areas, or open fields. Thus, their gatherings were referred to as meetings. When they did begin constructing buildings, they continued this tradition and simply referred to them as meeting houses, not churches. Consequently, we do not go to church on Sunday. Instead, we go to meeting on First Day.
Initially there was a limited organizational hierarchy. Local members gathered periodically and called their assembly a “Monthly Meeting”. Every three months or so, several of these smaller groups would gather together for a “Quarterly Meeting”. On an annual basis, the members of the various Monthly Meetings would assemble at a single location for a “Yearly Meeting”.
Today many Quaker groups still honor this traditional form of organization. Our meeting is Clearwater Friends Meeting, but it is also known as Clearwater Monthly Meeting. We are affiliated with the Southeastern Yearly Meeting (SEYM) which is comprised of Monthly Meetings throughout Florida and southern Georgia. It, in turn, is associated with the national organization, Friends General Conference (FGC).
Meeting for Worship: Many of our gatherings are referred to as a “meeting for worship”. Our weekly gathering is “unprogrammed” worship, consisting primarily of 45 minutes of silent contemplation, prayer, and/or meditation. If someone feels particularly inspired, they may stand and briefly share a thought with the group, but the meeting then returns to the silence.
Other assemblies are also considered a meeting for worship because we attempt to maintain a worshipful attitude in most of our gatherings. This may refer to a business meeting, a wedding, or even committee meetings.