The Presence in the MidstQuakerInfo.com
Google
 
Web quakerinfo.com
Your online source for information about the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

Home
Articles
Friends Christian Renewal
Feedback
Finding Quakers
Quaker Books & Video
Quaker Art Prints
What's New
Publishing at QuakerInfo.com
Latest Newsletter
About Us
Bio
Calendar of Yearly Meetings
Privacy Policy
Facebook logo QuakerInfo.com
on Facebook

PicoSearch


Search Bill Samuel's
Web Sites




Except for a few reprinted old documents, articles on this site are copyrighted by the author, and may not be reprinted without permission. You are, however, free to link to any article or page on this site without prior permission although it's nice to know who's linking to us.

Bill Samuel, August 4, 2002
Bill Samuel
Webservant
QuakerInfo.com

Organization of the
Society of Friends

by Bill Samuel
Originally published September 9, 2001 at Suite101.com

As the Quaker (Friends) movement developed in the middle of the seventeenth century, it needed to develop an organizational structure. Friends developed the basic structure that in large part has continued on until today even before they had a formal membership system. The system involves three levels of bodies conducting significant business, each named after their frequency of meeting to conduct business.

As the system developed, each larger body had authority over the smaller bodies which comprised its membership. This is still true in many places today, but in other places the larger bodies have become associations of the smaller bodies without clear authority over the member bodies.

There has really never been a centralized body with authority over all Friends. Ties were maintained through intervisitation and correspondence in the first couple of centuries. Since then, Friends have developed a number of associations at a larger level of organization than had been done in the past, but none of these have had any authority over the member bodies.

Monthly Meetings

The smallest significant business structure in the Society of Friends (Quakers) is the monthly meeting. As it developed in Great Britain, the monthly meeting was composed of several local worshipping groups called preparative meetings. British Friends continue to follow this system. Kenyan Friends follow the same system, but call their local worshipping groups village meetings.

In North America, it is more common for the monthly meeting to be composed of just one permanent worshipping group. Preparative meetings are usually meetings in development which will become monthly meetings in time.

The monthly frequency of congregational meetings for business continues to be common practice today. However, some Friends churches have less frequent general meetings for business for the whole congregation.

Quarterly Meetings

The next step up in the organization was the quarterly meeting, composed of several monthly meetings. This is the level in which there has been the most change over time. In some places, quarterly meetings continue in the historical pattern. But in many places, they have lost most of their business functions, meet less frequently, or do not exist at all. Where intermediate bodies do exist, they may be known by other names such as half-yearly meeting, regional meeting or general meeting.

Yearly Meetings

The largest traditional organizational structure for Friends was the yearly meeting, composed of several quarterly meetings. This structure still exists almost everywhere in Friends today. Usually, the term "yearly meeting" is used in two different ways. The same term is used for the organization itself, which often today will have an office and staff, and for its annual business sessions. In a few cases today, the organization no longer uses yearly meeting in its name. There are also a few cases where the organization holds general meetings for business more frequently than once a year. The meeting times and places of yearly meetings are published in a Calendar of Yearly Meetings, available both in print and in an online version.

Associations of Yearly Meetings

Most North American yearly meetings suffered a schism in 1827-28, resulting in "Orthodox" and "Hicksite" branches of the Society of Friends. (See the Background section of Realignment Among North American Friends? for more information.) The yearly meetings of each branch did not engage in any official communicatins with those of the other branch.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the yearly meetings of each branch increasingly worked together on common areas of concern, such as missions and the development of Christian education materials. More and more often, representatives of different yearly meetings would meet together. This move towards working together resulted in the creation of the Friends General Conference in 1900 for the Hicksite branch and the Five Years Meeting of Friends (later renamed Friends United Meeting) in 1902 for the Orthodox branch. Evangelical Friends began joint work much later, and are now organized as Evangelical Friends International. The three "Beanite" yearly meetings have a joint publication and other joint activities, but no formal association.

These associations were all formed in North America. However, due to missions activity, the Orthodox and Evangelical associations now include member yearly meetings from other parts of the world. In each of them, the North American membership is a minority of the total membership. Yearly meetings outside of North America not resulting from mission work of those two branches (as well as a few North American yearly meetings) are not part of associations of this kind.

Friends World Committee for Consultation

In the twentieth century, serious efforts began to bring together Friends across international boundaries and theological differences for consultation. World conferences began to be held periodically starting in 1920. The 1937 conference decided to establish the Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC).

The FWCC has no authority over member bodies of Friends, but rather exists to foster communication and consultation. It holds conferences, has a newsletter and publishes a Calendar of Yearly Meetings. It has four geographical sections, each of which covers at least a continent.
Enter email address
to join newsletter
mailing list


Big Selection
of Quaker Books

Quaker and general books,
videos and other products.




Recommended Books: see all items
A Living Faith: An Historical and Comparative Study of Quaker Beliefs
Cover imageWilmer Cooper, founding Dean of Earlham School of Religion, provides an historical look at the beliefs of Friends (Quakers). Includes study questions.
Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home
Cover imageRichard J. Foster. Describes 21 types of Christian prayer. Harper San Francisco, 1992. 288 pages.
Journal of George Fox
Cover imageThe auto- biography of the founder of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).
Celebration of Discipline
Cover image20th Anniversary Edition of Richard J. Foster's million- selling work on Christian spiritual disciplines.
Imagination & Spirit: A Contemporary Quaker Reader
Cover imageA selection of excerpts from 15 contemporary Quaker authors who reached the mainstream market. See review.

Recommended Art Print: see all prints


The Peaceable Kingdom
by Edward Hicks
29 in. x 23 in.

List of Articles . About Us . QuakerInfo.com Home . Quaker Books . Quaker Art Prints

QuakerInfo.com Newsletter

We publish an infrequent email newsletter that gives updates on the site plus news of Quakers. Your email address will be held in strict confidence. Subscribe by putting your email address in the box below and clicking on Subscribe. You will need to respond to a confirmation email. If you control spam by having an approved list of addresses from which you receive email, be sure to put webservant@quakerinfo.com on your approved list. NOTE: If you get a “subscription submittal failure” in response to a subscription attempt, the usual reason is that you are already subscribed.

Document last modified on Saturday, 22-Oct-2005 20:56:06 EDT