We Have Meetings, Not Leaders

Photo by Zach Alexander
Reproduced under terms of Creative Commons License

Quakers and their meetings in England, Scotland and Wales form the body known as Britain Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) – sometimes referred to as BYM. The word meeting is used in two ways: it refers to the members within a certain area, and it refers to the activity that takes place when some of the members come together in order to worship and maybe, in a context of worship, to carry out certain business.

Our decisions, at all levels, are taken by meetings. We have no leaders with more authority than others. We do not accept that an ordained priest is necessary to mediate between God and ourselves, or generally that anybody should be paid to carry the responsibilities of a religious society. We share these responsibilities, accepting the ‘priesthood of all believers’; we have no laity. Some individuals are asked to take on particular responsibilities for a time.  (We do employ administrators and office staff to put some of our decisions into effect, particularly at a national level.)

There are almost five hundred local Quaker meetings in Britain. Nearly all of these meet for public worship every Sunday morning, and a few also meet for worship at other times in the week. These meetings are grouped in seventy-two areas, and these groupings are known as area meetings.

The members of each area meeting carry responsibility for much of the work and the administration that is carried out within that area; the area meeting will also support the local meetings with their worship and their other activities, and with their finances. Our area meeting is East Cheshire Quaker Meeting, and it has eight local meetings.

Britain Yearly Meeting is the final constitutional authority of the Religious Society of Friends in this country.  The Religious Society of Friends is a world-wide body with participants in about 75 countries.

Meetings at each of the three levels appoint committees and working groups, but all members of the Society are encouraged to take a full part in the sessions of yearly, area and local meetings.

Overall responsibility for the life and the running of the society through the year, in between the annual sessions of BYM, is shared between the BYM Trustees and Meeting for Sufferings (MfS). (This strange name goes back to the earliest days of Quakerism, when Quakers were undergoing various restrictions and persecution, and this body was established to seek redress.)  Today MfS consists largely of representatives from every area meeting. It supports the spiritual life of the Yearly Meeting and furthers the development of its visionary role, while setting priorities for the centrally managed work. The Trustees attend to the letter and the spirit of our formal legal and financial responsibilities and oversee the centrally managed work.