Quakers have a peculiar use of the word ‘concern’. It can be used in its ordinary sense, as a near-synonym for ‘worry’, but also in a technical sense: a concern is a worry that is taken up by a Meeting, perhaps passed up through a series of Meetings, to become a Concern. Some examples of these meanings in use: I’m concerned that we won’t have any vegan cake at shared lunch today, I have a Concern about asylum seekers going hungry, members at Area Meeting are concerned that we won’t get to tea on time, Area Meeting is Concerned that animal charities in our region need more support, our Friend is much concerned with other people’s business, Meeting for Worship for Business has carried forward our Concern about deforestation in the Amazon by asking our Clerks to write a letter to amazon.com.
(For bonus points, experienced or Weighty f/Friends may wish to identify which one of these examples is real as opposed to merely plausible.)
Ideally, as the Quaker Jargon Buster explains, a Concern is a leading from the Spirit which is tested by a business meeting before being accepted; you can see in my examples that once this has happened, we sometimes speak of the Concern as belonging to the whole Meeting. If a Concern goes through a process of being passed up to a wider Meeting, it can be adopted on behalf of Friends across a whole area. This process of testing is one of the ways in which we seek to protect against unhelpful and non-Spirit-filled ideas, and these acts of group ownership lend a huge amount of support to those leadings which are taken up.
Arguably, a Testimony is a Concern that grew up.
It can also happen that in a Meeting for Worship for Business, a Friend will put forward a Concern – often in opposition to whatever seems to be the prevailing wind of the Spirit – which is not their own, but a third-order Concern. Allow me to give you an entirely fictious example: “Friends, I am fully in support of our warden’s proposal to paint the walls of the meeting room magnolia, but I know that some other Friends, who are not here today, will be very upset if we go ahead with this, as in 1902 it was decided – with the help of Harry So-and-so who was at the Manchester Conference and once clerked the Yearly Meeting for five minutes while William Whatsit was in the lavatory, if you remember – in 1902 it was decided that white walls are part of our Simplicity Testimony, and magnolia might be regarded as less than perfectly simple.”
A true Concern is a powerful thing. Have you ever had a Concern? Have you seen one in action?