J is for… Jargon

I’ve had a few false starts this week. I don’t feel motivated to write about Jesus or Job. I covered Joy last year. I had a brilliant idea – J is for Jail – and then realised that Stephanie got there first by spelling it with a G. So I resorted to the dictionary and was reminded about Jargon.

All in-groups develop some jargon. Some prefer to call it ‘technical vocabulary’ which is itself jargon from the world of education. You know you’re well into a group when you find yourself writing things like:

MfS got a minute from an AM about a concern, originating from a LM’s MfWfB, which was supported by QPSW; Sufferings held it in the light but BYM Trustees say they need more time for discernment.

I just made that up, and I can (and soon will) explain, but for a moment I want to dwell on the impression this makes. I’m sure it’s true that newcomers find incomprehensible remarks of this kind off-putting – I always spoke Quaker, but when I first encountered D&D players and one of them said to me, “Last session my mage rolled a 1 and got eaten by a gelatinous cube,” (or something of the sort), I was totally baffled and felt a bit excluded, especially when everyone laughed and I didn’t know why. On the other hand, I asked some questions, and googled some things, and someone described a gelatinous cube to me, and now I play D&D too (although sometimes I still have to ask whether to roll a d6 or a d10). I think we can’t avoid having some specialist terminology, and a willingness to explain may be as important as instant clarity.

MfS stands for Meeting for Sufferings, which is no clearer at all. Once upon a time, Meeting for Sufferings was the Quaker body which recorded the sufferings of Friends, when they were still more inclined to be jail-birds than is normal today. Now it’s a meeting where around a hundred Friends suffer in solidarity once every couple of months. (Not the whole truth. :-D) Meeting for Sufferings is the national-level representative body which deals with business, especially policy and discernment, affecting the whole Yearly Meeting, but which cannot conveniently be taken to the Yearly Meeting in session – some because they are too urgent, some because they are small, some because there simply isn’t enough of Yearly Meeting, some because they are in the early stages and will reach Yearly Meeting later on.

Yearly Meeting is a meeting held once a year. No representatives are appointed as such; everyone who is a member is free to attend. We have Britain Yearly Meeting, actually covering England, Scotland, and Wales, and Ireland Yearly Meeting, which covers all of Ireland (Northern and Republic). We use the term Yearly Meeting both to mean the Yearly Meeting in session (900 Quakers in a room, or 1500 Quakers in a tent), and sometimes as a shorthand for the entire membership, everyone who belongs to the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) In Britain.

Within Britain Yearly Meeting, we have Area Meetings (AMs), who generally meet about once a month. An area is not really a geographical measure – some are small, like Leeds, and some are big, like Nottingham and Derbyshire. They often have names which refer to Quaker history – Sheffield and Balby is still called that because of the famous Elders of Balby Meeting, even though the place is now known as Doncaster.

Each Area Meeting is made up of Local Meetings (LMs), which usually meet once a week – when you bump into a Quaker Meeting on the ground, so to speak, this is generally what you encounter. Most people feel that their Local Meeting is their meeting, it’s the level of regular worship, pastoral care, and often study groups, shared lunches, and so forth.

A Local Meeting will often hold a Meeting for Worship for Business once a month or so, to sort out their local affairs and to look at items which might be coming up at the Area Meeting. In this example, a Friend obviously raised a concern at this meeting, and they forwarded the minute for further discernment.

It’s probably best to read about QPSW and BYM Trustees in their own words (although the latter don’t seem to have a good explanatory webpage; roughly, think of them as a small sub-set of Meeting for Sufferings who handle the nitty-gritty – money, buildings, legal stuff).¬† To hold something or someone in the Light is, depending who you ask, to pray for them, to send them positive energy, or something which is certainly not prayer but we’re not sure what else to call it.

In our last threshing meeting, a young Friend (aged 40) eldered our co-clerk for using Quaker jargon instead of plain speech. She offered a Query: “What canst thou say without abbreviations?”


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