In the beginning George Fox had no thought of forming a new “denomination.” In the years which followed, however, some organization became necessary.
The Quaker system is very simple. The local group is called a Meeting, rather than a church. The gathering for worship is called a meeting for worship, not only because the people meet together, but also because they meet God there. The local group is called a Monthly Meeting, because the meeting for business (called Monthly Meeting) convenes once a month. All the local meetings in a given county or similar area assemble four times a year for worship and business; this is called a Quarterly Meeting. The Quarterly Meetings in a given state or locality send representatives to an annual gathering called a Yearly Meeting. Several Yearly Meetings have associated themselves together in a cooperative group which meets every five years (now every three years) , with headquarters in Richmond, Indiana. This is called the Five Years Meeting of Friends.
In a Monthly Meeting (Quarterly Meeting, or Yearly Meeting) the principal officer is a Clerk, who sits at the head of the meeting for business. The whole group seeks to find the will of God in a spirit of worship. The Clerk does not take a vote, but seeks to find unity of mind and heart upon which the group can take action. If there is disunity, action is delayed until harmony can emerge. Friends proceed upon the basis of Paul’s counsel to the Church at Corinth :
“I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” I Cor. 1: 10.
The Society of Friends is a democracy. There is no authoritarianism of any kind. The accent is upon freedom-true religious liberty which is ex- tremely rare in the world today. In seeking to be “led by the Spirit,” Friends are striving toward the ideal expressed in Romans 8: 14 “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
In the early days Friends did not have pastors, and some Yearly Meetings are still “non-pastoral.” In recent years most of the Yearly Meetings belonging to the Five Years Meeting adopted the pastoral system because a full-time person was needed to promote the spiritual interests and general activities of the membership. In most meetings there is a period of silent or open worship, and individuals are urged to participate as they may feel led. Silence in itself is not worship; rather it is the opportunity to worship, to pray, to seek, to listen and to commune with God.