Quaker Quarterly Meetings

By Thomas Clarkson.

Quarterly court or meeting—constitution of this meeting—one place in each county is now fixed upon for the transaction of business-this place may be different in the different quarters of the year—deputies from the various monthly meetings are appointed to repair to this place—nature of the business to be transacted—certain queries proposed—written answers carried to these by the deputies just mentioned—Queries proposed in the women's meeting also, and answered in the same manner.

The quarterly meeting of the Quakers, which comes next in order, is much more numerously attended than the monthly. The monthly, as we have just seen, superintend the concerns of a few congregations or particular meetings which were contained in a small division of the county. The quarterly meeting, on the other hand, superintends the concerns of all the monthly meetings in the county at large. It takes cognizance of course of the concerns of a greater portion of population, and, as the name implies, for a greater extent of time. The Quaker population of a whole county is now to assemble in one place. This place, however, is not always the same. It may be different, to accommodate the members in their turn, in the different quarters of the year.

In the same manner as the different congregations in a small division of a county have been shown to have sent deputies to the respective monthly meetings within it, so the different monthly meetings in the same county send each of them, deputies to the quarterly. Two or more of each sex are generally deputed from each monthly meeting. These deputies are supposed to have understood, at the monthly meeting, where they were chosen, all the matters which the discipline required them to know relative to the state and condition of their constituents. Furnished with this knowledge, and instructed moreover by written documents on a variety of subjects, they repair at a proper time to the place of meeting. All the Quakers in the district in question, who are expected to go, bend their direction hither. Any person traveling in the county at this time, would see an unusual number of Quakers upon the road directing their journey to the same point. Those who live farthest from the place where the meeting is held, have often a long journey to perform. The Quakers are frequently out two or three whole days, and sometimes longer upon this occasion. But as this sort of meeting takes place but once in the quarter, the loss of their time, and the fatigue of their journey, and the expenses attending it, are borne cheerfully.

When all of them are assembled, nearly the same custom obtains at the quarterly, as has been described at the monthly meeting. A meeting for worship is first held. The men and women, when this is over, separate into their different apartments, after which the meeting for discipline begins in each.

I shall not detail the different kinds of business, which come on at this meeting. I shall explain the principal subject only.

The society at large have agreed upon a number of questions, or queries as they call them, which they have committed to print, and which they expect to be read and answered in the course of these quarterly meetings The following is a list of them.

I.    Are meetings for worship and discipline kept up, and do Friends attend them duly, and at the time appointed; and do they avoid all unbecoming behavior therein?

II.   Is there among you any growth in the truth; and hath any convincement appeared since last year?

III. Are Friends preserved in love towards each other; if differences arise, is due care taken speedily to end them; and are Friends careful to avoid and discourage tale-bearing and detraction?

IV. Do Friends endeavor by example and precept to train up their children, servants, and all under their core, in a religions life and conversation, consistent with our Christian profession, in the frequent reading of the holy scriptures, and in plainness of speech, behavior and apparel?

V.  Are Friends just in their dealings and punctual in fulfilling their engagements; and are they annually advised carefully to inspect the state of their affairs once in the year?

VI. Are Friends careful to avoid all vain sports and places of diversion, gaming, all unnecessary frequenting of taverns, and other public houses, excess in drinking, and other intemperance?

VII.      Do Friends bear a faithful and Christian testimony against receiving and paying tithes, priests demands, and those called church-rates?

VIII.     Are Friends faithful in our testimony against bearing arms, and being in any manner concerned in the militia, in privateers, letters of marque, or armed vessels, or dealing in prize-goods?

IX. Are Friends clear of defrauding the king of his customs, duties and excise, and of using, or dealing in goods suspected to be run?

X.  Are the necessities of the poor among you properly inspected and relieved; and is good care taken of the education of their offspring?

XI. Have any meetings been settled, discontinued, or united since last year?

XII.      Are there any Friends prisoners for our testimonies; and if any one hath died a prisoner, or been discharged since last year, when and how?

XIII.     Is early care taken to admonish such as appear inclinable to marry in a manner contrary to the rules of our society; and to deal with such as persist in refusing to take counsel?

XIV.    Have you two or more faithful friends, appointed by the monthly meeting, as overseers in each particular meeting; are the rules respecting removals duly observed; and is due care taken, when any thing appears amiss, that the rules of our discipline be timely and impartially put in practice?

XV.      Do you keep a record of the prosecutions and sufferings of your members; is due care taken to register all marriages, births, and burials; are the titles of your meeting houses, burial grounds, &c. duly preserved and recorded; and are all legacies and donations properly secured, and recorded, and duly applied?

These are the Questions, which the society expect should be publicly asked and answered in their quarterly courts or meetings. Some of these are to be answered in one quarterly meeting, and others in another; and all of them in the course of the year.

The clerk of the quarterly meeting, when they come to this part of the business, reads the first of the appointed queries to the members present, and is then silent. Soon after this a deputy from one of the monthly meetings comes forward, and producing the written documents, or answers to the queries, all of which were prepared at the meeting where he was chosen, reads that document, which contains a reply to the first query in behalf of the meeting he represents. A deputy from a second monthly meeting then comes forward, and produces his written documents also, and answers the same query in behalf of his own meeting in the same manner. A deputy from a third where there are more than two meetings then produces his documents in his turn, and replies to it also, and this mode is observed, till all the deputies from each of the monthly meetings in the county have answered the first query.

When the first query has been thus fully answered, silence is observed through the whole court. Members present have now an opportunity of making any observations they may think proper. If it should appear by any of the answers to the first query, that there is any departure from principles on the subject it contains in any of the monthly meetings which the deputies represent, it is noticed by any one present. The observations made by one frequently give rise to observations from another. Advice is sometimes ordered to be given, adapted to the nature of this departure from principles; and this advice is occasionally circulated, through the medium of the different monthly meetings, to the particular congregation, where the deviation has taken place.

When the first query has been thus read by the clerk, and answered by the deputies, and when observations have been made upon it, and instructions given as now described, a second query is read audibly, and the same process takes place, and similar observations are sometimes made, and instructions given.

In the same manner a third query is read by the clerk, and answered by all the deputies, and observed upon by the meeting at large; and so on a fourth, and a fifth, till all the queries, set apart for the day are answered.

It may be proper now to observe, that while the men in their own meeting-house are thus transacting the quarterly business for themselves, the women, in a different apartment or meeting-house, are conducting it also for their own sex. They read, answer, and observe upon, the queries in the same manner. When they nave settled their own business, they send one or two of their members, as they did in the case of the monthly meeting, to the apartment of the men, to know if they have any thing to communicate to them. When the business is finished in both meetings, they break up, and prepare for their respective homes.


This is taken from A Portraiture of Quakerism.





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