Chapter 8

The centrally managed work of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain



In our Quaker work, are we sure that our decision-making is rooted in prayer and thought, those dual bases of all our actions? And as Friends with a responsibility for overseeing one another’s faithfulness, how often do we stop and hold in the Light the people who are acting on our behalf? How often do we stop to think how much research and information gathering is behind their actions? Too often I fear we jump to judgement. Both the work and its oversight have to be rooted in the silence of worship.

Christine A M Davis, 2008


Discernment and decision-making are crucial aspects of our life as a Quaker community, not least in relation to the work carried out centrally by Britain Yearly Meeting through its committees and staff. All our committees act as gathered meetings for worship, a discipline which continues throughout the governance and management of the work.

The centrally managed work of Quakers in Britain has three elements: first discernment and decision-making; secondly governance; thirdly management.

Friends in local meetings, area meetings, Meeting for Sufferings and at Yearly Meeting in session are responsible for the discernment and decisions about the work that needs to be carried out (1.02.14; 13.0513.07). Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees (8.178.18) and Quaker committees (8.048.08, 8.118.13) are responsible for the governance and oversight of this work: this includes both strategic decisions arising from Yearly Meeting and elsewhere and the monitoring of their implementation. Staff are responsible for the management of this work (8.198.23).

Britain Yearly Meeting in session is the body with ultimate authority for church affairs for Quakers in Britain (6.12). The term ‘Britain Yearly Meeting’ refers also to the combined membership of the seventy or so area meetings that make up the Religious Society of Friends in Britain and it is used as well in its governing document to refer to the work carried out centrally on behalf of the membership. Whilst much of the work of the yearly meeting takes place in any of its constituent meetings, some work is more appropriately organised centrally, and it is that which is described in this chapter.

In the governing document (covering the centrally held and managed policy, property, employment and work adopted by Yearly Meeting), the charitable object of Britain Yearly Meeting is ‘the furtherance of the general religious and charitable purposes of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain and beyond’. The full governing document and explanatory notes are available from the Recording Clerk and the BYM website (new window).


There are four aspects to the charitable object of the centrally managed work of Britain Yearly Meeting:

  1. organising and maintaining the whole of the Religious Society of Friends in Britain as responsive to the leadings of the Holy Spirit; this entails calling, briefing and running decision-making meetings with all the facilities necessary for them to work efficiently and effectively, and also conducting relations with other churches and faiths and ecumenical bodies;
  2. supporting Friends in their local organisation by providing services and advice relevant to the current needs of the Quaker community: for example such work may relate to children, elderly people, those getting married, those looking after meeting houses, and those raising funds;
  3. raising awareness and developing understanding about the basic tenets of Quaker faith and practice, such as spirituality, peace and human rights, within and without the Religious Society of Friends in Britain;
  4. putting Quaker thinking into practice in relation to the problems and needs of people at home and abroad: for example, through training, conferences, work with those in positions of power, and social and development projects.

Oversight of the centrally managed work

Types of committee


Oversight of the centrally managed work of Britain Yearly Meeting is in large part entrusted to committees.

There are different types of committee: standing committees, which are established for an unlimited duration, and ad hoc committees, which may be set up for a specific purpose as occasion requires and are usually expected to complete their task by a set date. A smaller committee with a very specific task may be called a group. All committees and groups have terms of reference, which are available from the Recording Clerk.

Standing committees


There are three bodies that can appoint standing committees:

Meeting for Sufferings appoints standing committees which are accountable to Yearly Meeting in session through Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees;

Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees appoint standing committees which are accountable to Trustees;

Yearly Meeting appoints standing committees which are accountable to Yearly Meeting in session.

Meeting for Sufferings (see chapter 7) does not have committees which are accountable to it, but it may appoint working groups.

The diagram shows a simplified governance and committee structure of the Yearly Meeting at the beginning of 2013, indicating the lines of communication between units.


Friends accepting service on committees, whether by local nomination or not, might usefully share with their area meeting the interests and concerns which are claiming their committee’s attention. Spoken reports may be preferable to written ones, especially for transmitting experience in a concise and lively way. Clerks might encourage the sensitive sharing of experience, rather than mere reporting.


The four standing committees accountable to Yearly Meeting through Trustees, appointed by Meeting for Sufferings with terms of reference agreed by Trustees, are:

  • Quaker Life Central Committee (8.08)
  • Quaker Peace & Social Witness Central Committee (8.11)
  • Quaker Committee for Christian & Interfaith Relations (8.12; 9.13)
  • Quaker World Relations Committee (8.13; 9.06)

Quaker Life Central Committee and Quaker Peace & Social Witness Central Committee carry responsibility for substantial programmes of work largely managed by staff.

Constitutions of standing committees appointed by Meeting for Sufferings


These standing committees are accountable to Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees for formulating and presenting policy for their areas of work in accordance with the long-term framework approved by Meeting for Sufferings (7.02). They determine priorities for, monitor, and evaluate the work within their areas of responsibility. Each committee is also responsible for:

  1. establishing functional committees and working groups as required and reviewing their work (8.04). Standing committees are responsible for appointing all such subsidiary bodies, determining their respective terms of reference and membership within the overall guidance on nominations (see b. below & 3.233.25 & 7.07);
  2. establishing an effective nominations committee, working closely with the Central Nominations Committee (6.21) as appropriate;
  3. keeping Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees (and through them, Meeting for Sufferings) informed about significant matters arising from its area of responsibility;
  4. considering any matters that Meeting for Sufferings or Trustees refer to it for urgent attention and action. (See also 8.23).

Terms of reference for all committees may be obtained on application to the Recording Clerk.

The existence and basic functions of Quaker Life and Quaker Peace & Social Witness may not be altered except with the approval of Yearly Meeting (8.18). The more detailed outline of the work of the committees described below may change to reflect the emphasis given by Meeting for Sufferings, Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees and the standing committees.

Quaker Life Central Committee


Quaker Life Central Committee’s purpose is to support and strengthen Quaker life throughout the yearly meeting, a remit which covers faith and practice: both spiritual nurture and the practical tasks required for the running of our Quaker meetings. It is responsible to Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees for support, advice and training in the following areas:

  1. the right holding of meeting for worship and meetings for church affairs, including for those taking special responsibilities as clerks, for eldership, oversight and pastoral care;
  2. other aspects of support for meetings, such as for meeting employees and trustees on compliance and good practice in Quaker employment, for librarians, for registering officers, for nominations work or in other ways;
  3. spiritual development and religious learning, both with and for adults and children and young people, including membership matters, publications and providing opportunities to empower meetings and individual Friends so as to deepen their spiritual lives and refresh their sense of vitality;
  4. the outreach activities of Friends in their meetings, and for those seeking information about Quakers.

Where appropriate, it responds to meetings’ requests to work with them directly. It seeks to build the wider Quaker community by involving as many Friends as possible directly in its processes, working through the staff of the Quaker Life Department, its functional committees and working groups, its Representative Council and the Quaker Life Network. It also operates Swarthmoor Hall and the Library of the Society of Friends, the Quaker Centre and bookshop at Friends House. It is responsible for the holding of Junior Yearly Meeting.

Representative council


The local worshipping communities of Quakers are gathered into the wider spiritual community of Britain Yearly Meeting: “community is the context in which people come to understand their relatedness” (Parker J Palmer, 1977). Quaker Life Central Committee is responsible for maintaining and encouraging communication and networking, so that Friends can share both spiritual and practical experience of living their Quaker lives. To this end, it maintains the Quaker Life Representative Council, which provides a two- way channel of communication for education, inspiration and consultation. The Council has an important role in highlighting the interconnectedness of our local meetings, which depend on each other and are more than simply separate worshipping congregations.


Representative Council membership comprises:

    1. the appointed representative, or appointed deputy, of each area meeting within Britain Yearly Meeting;
    2. two representatives of each of General Meeting for Scotland, Crynwyr Cymru – Quakers in Wales and Young Friends General Meeting;
    3. the members of the central committee;
    4. the clerk of Britain Yearly Meeting and the clerk of Meeting for Sufferings ex officio;
    5. up to ten co-opted members.

The membership is reviewed triennially.

The representatives’ role is to strengthen the links between meetings and the central committee. They should:

  1. attend (or arrange for their deputy to attend) each meeting of the representative council – the area meeting or other appointing body will pay participation fees and reasonable travel expenses;
  2. bring news of meetings’ activities or needs to provide feedback to central committee and each other, helping to share good practice and to contribute to the discernment of priorities, ensuring that the centrally managed work is relevant and appropriate;
  3. take back and share with their meetings a deeper knowledge and commitment to the wider Quaker community and the breadth and depth of Quaker Life’s work;
  4. help to support the fundraising effort necessary to sustain Quaker Life’s work by increasing local and area meetings’ understanding and enthusiasm for it;
  5. keep in touch with any local members of the central committee.

Quaker Peace & Social Witness Central Committee


Quaker Peace & Social Witness Central Committee works for Britain Yearly Meeting to translate our faith into action. As Quakers we are impelled by our faith to make our lives an active witness for peace and justice. Our historic testimonies to equality, justice, peace, simplicity and truth challenge us to alleviate suffering and seek positive social change.

The committee aims to ensure that its work is clearly rooted in Quaker values, expresses Quaker testimonies and builds upon Quaker experience. It works to build the daily experiences and spiritual leadings of Friends in their meetings into our corporate work. With this foundation the committee seeks to support Friends individually in their lives, jointly in their meetings and in Britain Yearly Meeting, to witness on behalf of Quakers in the world. Our work should be primarily directed to areas where our Quaker witness can be best done corporately and where it has a particular contribution to make. Two- way communication with Friends and meetings is maintained by the annual conference and other specialist events.

The committee is responsible to Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees for promoting a committed and rigorous social and political engagement for the building of a just and peaceful world. The committee tries to address the causes of violence, locally, nationally and globally, by engaging in nonviolent peacemaking in areas affected by armed conflict, working for a culture of peace and justice based on nonviolent change. It works towards a society where diversity is appreciated and all people can fulfil their potential for fullness of life in harmony with others. It promotes social justice, the reduction of prejudice and the equal treatment of all people, and works against unjust systems. The committee also seeks to promote changes that will help us to live responsibly and in harmony with all life and the Earth itself.

Quaker Peace & Social Witness Central Committee works with individual Friends and meetings to make available advice, education and information as Friends seek to respond to their leadings.

The committee engages in dialogue locally, nationally, internationally and globally to witness to Quaker values and testimonies; and to express the views of Quakers in Britain to governments, intergovernmental bodies and other political institutions. The committee seeks to promote truthfulness, integrity, openness and accountability in social and political institutions. Quaker Peace & Social Witness Central Committee works with other Quaker bodies nationally and internationally to share experience and expertise. It works with ecumenical and interfaith groups, and with other churches and faiths at home and abroad, to advance shared concerns.

Quaker Peace & Social Witness Central Committee seeks to express corporately our experience that the Holy Spirit moves people to serve and learn from their fellow human beings and to promote peace and social justice.

Quaker Committee for Christian & Interfaith Relations


Quaker Committee for Christian & Interfaith Relations is responsible for keeping Quakers in Britain informed of the various movements towards co-operation within the Christian church and opportunities for interfaith dialogue. Its work and constitution are described in 9.13.

Quaker World Relations Committee


Quaker World Relations Committee maintains contact with other yearly meetings and with Friends World Committee for Consultation and its Europe & Middle East Section to which Britain Yearly Meeting is affiliated. Its work and constitution are described in 9.06.

Other bodies

Friends Trusts Limited


Friends Trusts Limited is the denominational trust corporation of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain. It is a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee which acts as custodian trustee, holding trustee or nominee on behalf of most of the area meetings in England and Wales and on behalf of other Quaker charities. Its work and constitution are described in 14.45. It does not operate in Scotland.

Quaker Housing Trust Limited


Quaker Housing Trust Limited was formed in 1967 in response to Friends’ concern about the provision of adequate and appropriate housing. The trust makes grants and loans, and offers advice to charitable organisations providing accommodation, particularly to vulnerable people. Independent of the Britain Yearly Meeting Funds, it is a channel whereby Friends may give or lend money for such provision. It is a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee.

Quaker Housing Trust Limited has between seven and twelve trustees appointed for terms of three years by Meeting for Sufferings, names having been submitted by the Central Nominations Committee, to form its council of management.

Friends House (London) Hospitality Limited


Friends House (London) Hospitality Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of Britain Yearly Meeting. Its board are members of the Society of Friends and are appointed by Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees. The company manages and administers for the benefit of staff, users of and visitors to Friends House and Swarthmoor Hall, a full range of office and hospitality support services, including the letting of rooms and facilities for meetings and conferences. This Quaker company is an opportunity for outreach, communicating Quaker values in the service it provides and the way it is managed. The company’s profits are used to support the work of Britain Yearly Meeting.

Governance and management of the centrally managed work

Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees

Constitution and purpose


Yearly Meeting appoints trustees to act on its behalf as managing trustees of the work, assets and property held directly by Britain Yearly Meeting.

Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees are responsible to the yearly meeting for the right stewardship of its work, assets and property; as charity trustees, they are also legally defined as responsible for the general control and management of the administration of the affairs of Britain Yearly Meeting.

The powers and responsibilities of Trustees, as set out in the Britain Yearly Meeting governing document, are grounded in service. Trustees have a duty to account to the outside world for the conduct of their trust. Gathered meetings, both of the Trustees and of other bodies, provide the religious discernment that guides our actions in the world. Trustees recognise and listen carefully to the discernment of Yearly Meeting, Meeting for Sufferings, and their committees and ensure that it is followed, within legal and financial constraints.

Trustees undertake, on behalf of Yearly Meeting, legal compliance, monitoring and scrutiny functions. They also ensure that the centrally managed work is being properly governed and managed in accordance with the religious and charitable objects of Britain Yearly Meeting (see 8.03), set out in the governing document approved by Yearly Meeting which is available on the Britain Yearly Meeting website or on application to the Recording Clerk. They oversee the work of Management Meeting (8.22) and are the employers of Britain Yearly Meeting staff (8.20).

Trustees approve annually an operational plan and budget for the forthcoming year. They are responsible for the Trustees’ annual report and financial statements for the past year, which are presented for information to Meeting for Sufferings before submission to Yearly Meeting and to the charity regulators in due course.

The membership, responsibilities and duties of Trustees are set out in detail in terms of reference to be approved and revised from time to time by Yearly Meeting. A copy is available from the Recording Clerk and the BYM website (new window).

Trustees are appointed by Yearly Meeting on the nomination of Central Nominations Committee (6.21) as set out in the Trustees’ terms of reference. In making nominations for service as trustees, Central Nominations Committee ensures that the Friends approached are aware of the legal responsibilities of trustees and of the legal position on eligibility (see 15.04). No trustee shall serve on a standing committee as listed in 8.06. The clerk of Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees and the Yearly Meeting Treasurer are appointed by Yearly Meeting on the nomination of Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees. The Yearly Meeting Treasurer serves as a trustee ex officio because of the Treasurer’s role in relation to the centrally managed work as a whole. The Assistant Clerk is appointed by Trustees from amongst their number.


Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees are responsible for the work, assets and property of the yearly meeting. The four standing committees appointed by Meeting for Sufferings (8.06) report to them.

Yearly Meeting also entrusts to Trustees the organisation and periodic revision of the structure of the standing committees which oversee particular areas of the centrally managed work. However, it reserves to itself decisions affecting the existence and basic functions of Trustees, and of Quaker Life Central Committee (8.08) and Quaker Peace & Social Witness Central Committee (8.11).

Trustees must report to Yearly Meeting any other changes in the structure of standing committees through which they work (7.03); in such cases, any amendments to our church government reflect decisions already taken, and it is for Yearly Meeting in session to decide whether the proposed textual changes to our book of discipline accurately describe the new structure.

Trustees may delegate any of their powers to a committee that includes two or more of their number. Trustee-appointed commit­tees may cover, for example, areas of finance and property, employment, and audit.

Trustees are accountable to Yearly Meeting (chapter 6) and the charity regulators (chapters 14 & 15). Trustees and the standing committees may communicate by minute with Meeting for Sufferings and Yearly Meeting Agenda Committee, and with each other. Standing committees may also communicate with General Meeting for Scotland, Crynwyr Cymru – Quakers in Wales and area meetings on specific delegated matters; they should ensure that this is done in co-ordination with Trustees and other standing committees, liaising as required.

Participation of staff in meetings of Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees


Members of Management Meeting (8.22) and other staff attending meetings of Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees are not trustees of the centrally managed work and are not responsible for the decisions of the meeting. They are present in order to be able to provide the meeting with information about their work, and in order for them to be able to interpret and carry out Trustees’ decisions more effectively. Friends’ understanding of the Quaker business method is that God may speak through anyone present.

Employment of staff


Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees employ staff in order to service the centrally managed work. The staff provide many of the resources and much of the expertise required to carry out Britain Yearly Meeting’s work effectively in a manner consistent with Friends’ testimonies and beliefs. Much prepara­tory, ongoing and follow-up work falls to the staff, and they need the full support of all Friends.

Trustees ensure that staff working for Britain Yearly Meeting and committee members are treated fairly and do not ex­perience unjust discrimination. Staff and committee members should strive to ‘answer that of God in everyone’ by working as a community which fosters a spirit of toleration and mutual concern for each other. In carrying out the work of Britain Yearly Meeting, respect for truth and integrity should be paramount so that high ethical standards are maintained.

Most staff are based at Friends House in London. A description of the departmental structure can be obtained from the Recording Clerk.

The Recording Clerk


The office of Recording Clerk has widened considerably since it was first established in about 1657. In those early days, the role was largely concerned with the sufferings of Friends, and up to 1703 included serving the Yearly Meeting as clerk. In more recent times, oversight of the management of the departments has become an important function of the Recording Clerk.

The Recording Clerk, as secretary to Yearly Meeting, Meeting for Sufferings and Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees, is responsible for servicing these bodies, and for ensuring that their work is carried out.

As the senior member of staff employed by Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees, the Recording Clerk’s main tasks include maintaining contact with meetings throughout the yearly meeting, leading Management Meeting (8.22), being line manager of the other members of Management Meeting and certain senior staff, acting as ‘keeper and interpreter’ of the regulations laid down in our church government, and representing Britain Yearly Meeting to, and fostering good relations with, outside bodies.

The Recording Clerk is responsible for ensuring that the recording and processing of data held by the yearly meeting conforms with the law (4.45).

The Deputy Recording Clerk deputises for the Recording Clerk in any aspect of his or her work as required.

Management Meeting


Management Meeting is responsible for co-ordinating the management and overseeing the implementation of the work of Britain Yearly Meeting. It is accountable to Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees, whom it advises on practical and technical aspects of the work and to whom it reports regularly and submits its minutes. Management Meeting is responsible for the cohesion and consistency of the management of the centrally managed work, through the co-ordination of the work of individual managers, working to the vision and policies discerned by Meeting for Sufferings and following the operational plan agreed by Trustees.

The meeting is composed of the Recording Clerk and other members of the senior staff designated by Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees on the recommendation of the Recording Clerk. It meets as required under the leadership of the Recording Clerk (8.21). Members are collectively responsible for all its decisions, acting for Britain Yearly Meeting as a whole as well as the particular area for which they are responsible.

The work of committees and staff


It is the role of the standing committees, particularly the central committees, to use their leadings and discernment to advise Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees and Meeting for Sufferings on policies and priorities for their work. In so doing they should draw on the experience, knowledge and concerns of area meetings and, where appropriate, representative councils so that local Friends are involved in the process.

Committees need to be aware of the different roles they may play in responding to items on their agendas. Central committees determine policies and priorities for their areas of responsibility within the limits described in 7.03. Their role is to determine the work to be done and ensure that it is manageable without attempting to do it themselves. Those who carry out the work may be functional committees, working groups, volunteers or staff, or combinations of these. Central committees primarily delegate work to staff, whose responsibility is to undertake the work under the co-ordination of Management Meeting. Other standing committees, functional committees, ad hoc committees and working groups may do more of their own work without much direct staff involvement. Committees that do undertake work themselves need to ensure it is done in partnership with staff, who have the responsibility to co-ordinate its management.

The close working partnership between staff and committee members brings a wide range of talents and experience to bear on our work. Committee members need to remain free of routine administrative tasks if they are to have the time to exercise their important decision-making functions. However, committee members also need to be aware of how their decisions might affect, unsettle or fulfil staff members involved. In turn, members of staff have to be aware of the delicate tension of being in a position of knowledge and ensuring that their committees benefit from their experience and preparation whilst leaving committees in a position to make consequent decisions freely.



Each committee has arisen and developed in response to a particular need. Each generation of Friends has been faced with a structure in some respects untidy, and we may be thankful for the clear-minded among us who help us, from time to time, to set our house in better order. But order without life does not work, and our continual task is to ensure that our structures are in harmony with the changing tides of life in Britain Yearly Meeting.

It is neither possible nor desirable for every Friend to take a detailed interest in the work of every committee. We are, however, called to a broad sympathy with, and understanding of, the extent of the work entrusted to the committees under the guidance of Meeting for Sufferings in the name of the whole yearly meeting.


For some of us this does not seem sufficiently religious. I remember an outburst in Meeting for Sufferings, when Friends felt that Britain Yearly Meeting was becoming ‘just a well-run charity’. ‘I don’t want to be part of a well-run charity, I want to be part of a religious group, a church,’ said a weighty Friend. The point is that we need to be an ordinary well-run organisation, with good structures and sensible practices, which we then make extraordinary by transcending, not discarding them.

Beth Allen, 2007


Our committees do not live to themselves. Their appointment by and reporting through Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees to Yearly Meeting or Meeting for Sufferings reflect their responsibility. As the representatives of area meetings on Meeting for Sufferings attempt a disciplined understanding of the total work and witness of the Yearly Meeting, so individual pieces of work of different committees will be seen in a right perspective.