Advices and Queries

episode 34 advices and queries

This time we’re talking about advices and queries, which is section 6E in Traditional Quaker Christianity. British Friends have a little red book called Advices and Queries. Other Quaker groups don’t tend to publish them separately—they’re a section in the Book of Discipline or the Faith & Practice.

red book that says advices & queries
Advices & Queries of The Yearly meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain


The first advices came from the Elders at Balby in 1656. They concluded their list of advices with a quote that you’ll now find in practically every Discipline or F&P.

Dearly beloved Friends, these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by; but that all, with a measure of the light, which is pure and holy, may be guided: and so in the light walking and abiding, these things may be fulfilled in the Spirit, not in the letter, for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.
—Elders at Balby

Since then, the list of advices used by any given yearly meeting has grown and changed. Sometimes a quote from a [spiritually] weighty Friend will be added. Or something that was minuted by a meeting will be included. As the name suggests, they’re advice to help in figuring out how to live.

Some Quaker meetings and yearly meetings are making use of advices for social media content. It’s a way to inject a little Quakerism into the everyday. As mentioned in a previous episode, Ohio Friends tend to end their meetings for worship with an advice.


Queries started as just being questions, because those are common to ask when writing letters, just in general. Then, they became formalized. The formal use for them is during business meeting, which we discussed last time. Business meetings typically start with a query.

Many meetings don’t answer queries as a group. You might think about your own personal answer, but it’s for personal reflection. That’s the case in Mackenzie’s meeting, Adelphi Friends. Takoma Park Friends, just down the street (and under the care of Adelphi) does answer. They record the answers in the “we heard from a Friend that…” format we mentioned in the business meeting episode. They don’t submit those answers anywhere.

Finally, Ohio Yearly Meeting (and surely others, but they’re who we know) has every meeting answer during business meeting. The meeting’s clerk summarizes individuals’ answers into a minute reflecting the state of the entire meeting. They forward that answer to the quarterly meeting. The quarterly meeting’s clerk summarizes the answers of the subordinate meetings. They forward those to the yearly meeting. Finally, at the yearly meeting, all the quarterly meeting answers are summarized to reflect the state of the entire yearly meeting. We’ve been given permission to share Rockingham Quarterly Meeting’s most recent query responses.

There are serious answers given in that link. Mackenzie heard there was an actual effort some years ago to take the queries more seriously. It’s easy to want to shrink from them. Not mentioned in the episode: Baltimore Yearly Meeting has a separate set of queries issued once per year for which they do expect a response. These are used for each meeting to write a “spiritual state of the meeting” report.

Advices and queries offered by different yearly meetings vary with the character of the yearly meeting. For example, should Friends abstain from alcohol completely or maintain moderation in its consumption? We think it’d be awesome if someone went through all the Disciplines and F&Ps and grouped the queries by category for comparison.



Speaker 1: Welcome to Quaker faith and podcast, where we will explore traditional Quaker beliefs and a variety of Quaker beliefs found today.

Mackenzie: Hi. Welcome back to Quaker faith and podcast with Mackenzie and Micah. We are looking in the book Traditional Quaker Christianity, at section 6E on advices and queries, which British friends know as being its own separate little tiny book. In this section of the book, they’re talking about how these sort of developed and became like our thing. There were queries way, way back, from the beginning as sort of an informal thing.

Micah: Because when people write letters to each other, they ask questions.

Mackenzie: Yeah. Funny enough. There’s a little quote in here from the Journal of North Carolina yearly meeting conservative that I’m just going to read. It says, “The custom of allowing ourselves to be queried and to answer as honestly as we can, is one of the most distinctive features of Quaker practice. It originated in the early days of Quakerism, although the queries became institutionalized only in the 18th century, when formal disciplines were adopted. Very early, George Fox introduced some guidelines for the orderly functioning of the new meetings that were emerging out of the creative chaos of the earliest years. In 1656 there was a gathering of elders at Balby in Yorkshire, at which these guidelines were adopted. These guidelines came to be known as advices.”

Mackenzie: Balby like was … That one rang a bell for me because I know it’s really common in books of faith and practice or books of discipline, even today, for them to say a quote that’s from the elders of Balby. Oh Micah’s looking up the quote.

Micah: I’m looking up the quote actually, because I could almost …

Mackenzie: I could almost do it too. These things we do not …

Micah: Lay upon you the rule. Hold on. I need to … Continue. I’ll find this thing.

Mackenzie: Okay. We’ll get that quote in a bit. So, the advices as they say, are not advices, not strict rules, and it’s sort of the collected wisdom of 300 odd years of Quaker thought. A lot of times they’ll be quotes from some, helpful quotes from some Quaker past or from minutes that have been recorded.

Micah: To be fair, the original advices and from the elders at Balby were very directive. Anyone today reading them would probably say, yeah, these are pretty much rules. These are pretty much rules, but so I did find the quote. It says, and as Mackenzie says, this quote will be found in most if not all Quaker books of discipline/Quaker faith and practices, and it says, “Dearly beloved friends, these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or a form to walk by, but that all with this measure of light which is pure and holy may be guided. And so in the light walking and abiding, these may be fulfilled in the spirit, not the letter, for the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life.”

Mackenzie: And if you’re someone who’s been reading your bible, you know that the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life is a bible quote too.

Micah: Yeah. Yeah, so I mean the idea here being, and this is, this is just fundamental Quakerism here, and goes back actually to a discussion we had about creeds a few episodes ago. The Quaker movement as a whole, one of the main thrusts of it, is that we’re not really interested in simply having, in merely having the right doctrine or even in merely doing the right acts, but we’re above all interested in being led in that dynamic and living way, by the Holy Spirit, and thereby living in the whole, living into the Christian faith that’s described by all these doctrines, but not because the doctrines told us to, but because Jesus showed us how.

Micah: It’s kind of a subtle distinction, hard to describe sometimes, but it’s basically like, which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Which comes first, a lived relationship with God or the teachings about God?

Mackenzie: The non-theists all just tuned out when Micah started talking.

Micah: I’ll just say, I do hope we have non-theists listening to this podcast, and for those non-theists who are listening, this is the foundation of the faith. This is the foundation of Quakerism. You really can’t engage with Quakerism in an intellectually honest manner and not be concerned with the will of God. Whatever that means to you. I think, I think there are folks out there who are doing really, really important wrestling with what it means to follow the will of God, but I sure hope that all our non-theist folks out there couldn’t deny that that’s at the heart of the tradition.

Mackenzie: All right. So, in the book, they say that advices help to establish a community in gospel order, and over the course of a lifetime, brings each follower closer into unity with God and with neighbor, however defined. I think that however defined thing kind of fits in with the, I mean, I know a lot of non-theists will say the divine because their definition of God versus, they distinguish between the idea of God and the divine on particulars.

Micah: Words.

Mackenzie: Yeah. Words are hard. Language is hard. I just liked this line because the mention of gospel order. A book that I’ve been reading is Lloyd Lee Wilson’s Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order. Lloyd Lee Wilson is from North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative.

Micah: And he’s sort of like, he’s one of the leading theologians and leaders in that yearly meeting at this point.

Mackenzie: Okay. It’s a good book, so I definitely recommend it if anybody wants to check that out. It’s like a $9 ebook in the FGS bookstore I think.

Micah: Oh yeah. It’s well worth reading. Basically Lloyd Lee Wilson, and maybe Mackenzie was about to say this, but basically Lloyd Lee Wilson in that book argues that Quakerism is a coherent gestalt is the word he uses.

Mackenzie: Yes.

Micah: A coherent system that you can live in and it all fits together as a piece, and that if you remove a piece, it no longer makes sense as a system, so you need the whole thing. Whether you disagree or not with that thesis, which I have gone in and out of agreement and disagreement with him over the years, but whether or not you disagree with the thesis, it’s well worth reading and considering.

Mackenzie: So I guess for, so it says, “Advices reflect the values and convictions of the yearly meeting that publishes them,” and that sounds right. You’ll find different advices in the faith and practice or book of discipline of different yearly meetings. Just as an example, for anyone who hasn’t encountered advices before, I’m going to read one that is printed in this book, which says, “Use vigilant care to your friends, not to overlook those promptings of love and truth, which you may feel in your hearts. For these are the tender leanings of the spirit of God. Nor should any of us resist God’s workings within us, for it is his redemptive love which strives to show us our darkness and to lead us to true repentance and to his marvelous light. Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any many hear my voice and open the door, I will come into him and will sup with him and he with me.” That last bit being a quote from the book of Revelation.

Micah: Yeah. That is probably one of the most famous advices that we’ve got.

Mackenzie: That’s why I read it.

Micah: Yeah. Probably every book of discipline has that advice or some variation thereof.

Mackenzie: There’s also, here’s a short one. “Carefully maintain truthfulness and sincerity in your conduct and encourage the same in your families. In your style of living in your dress or in the furniture or houses, choose what is simple, useful and good.”

Micah: Yeah. What’s the purpose of advices and queries today?

Mackenzie: Well we haven’t gotten to the queries.

Micah: What’s the purpose of advices?

Mackenzie: I mean, it’s advice, so it’s sort of a guideline for if you’re having trouble figuring out what is sort of the right way of living. There are people who have thought about this before and maybe you can get some wisdom from seeing what other people think.

Micah: Have you seen the advices being used sort of in public ways, instead of being like, oh yeah. There are these things available to you if you as an individual want them. But, have you see the advices used in public ways in community?

Mackenzie: So here’s a really public way but slightly less communal I guess. Is that that they are a ready source of things that I know I have used for Adelphi Friend’s Facebook page and that I know New England yearly meeting is using on their social media, that as 70ish percent of people in the US and I’m not sure what percent in other countries, scroll through our Facebook feeds every day, we then have like a little moment where you encounter. You might come across one if you were following the social media accounts for a Quaker meeting or a yearly meeting. And have this advice come up and you could think about it and reflect on it a little bit. Like, how am I doing on that? Or maybe what I’m doing, that could apply to my life.

Micah: Right.

Mackenzie: So there is that. I know an app for Android phones that gives you an advice or query each day.

Micah: Yeah.

Mackenzie: Those are how I’ve seen them, and so that’s … Which is certainly better than them being shut up in a book on the shelf that you look at once a year or so.

Micah: Absolutely. Yeah. The one way I’ve seen them used in sort of what I would call, and maybe no one else would call, but what I would call a liturgical format is, High yearly meeting, it’s typical for the meeting for worship to be close by the reading of an advice. Usually the person tasked with closing the meeting for worship has this responsibility to read one of the advices.

Mackenzie: So then the other half of advices and queries are the queries, and so there’s a little explanation here that I’m going to read. It says the queries were drawn from the advices and were answered informally until the middle of the 18th century. At that time, there was growing concern that friends were sliding into a secular manner of living and becoming nominal friends only. Those who bore this concern inspired a widespread reemphasis on observing the advices and friends began answering the queries formally.

Mackenzie: When it says formally, what that is referring to is something that, the way that … So the formal time would be, our previous episode we talked about business meeting and clerking, and what we didn’t mention in there, is that it’s really common to have the very first thing on the agenda, be that we’re going to have a query. I know in my meeting Adelphi, the query gets read out, but we don’t actually answer them nowadays. I know Toccoa Park friends meeting, which is just down the street from us, they read the query. They actually give the answers and they write the answers down in the meeting minutes.

Micah: So do they write the individual’s answers, or do they synthesize a corporate response?

Mackenzie: Individual’s answers.

Micah: Okay.

Mackenzie: Not with names.

Micah: Sure.

Mackenzie: It does not synthesize corporate response because in the previous episode when we talked about presiding and recording clerks, it’s the transcript type of way.

Micah: Got you. Got you.

Mackenzie: Whereas, I was really surprised. This was a sort of anthropological experience too. A year ago I attended Rockingham Quarterly Meeting, when they were meeting at Marlborough Friend’s Meeting, which is only two hours from me and so pretty easy to get to. That’s part of Ohio. Well I mean they’re in … They’re not in the state of Ohio, but they’re part of Ohio yearly meeting.

Mackenzie: I was really surprised because I’d never been to a quarterly meeting. I mean, my meeting was part of one. About how they handled the queries because what they had was each monthly meeting sent in, here was our synthesized answer to the query, to each of the queries for the last three months. So then during their quarterly meeting, a representative from each of the monthly meetings read out what their synthesized answer was, you know the clerk said, “Okay. For the first query, what were your answers?” And they would give their answers. Then the clerk listened to the answers from each of those meetings, and she had them written down in advance too, so she’d also seen them, and then she came up with what the unified query answer for the entire quarterly meeting was, and said, “Okay, this is what I’m hearing. Is this the correct sense of have I got this?” And then people approve or ask for tweaks, and then that got minuted as being the quarterly meeting’s answer to that query.

Micah: And I …

Mackenzie: Then they moved on to the next query.

Micah: And I suspect that when they asked for tweaks, they were about substance rather than a word here or a word there.

Mackenzie: Right.

Micah: Yeah.

Mackenzie: Then those synthesized answers, the quarterly meeting wide answers to each query then get forwarded to the yearly meeting. And so there’s this sort of accountability thing going on which I had never seen before, and I thought it was really fantastic. I was like, oh they answer the queries and they’re like actually thinking about what they mean. That’s neat.

Micah: So, my wife and I were, we were regular members of Rockingham meeting, which is a part of Rockingham quarterly meeting, that Mackenzie visited. We were regular members of that meeting for some years, and then now are affiliate members, which basically means we don’t actually go there, but we are in relationship with them, and we submit our answers to the queries.

Mackenzie: Do you do this in advance, so they have your answer before the business meeting happens?

Micah: Ideally, yes.

Mackenzie: Ideally. Okay.

Micah: Yes. So yes, what we’re supposed to do is basically each month, I think there are …

Mackenzie: There’s one query for each month.

Micah: No, we’re missing at least a couple. There’s not, there’s not 12.

Mackenzie: I think there’s 11 because you have …

Micah: Yeah yeah.

Mackenzie: Because the annual session knocks out one month.

Micah: Okay. Yeah, so there’s one month where we don’t do it, but in any case, we answer the advices most months, and then we send it in to the clerk. The clerk has those available, the actual in person local meeting answers, and they’ve got their answer and then they take all the affiliate members’ answers and synthesize it, so that when they send them to quarterly meeting, it’s actually incorporated anything really relevant from the other answers too.

Mackenzie: I remember that when I was at the Rockingham quarterly meeting, one of the queries that they were, that they were answering and bringing in the answers from was the one that asks about smoking and drinking alcohol and stuff. Rockingham meetings said, “Yeah. Some of our members drink alcohol and they’re cool with that.” Then the quarterly meeting was like, wait. Okay.

Micah: That was …

Mackenzie: I know you drink alcohol, so I’m sure that was, I’m sure you were in favor of some of that.

Micah: So we actually caused this problem originally, in Ohio yearly meeting. I’m not sure whether it had happened before. It probably had, but we definitely caused that problem where, when we became members at Rockingham meeting, we drink alcohol in moderation usually. Hopefully. So we said that, when we answered the query about whether we abstain from intoxicants and alcohol, et cetera. We said well, we do, but not, but we do abstain from most intoxicants and from tobacco but we do drink alcohol.

Micah: So like, both at the local and at the quarterly meeting level, I know there was like a knee jerk desire to just paper it over and be like, no, no, no. Let’s not say that. But we did say that, both at the local level we said it. We said yes, some of us do drink alcohol, even though like the advices say you shouldn’t. They said we do. Then the quarterly meeting, I remember it also being like, oh. Really?

Mackenzie: I mean I was there for that quarterly meeting discussion. They were like, and it’s sort of like this, you know we revise our books of discipline and faith and practice like on occasion. Some people say generationally. I’m going to guess that Ohio might do it less often than that.

Micah: No, they’ve revised it recently. Like, I was …

Mackenzie: I know 2013 was the last one.

Micah: I was there the last time they revised it.

Mackenzie: Yeah. I just don’t know how, what the space, the span of time it’s between.

Micah: I’m sorry, not to interrupt. They don’t do, in my experience. I’m sure maybe at some point they did, but they don’t, in the last several decades, they don’t do, like full cloth revision. They revise as necessary. It’s not like we’re redoing the whole thing. It’s like oh we’re going to change this one part because it was requested.

Mackenzie: Okay. At Baltimore yearly meeting, we basically do whole cloth revisions. Well we tried to do a whole cloth one in like 2013. It got rejected, so now we’re going to try doing the small revisions thing.

Micah: It might work better. It might work better.

Mackenzie: Anyway, there was sort of, my perception was that, or my memory of it is that there was sort of a do we think that this advice to completely abstain should changed to a moderation thing, or do we think that those Rockingham monthly meeting folks, Micah and Faith … They didn’t say their names, but I was thinking of you.

Micah: There may be others.

Mackenzie: Need to like fall in line. It was like, which way does this go? Do we loosen a rule? Well not a rule but like, do we loosen the expectation, or do we …

Micah: It’s obviously not a rule because they didn’t kick us out.

Mackenzie: Right. These things [inaudible 00:19:30] on rules. Anyway. The Balby thing from earlier.

Micah: It is always a tricky thing in any community to know which things, basically which things are deal breakers and which things aren’t, and clearly Ohio Yearly meeting, abstaining from alcohol, at this point, and I’m not sure it’s all written in this way, at this point in time, abstaining from alcohol is not a deal breaker. Faith in Jesus Christ is. Different things, it’s like what’s really critically important, and clearly at this point in time, Ohio yearly meeting is corporately making the decision that while they still have a witness of abstaining from alcohol as a collective, it is not an individual mandate, and it’s not critical for membership.

Mackenzie: Yeah. I was frankly really surprised the first time I was at your house and there was like wine. Just my impression of you, I was like, I expected you to be a teetotaler like me.

Micah: If it’s good enough for Jesus it’s good enough for me.

Mackenzie: Obviously we’ve been saying that they have a query that’s about alcohol. I don’t think that query, I think possibly BYMs might say moderation instead of abstinence of alcohol because we tend to be more like, just don’t be a drunken fool and we’re all right.

Micah: Yeah, I mean I think that …

Mackenzie: Because people are jerks when they’re drunk.

Micah: Yeah. I mean I think moderation in alcohol is a good testimony for sure.

Mackenzie: So they have, some of Ohio’s queries are printed in this book. For example, “Do we cherish a forgiving spirit and strive to walk in love as Christ also hath loved us? Is each one of us careful for the reputation of others? Are we mindful to love our neighbor as ourselves? If differences threaten to disrupt the Christian harmony between the members is prompt action taken?” I feel like this is one that we could make a lot more use out of.

Micah: [crosstalk 00:21:32] No that query is …

Mackenzie: Like not with the rumors and gossiping.

Micah: That query is super deep, and honestly I think every Quaker group on the planet would do really well just to meditate on that one every month for the next 10 years. That is super, super, super important.

Mackenzie: Yeah, like because, and gossip is really damaging to a community, so there’s that one about the reputation of others. But then, of course there, you have on the other hand, with you don’t want to have that reputation of others thing turn into like the Catholic church with covering up the abuse with the priests thing.

Micah: It can go too far in that direction.

Mackenzie: It can be abused. It can be misused.

Micah: But I do think we’re in a particular, I think this is particularly relevant to friends, because of our very flat leadership structure, often the way …

Mackenzie: Conflict is dealt with it.

Micah: Conflict is dealt with and leaders are dealt with is …

Mackenzie: If you ignore them, they’ll go away.

Micah: Or if we slander them, on the down low, that’s not a way to deal with it. I think for Quakers, with our very flat structure in particular, it’s really, really important that we follow gospel order and that we deal with conflict in transparent and loving ways, rather than sort of like dealing with it through the Quaker grapevine so to speak.

Mackenzie: Actually they printed the alcohol one, so I can tell you what the phrasing is on that one.

Micah: Let’s hear it.

Mackenzie: It says, “Believing our bodies to be the temple of God, see 1 Corinthians 3:16,” that’s actually in parentheses in there. “Are we concerned to attain a high level of physical and mental health? To this end, are our lives examples of temperance in all things? Do we avoid and discourage the use and handling of intoxicants, tobacco and improper use of drugs?”

Micah: What stood out to me just then was the handling part. No, that’s interesting because it probably actually …

Mackenzie: No bartending.

Micah: Yeah no bartending. No like selling alcohol. You can’t be like, be an alcohol dealer but not drink alcohol. Not be involved.

Mackenzie: The old books of discipline from the 1800s, which by the way, if you would like to see what’s in all the old disciplines, the Quaker Heritage Press has a printed thing called the Old Discipline, that’s got like six of them with all of the revisions. I remember they had things like that you should not sell grain to a distillery because they’re going to turn it into alcohol, and so now you’ve gotten involved in alcohol, which I mean take, I think nowadays with conscious consumerism, we, it is more common to think about the whole lifespan of a product, where it’s coming from and where it’s going to, but that’s interesting that that’s in there.

Micah: Yeah, I mean, there’s a certain stream of Quakerism that has been into conscious consumerism for centuries.

Mackenzie: Yeah. Well John Wolman, we talked about some eons ago on the podcast. I mean, it’s only a year old, so not really eons, but …

Micah: Yeah.

Mackenzie: [inaudible 00:24:43] Anyway, if you would like to find collections of advices and queries, I can tell you that Britain yearly meeting has them published as a little book and they have a website which I will link in the show notes.

Micah: I also hope you will link in the show notes, Friends of Jesus Fellowship has advices and queries.

Mackenzie: Okay.

Micah: And actually just to give a little background on them. The advices and queries, it’s sort of like any, in all liturgical traditions, like the Episcopalians got their liturgy by modifying the Roman Catholic. It’s all sort of passed down. It’s all kind of similar, and the Friends of Jesus Fellowship advices and queries are the same way, in a very intentional way, in that, when they were put together some years ago, they were actually adapted from probably a dozen different yearly meetings’ books of discipline. There’s some new stuff in there but most of it’s sort of a remix of existing advices and queries that have been passed down for hundreds of years.

Mackenzie: And I’m sure you’ll find things that conflict between the advices given in different yearly meetings. Saying like temperance, generally means none when it comes to temperance from alcohol means no alcohol, like Ohio has in theirs and the Baltimore yearly meeting is like moderation.

Micah: I doubt you’ll find any advice on hedonism. Not yet.

Mackenzie: But I’m sure you can find disagreements between the yearly meetings that are more socially conservative and the ones that are more socially liberal when it comes to things like family structure, and like divorce, marriage, divorce and remarriage, that kind of stuff.

Micah: Have you come across advices on like divorce and remarriage? I can’t remember if I’ve seen that before.

Mackenzie: I’m pretty sure divorce is mentioned in Baltimore’s. I’ve also, well and the way Baltimore yearly meetings wrote the book of practice is basically like have the book could be considered advices, and but then also thinking of same sex couples, single parent families, sex ed even, I think Baltimore’s says basically look parents, don’t leave your kids in the dark. I don’t know how that’s … I could certainly see the more socially conservative ones being like, so make sure that you tell them before their wedding night.

Micah: I just control-F’d divorce in the book of discipline for Ohio yearly meeting and here’s what that sentence is. “Divorce and broken homes are a blight to our country, and great care needs to be exercised at the union beyond the right foundation.”

Mackenzie: Okay. Yeah, I don’t think the word blight in is Baltimore yearly meeting’s faith and practice.

Micah: Yeah. That is interesting.

Mackenzie: I guess if somebody wanted to like collate advices on various topics for comparison between yearly meetings, that could be an interesting project.

Micah: That would be …

Mackenzie: I’m not undertaking it. Why don’t you do that?

Micah: That would be super interesting. If anyone does that, we will gladly have you on the podcast to discuss.

Mackenzie: Yes. Absolutely.

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