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How Is Thee Led? The meaning of Leadings in the Quaker World

Updated: Mar 8

For Friends the most important consideration is not the right action in itself but a right inward state out of which right action will arise. Given the right inward state, right action is inevitable. Inward state and outward action are component parts of a single whole.  

-- Howard Brinton, 1943

Friends are sometimes called “practical mystics” or “prophetic Christians” because Quaker worship has been a wellspring for service in the community and world that arises out of the ongoing revelation of the Light experienced in worship.

Leading and being led: the words are simple enough. But for Quakers they have their most profound resonance as defining religious experience. Friends speak variously of being drawn to an action, feeling under the weight of a concern, being called or led to act in specific ways. We speak of being open to the leadings of the Light, of being taught by the Spirit or the Inward Christ. Extraordinary claims lie embedded in those phrases. They say that it is not only possible but essential to our nature for human beings to hear and obey the voice of God; that we can be directed, daily, in what we do, the jobs we hold, the very words we say; and that our obedience may draw us to become leaders in all spheres of human life – in the professions, arts, and sciences, but also in discovering the ethical, political, social, and economic consequences of following the will of God.   -- Paul Lacey, 1985

A leading is an inner conviction that impels one to follow a certain course of action under a sense of divine guidance. Leadings are inspired by the Spirit in an individual, or in the Meeting, and accepted as a concern of the Meeting. Discernment over time tests if the Leading is true, or an expression of ego.

Friends have long believed it important that leadings be tested before action is taken. The process of testing is a form of spiritual discipline for Friends. A Friend’s concern and consequent leading may be an individual matter – something which one person is called to attend to without requiring assistance. In many cases, however, a Friend may receive guidance, aid, and encouragement from other members of the Meeting. Therefore, it has long been the practice of Friends to inform and consult with their Meeting when they feel a leading resulting from a major concern laid upon them.

For example, a member of our Meeting expressed she had a leading to go to Kenya to Minister to Quakers there. A Clearness Committee of a few Members was set up and met with her several times, questioning every aspect of the situation with her, in an attempt to discern if this was a true Leading, or an ego driven desire. It was determined that she was, indeed, being truly Led, and plans were made. She eventually made several journeys to Evangelical, Programed Quaker Meetings in Kenya, establishing bonds with them and supplying them with books and teachings of Unprogrammed Quakerism.

A leading is a sense of being drawn or called by God in a particular direction or toward a particular course of action. Friends speak of “feeling led” or “being called.” The leading may be short-term and specific in its fulfillment, or it may involve transformation of one’s life and even the life of the Meeting.

Historically, Quaker action in regard to Abolition of Slavery, the Rights of Women and LGBTQ persons, Civil Rights, protest against war, Voter Rights, Prison Rights, and other social concerns, all came out of Leadings that Quakers had.

But when one learns to be aware of inward thoughts and feelings, and spends time in the Silence, meditating, one becomes sensitive to the leadings of Spirt in their everyday life. Leadings do not need to be major projects, like ministering in Africa, but can be simple, everyday things, like checking up on a loved one or participating in a certain event. One learns to trust in Spirit for guidance in making everyday decisions, and asking for that guidance, those Leadings.

Leadings in the Quaker World

presented by John Palozzi


The Palm Beach Quaker Meeting invites you to share The Silence with us in a Spirit-filled space that has welcomed worshippers since 1958, regardless of race, gender identity, or nationality. Find information on the Home page of this website.


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