Western Friend logo

Dropping the Word “Oversight”

David-James Bloom
On Words (November 2021)


Dear Friends All: Words may have many connotations & differ across culture and experience. For most of us steeped in Quakerism, Oversight and Overseer are words we’re used to. For those of us raised as Friends, the images conjured may be of elders in the Meeting where we were raised, weightier Friends of a bygone era. For many the memories are positive. However, that is far from true for all of us.

In the last few decades, Friends have begun to question if Oversight and Overseer are words we should to continue to use, given connotations for many around slavery, a dreadful chapter of American history, echoes of which still affect our modern society. Roughly half the Meetings in College Park Quarter have already stopped using the words. 

After laboring on this for several years, Pacific Yearly Meeting at last annual session, reached unity on dropping the word Oversight. There was not unity on a term to substitute, so it is simply the Ministry Committee for now. This will be revisited in two years to see if there is Unity then on a new term to use.

At August’s Business Meeting, Apple Seed MM, followed suit. Our Committee is now Ministry and Care. In October, our clerk raised the issue with Ministry and Oversight for College Park Quarter. At Winter Quarter’s plenary in January, M&O proposed changing the name to Ministry and Good Order, but it was clear there was not yet unity to make the change. The Quarter decided the issue should be referred back for seasoning at each of our Monthly Meetings, so we have greater clarity when the issue is discussed again at Spring Quarter next May.

Apple Seed is clear in our own decision to discontinue use of the words Oversight and Overseer. We felt clear that Ministry and Care best described the function of the committee in our Meeting. Our Meeting urges all Monthly Meetings in our quarter to season their own thoughts on the matter and we hope that you will be led as we have been. It will be our Meeting’s recommendation to Quarter to do the same. The words we choose to use, do matter.

Apple Seed recognizes that simply eliminating the words Oversight & Overseer are in no way the totality of what we need to do, to become a diverse, antiracist society that embraces the divine in all of God’s children, but rather a good place to start. It is not to appear being ‘woke’, but a call to an awakening of where we ourselves perpetuate class divisions our Quaker forebears struggled to turn away from.

– David-James Bloom, Clerk, Apple Seed Monthly Meeting (PacYM)


Quaker language

Return to "On Words" issue