Last year at sessions we began our
celebration of New England Yearly Meetings 350'th year with a Jubilee
in which we set aside most of our business and spent much of our time
together in Meetings to Hear God's Call. This year, to cap off the
year, we had a gathering at the Great Meeting House in Newport, RI
the day before the official start of sessions.
The Great Meeting House was built in
1699 and hosted the sessions or New England Yearly Meeting from then
until 1905 except for a few years during the American Revolutionary
War when the British blockade prevented people from the mainland
reaching Newport. It is a large building and when it was used for
sessions sat several thousand people. The major beams visible
overhead in the original section are at least 2 feet square and run
the full width of the building and are each cut from a single tree.
There are boards on the interior walls that are three feet wide. We
just do not have trees like that anymore. At the time the building
was built, the forest of similar trees extended from the east coast
to beyond the Mississippi River.
The first part of the afternoon was
spent in doing a number of service projects at the Martin Luther King
Community Center, next door. At one time the Community Center was
housed in the Great Meeting House. Friends gathered litter from the
grounds, painted exterior trim, and helped move shelves and organize
materials in the center.
We then held a silent Peace Vigil on
the front corner of the grounds. It was a hot day but just as the
vigil started a breeze came up and a number of people reported that
they felt a sense of blessing when that happened. ( I was still
cleaning paint brushes and re-hydrating myself at the start of the
vigil.) There was steady traffic through the intersection where we
stood and many passers-by were supportive, waving the peace sign,
honking or waving. One man called out from a passing car, “Love
The original plan had been for people
to bring their own dinners and perhaps something to share but that
seemed to morph into an impromptu potluck. Inside the Meeting House
was an historical exhibit that highlighted some of the history of
Friends in New England. After dinner, we heard a brief talk on the
history of the building. There was a musical presentation with a
chorus of Friends presenting a few numbers from “The Fire and the
Hammer” which was going to be presented in full later on during the
Yearly Meeting Sessions. We then had a meeting for worship. I was
tired from a very busy week with insufficient sleep. I had worked
outside in the sun most of the afternoon, had just eaten, and the
meeting house was warm. I found myself nodding off and wondering how
many of my forbears had also dozed in these rooms. I take some
comfort from reading in Elias Hick's Journal of times when he reports
that he was beset by a “drowsy sleepy spirit” during the forepart
of meeting. Of course, most of the time, he goes on to say that he
overcame that and was later opened to give testimony in the latter
portion of the meeting. Such was not my case that evening.
Nevertheless, it was a favored meeting.
It was reported at the end of the
evening that there were about 250 people in attendance, far in excess
of the 140 or so who had registered in advance. I found the day to
be very satisfying. It seems that it might be a generally useful
idea to seek ways to incorporate acts of concrete service into our
times together. It not only helps us break up our sometimes intense
focus on the internal workings of the Society of Friends, but it is
also a gentle form of outreach and letting the world know that
Friends are not just an historical curiosity or makers of oatmeal.
More to come.
Labels: 2011 Sessions, Great Meeting House, NEYM