Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

NEYM Sessions: Prologue, The Great Meeting House

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 your oatmeal.”

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.

Blessings,

Will T

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Scott said...

Nice post which 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. Thanks a lot for posting this article.

May 01, 2012 8:22 AM  
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