Mount Toby Meetinghouse
Mount Toby Meetinghouse is located in Leverett, Massachusetts. The Meetinghouse was designed and built in 1964, located on 112 acres donated by a member. There was an addition added in 1997. It is a spacious and roomy one story L-shape building with the meetingroom at one end. It has a Scandinavian, utilitarian, 60’s vibe to it. The Mount Toby Meeting community had lots of input with the architect and designed the building for “functional simplicity.” At that time, the community made a decision to create the meetingroom with windows above eye level, so that there could be “gathered Meetings” with few distractions. The Mount Toby members contributed a lot of the building labor. The Meetinghouse is very functional, but it is definitely not the most aesthetically pleasing meetinghouse in Massachusetts! What I saw, as a photographer, was lots of grey linoleum, utilitarian shelving, and beige carpeting with windows that do not show the surroundings to the greatest advantage. I know meetinghouses are precious to those who worship in them, and I am sorry, Mount Toby, but that is my opinion. So my photography was a challenge!!!
However, what the Meeting lacked in visual appeal was made up for in the evidence of a thriving, vibrant, active and engaged worship community, which was very appealing to me. The evidence was everywhere. This community really works. In 1667 Isaac Pennington said this of Quaker community:
Our life is love and peace and tenderness, and bearing one with another; and forgoing one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.
The “community” in a Quaker Meeting is a very important aspect of meeting life, and is one of the five original Quaker Testimonies: Simplicity, Integrity, Equality, Community and Peace. (See blog entries for Amesbury and Adams, August of 2014.) As I have traveled from meetinghouse to meetinghouse, I usually ask what is the best aspect of the meeting. The answer I usually get is “The Community.” There are three facets of community that are important in Quakerism.
The first characteristic of community is the social aspect. In the early days of Quakerism the meeting would provide food, money and shelter to needy individuals or families who may be experiencing economic hardship, imprisonment or worse arising out of persecution or prejudice against Quakers. Historically, there have always been Committees on Suffering, which provide support and assistance to those members who are suffering hardship as a consequence of actions taken in accordance with Quaker principles. These committees are still active today in some places. In all Quaker communities, however, help is usually provided to anyone who needs help, in whatever form they need it. Meetings are very caring communities.
There are other facets of community, however, which are unique to Quakerism. Though Quakers believe each person has their own relationship with God and each person communicates directly with God in Meeting for Worship, Quaker Meeting is really corporate worship. In a Meeting for Worship, Friends are collectively seeking the Light. A meeting that is especially spirit-filled is described as a covered, or gathered meeting. These terms signify that the love of God is covering the group, and the whole unit encounters the Light amongst them. In the tract called “A Gathered Meeting,” Thomas Kelly describes it this way:
In the practice of group worship on the basis of silence come special times when the electric hush and solemnity and depth of power steals over the worshippers. A blanket of divine covering comes over the room, a stillness that can be felt is over all, and the worshippers are gathered into a unity and synthesis of life which is amazing indeed.
These kinds of meetings are very powerful experiences, and they tend to bind a group together, which in turn strengthens the social experience of the members.
Finally there is the practical aspect of the community. As a group, members conduct memorial services, weddings, and run the business of the meeting. They also decide how they will proceed as a group in acting on their values. In the early days, the Quaker meeting community provided control of individuals, often monitoring their behavior to make sure it stayed within Quakerly tenets. This no longer happens, but when asked, the community will provide guidance and assistance to individuals who have a particular need. Some people have asked me why there is not anarchy in “Quakerdom” if each person is following their own leading? Community in a Quaker Meeting helps prevent this, providing guidance and assistance to individual seekers.
All of these “community things” ran through my head as I photographed at Mount Toby. The building was just a building, but the sense of spiritual connectedness and caring among a group of people was evident all around me: for the conception of the building, for the labor provided to build the meetinghouse, for providing help and care for each other, for their respect of individual differences and needs, for their weekly worship together, this community really seems to work. This year, Mount Toby celebrated 50 years of community. As many as 100 people attend Meeting each Sunday, and the numbers are growing, so they must be doing something right…
The picture is of the Mount Toby Meetingroom.
While looking at these pictures of the meeting houses. I cannot help but compare with the churches that I go to in the Midwest. It is the physical difference. Yes, we have pews, but where the Meeting Houses seem to have a kind of cushion on the seat, we have cushions on the kneeling benches, and none on the seat of the pews. Though some churches do have their pew seat upholstered. .... I am glad that the meeting houses have been maintained. A great surprise to me, for I thought it was one denomination that had fallen by the wayside. We are more famlilar with the Amish. who as a rule do not build churches but have families gather in their houses.. Thank you for enlightening me to present day guakers.
It is amazing to me that sometimes we are just a bunch of people sitting in a room together, and other times we are a gathered body. I've been to Mt. Toby, and I did find it comfortable to worship there, but you are right, the building is just a building. But the people in that meeting! Wow, there are a lot of people doing a lot of really great stuff.
Your photo draws the eye right into the meeting. It gives a sense of belonging to a group that worships here. I appreciate your insights about the background of the quakers.
Thank you for sharing your work.
This Photograph and, especially, your text are most interesting. I love your presentation of what a community is - -of corporate worship - of experience of spirit within meeting for worship. This sounds like a wonderful, lively Friends community and I think you did it proud.
I also like your personal, zen-like take on your photographing experience.
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