Amesbury Friends Meetinghouse
Frankly, I never knew that Amesbury Meeting existed before starting this Meetinghouse Project. Ignorant, I know, but it’s a fact. So Amesbury was a delightful surprise from the start. After a day photographing in a Meetinghouse, I usually have formed an impression of a Meeting. After visiting Amesbury, my thoughts were focused on Quaker Testimonies. Here’s why.
A testimony, in Quaker parlance, means committed actions, such as public and vocal witness offered by Friends. Traditionally, there are five testimonies: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, and Equality. Amesbury embodies several of these testimonies.
The first record of Quakers in the Amesbury area is in 1701, so it is an OLD Meeting community. The current Meetinghouse was built in 1851 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Meetinghouse reminds me of the West Falmouth Meetinghouse in many ways. It was built around the same time, so the style is very similar: spare and plain, square with very large windows, a foyer and a balcony. In both meetinghouses, the space has been repurposed and reworked for modern needs. Just like West Falmouth Meeting, Amesbury’s attic space still houses the winching system used to raise and lower the dividers. The balcony is a storage area. The large meeting room has been divided with one half for Meeting and the other half for “community” functions. The basement is being used for a Montessori preschool.
Amesbury Meetinghouse has an impressive historical story line. John Greenleaf Whittier was a member and he was the Clerk of the Building Committee in 1851 when the current Meetinghouse was built. Whittier wrote the poem called “The Meeting” while sitting in the Meetinghouse. Furthermore, Whittier was an ardent abolitionist. There is evidence that Whittier was one of the conductors on the Underground Railroad. The small space behind the basement kitchen traditionally has been thought to be part of the Underground Railway network. The chamber was hidden beneath the floorboards of the worship space and housed several sleeping berths.
Though Whittier's story demonstrates a commitment to the Testimonies of Integrity and Equality, I have been especially thinking about the Peace Testimony since my visit to Amesbury. There are three things that form the basis for the Quaker Peace Testimony. First and foremost is the belief in that of God in every person. Second is George Fox’s statement made in 1660 and sent to King Charles II: We utterly deny all outward wars and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatever; this is our testimony to the whole world…Thirdly, George Fox also said: I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion for all wars.
Quakers are well known as pacifists during wars. They have been Conscientious Objectors, and have counseled others how to become the same. Though many Quakers are not strict pacifists, most do believe in ‘taking away the occasion for wars’. They work in conflict resolution, mediation, disarmament, education and especially peace education, relief work following wars, work in forgiveness and reconciliation, and work in restorative justice. All are important aspects of Quaker peace work. In 1947 the Society of Friends received a Nobel Prize for Peace for their relief work following the World Wars.
Personally I have always found the Peace Testimony difficult. In the face of corporate and governmental war machines and so much violence and evil in the world, what difference can I make as an individual? It makes me feel hopeless and helpless. So I was gratified to see that Amesbury Meeting, as a community, has committed themselves to peace. They have created the “Amesbury Friends Peace Center” which provides a safe, welcoming space for peace-promoting activities that are accessible to all. There are a lot of things to like about Amesbury Meeting, but the Peace Center is my most favorite. I applaud Amesbury for their local approach to peace. It seems they are following William Penn’s advice: Let us see what love can do.
The community room in Amesbury reflects their peacemaking commitment. The library and bulletin board seem to focus on peacemaking concerns and activities. The picture is of their bulletin board, chock full of items of interest for peacemakers.
4.Mary Abbott Williams(non-registered)
Once again your writing describing such a special place has moved me to tears. What you write is not only educational but really opens a door into your heart and soul and both are beautiful. I was ignorant of the fact that Friends had received the Nobel Prize for peace. How could I not have known that? Please keep going with your meetinghouse photography and sharing your insights with your followers.
Inspiring! What Quaker Testimony: Bravo!
What a beautiful meditation on the Peace Testimony. I too sometimes find it hard to maintain but time and time again we learn that war only produces more war.
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