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Yarmouth Preparative Meetinghouse
I just have to go back to a little history here because the diaspora of Quakers in New England is pretty interesting. One of the things I had not expected during this journey of mine is the development of an interest in Quaker history (or probably Quaker history lite as per this blog). But this is great stuff and I cannot help but be engaged in it as I look at these historic buildings.
In the 1600's Puritans ran Boston. They did not want the Quakers there, considering them to be an upstart, dangerous, radical sect. Though some Quakers ministered in the Boston area, they were imprisoned, banned, whipped, and executed. You name it, the Puritans did it to the Quakers. One person convinced by the preaching in Boston was Nicholas Upsall. When he was banned from the Boston area, he went to a less populated place and began to speak to others to convince them of Quakerism. Thus he ended up in Sandwich, Massachusetts. East Sandwich Meeting is the oldest continuous Quaker Meeting in America, begun in 1656-57. The Wing family belonged to this Meeting, and several members of this family moved further east to the Yarmouth area, beginning a Meeting there in the late 1600's, becoming a stand-alone Meeting in 1681. Several of the Sandwich Friends moved west to the Falmouth area and started west Falmouth Meeting. The history of the three Meetings is covered very well and a lot more thoroughly on their excellent website at http://www.capecodquakers.org.
The three meetings: East Sandwich, Yarmouth, and West Falmouth, are linked historically as well as geographically. Today, they cooperate together as Sandwich Monthly Meeting, and each separate worship community is considered to be a preparative meeting of the Sandwich Monthly Meeting. I don't know of any other such arrangement in New England, but it makes perfect sense here.
During the era when these meetinghouses were built, Quakers used large windows in the meetingroom and also usually had an entry foyer. Most early meetinghouses had separate entrances for men and women. Most had winching systems to raise and lower partitions, which were used to divide the meeting room in half. During that era, if the meeting was large enough, or needed overflow seating, a balcony was added. Usually the balcony surrounded an open area in the flooring so that sound and heat could rise from the first floor. Both Sandwich and Falmouth had balconies, Yarmouth did not. If the meetinghouses had balconies, there were usually separate men's and women's staircases to the second floor. In all meetinghouses, the windows are usually large and shed beautiful light into the meeting room.
The current Yarmouth Meetinghouse was built in 1809 and is now a Historic Commission Building. It is beautifully restored, maintained, and preserved. Since all the work is either managed by or done by Meeting members, I can only assume that their Maintenance Committee is very busy. To preserve the historical integrity of the original Meetinghouse, they have added a community house on the property. This building is a restored one room schoolhouse. This is where First Day School, indoor plumbing, cooking and shared meals are found. The quiet, the peace, and the stillness of the Meetinghouse is left behind and the thrum of modern life is found in their community building.
I have been visiting and photographing some really old meetinghouses lately. The history of the Quakers and the history of their meetinghouses is an important story, but it is not the whole story. As I reflect on this, I ask myself: Despite the history and the old meetinghouses, what is it that keeps Quakerism relevant and vibrant today? It begins in the quiet and peace of the meetingroom, that is for sure. How can we preserve and perpetuate the spiritual essence of Quakerism and still grow, adapt, and be relevant in today's world?
The picture below was taken in Yarmouth's community house. Though their Meetingroom is quite beautiful and I took some fine photographs, if I do say so myself, I am putting in this particular picture because it reminds me that as I look at historic meetinghouses the current vibrancy and relevancy of Quakerism in today's world is so very, very important.
I am so much enjoying reading your blog and looking at your photos, and believe this is really important work you are doing. I have been in many old meetinghouses and felt the presence of the quakers who have worshiped there before, and I see that in your photos of our historic meetinghouses. But this photo especially speaks to me. The vibrant colors of the peace mandalas and peace cranes against the peaceful white background of the windows, the grid of the windows (our history?) "holding" the kaleidoscopic look of the mandalas, speaks to me of the historic quaker context that we need to treasure and recognize as a background or a "surround" for our living work today.
I am enjoying learning all this history, as I missed Quakerism at Earlham.
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