Friends Meeting at Cambridge Meetinghouse
…physical light is mysterious energy, transforming everything, yet often taken for granted. The same is true of Divine Light. When the invisible, yet omnipresent Divine Light is refracted through the silent, centered worship of a meeting or an individual, it becomes visible through action.
~ Anthony Manousos letter as quoted in Friends Journal, February 2014
I looked forward to visiting Friends Meeting at Cambridge. It is located near Longfellow’s House, just outside of Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I knew just where to find this Meetinghouse, as I attended there when I was in my late 20’s, and I was married there in 1979 under the care of the Meeting. I had not been there for a long while and I wondered if it would feel familiar. It did, though there were notable changes as well.
There are two adjoining buildings at Cambridge: one is the original house and is the “hub” (that is my name for it, not theirs!) with offices, rooms upstairs for residents, the kitchen, the library, the Friends Room, and a room used for mid-week worship. The other building is the Meetinghouse itself. There is a covered outdoor walkway between the two buildings as well as an underground corridor that connects them.
The house was acquired in the 1930’s. Later in the same decade the Meetinghouse addition was designed and built. Renovations including the addition of the Friends Room and the underground hallway were completed in the 1990’s. The house and the Meetinghouse are both brick and designed in the Georgian style that is identified by symmetrical composition.
Though it is not as “antique” as some of the meetinghouses I have recently visited, the Meetingroom at Cambridge is still clearly a meetingroom. There is no doubt it is a Quaker place. There are muted colors, a facing bench, benches arranged symmetrically within the basic rectangular shape. There are large windows, a balcony, and a foyer. There are no decorations to distract the worshippers. I found signs saying “Please be mindful that sounds carry.” This is Quaker lingo.
I felt right at home here, as if I could just sit down, calm down, center down. And of course, I did just that before photographing.
All around me, however, was activity. Friends Meeting at Cambridge is a very, very busy place. This is different from other meetinghouses I have photographed, which have been quiet, empty, and devoid of people. I was in Cambridge on a Friday, and the place was humming. There are over 400 members with a meeting on Sunday morning, and a meeting on Sunday evening. There is also a midweek meeting and once a month there is a family oriented meeting. There are five staff members, both full and part time: a Facilities Manager, an Office Manager, a Communications Coordinator, a First Day School Coordinator, and a Friend in Residence (for pastoral care). There is an AFSC (American Friends Service Committee) clothing room in the basement. When I was there, there was a display of Quaker wedding certificates in the Friends Room. There is evidence of a very active First Day School. There were people arriving and leaving all the time.
At Friends Meeting at Cambridge, the weight of history does not tug at me in the same way as it does in the more antique meetinghouses. I do know from personal experience that the silent worship here is deep and meaningful. What I sense is that the light of the Meeting has been refracted into action. Worship in the Meetingroom is still central to the life of this Meeting, but it felt as if the people, the service, and the Quakerly concerns are front and center.
The picture below is of the Meetingroom at Friends Meeting at Cambridge. I was standing at the fireplace end of the Meetingroom and looking toward the balcony. I am asked frequently if I “photoshop” my images. I do not add anything to the picture, but I do take out distracting elements, like light sockets, exit signs, and amplification wires hanging from the ceiling. In this picture, at the exposure that I used, the camera recorded the light streaming in the windows. This is what was present when I was photographing. I have not “photoshopped” the light into the image.
Jean, I am loving your words just as much as your photographs. Thank you for sharing this journey with us!
One thing about the days of the week. As I understand it, early Friends did not use the common names because they were the names of gods.
Thanks for asking about unfamiliar terminology! I forget that what is so normal to me might not sound normal to anyone who has not been a quaker. First Day School is Sunday School. One of the Quaker testimonies is simplicity which, in early times, was demonstrated in clothes, language, meetinghouse architecture, and in other such ways. The early Quakers used plain speech, and so Sunday was called First Day. I will write more about simplicity in some future blog.
A very nice article and lovely photograph and the beams of light, referred to by photographers often as god beams really add to the photograph. This is an interesting blog and I enjoy getting the new ones as they each have a different story with a different sense of each meetinghouse.
I would like to know what a "first day school" is? The terminology isn't familiar to me and maybe to others that would read this blog that are not quakers.
very interesting that you had the sense of calm as well as the sense of so much going on in this meeting. A very good thing, i would think. I am so impressed that you are doing all this research and writing. My brain couldn't handle it.
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