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South Berkshire Friends Meetinghouse
The Berkshires are a great place to visit, and I entertained myself quite well for several days in between Meetinghouse photography. One of the Meetinghouses I photographed was the home of South Berkshire Friends Meeting in Great Barrington, MA.
The Friends in this area have followed a traditional route to becoming a Monthly Meeting. In the 1950’s they began as a worship group, with interested people meeting in homes. In 1955 they became a preparative meeting under the guidance of an established meeting. And in 1984, the group became an independent monthly meeting, conducting its own business as South Berkshire Monthly Meeting.
At that time, they began to search for a building they could call home. In 1999, they bought 20 acres of land with a house on it. The house was remodeled with a meetingroom addition. Today, South Berkshire Meeting is a one-story building with a wide sweep of lawn, a beaver pond and a mountain just beyond. This is not a traditional Quaker building, yet the Meetingroom still feels ‘Quakerly’.
The story of the unfolding process of becoming a full-fledged Meeting, finding a place to call home and remodeling a building to suit their needs speaks to me of the long and winding road of Quaker decision making.
If I were a comedian, I am certain I could write a laugh-out-loud, funny parody of the Quaker decision making process. But I am most definitely not a comedian, so I will write about it with the same earnestness and sincerity with which Quakers approach their decision making process. It is a wonderful, awe-inspiring and creative way of approaching decisions. And at the same time, it is difficult, laborious, and frustratingly slow.
Quaker decision making is based on finding “unity” in the Truth of God’s plan. In Quaker parlance, it is described as “laboring in the Spirit until they can discern a truth that exceeds the reach of any one individual” (An Introduction to Quaker Testimonies by American Friends Service Committee, 2011). This is very different than majority vote. It is also different from consensus, in which all people agree. Here, everyone may not agree on the final outcome, but they all agree to move forward with the final decision. During Quaker process, when a concern is deliberated, each person’s opinion and insight is sought and valued. Sometimes all the individual opinions are as one, and the way forward is clear. However, as in any group of individuals, there are most often differing opinions. Sometimes one new idea can lead the entire group to a different decision, and sometimes one new idea can hold up the entire process. The Clerk of the Meeting often has a key role in listening and then stating “the sense of the Meeting.” The dissenters may stand aside at this point for the sake of unity. If not, the process continues until unity is found. This can often take place over a long period of time. Worship is interspersed throughout the process as all members of the group seek to leave ego behind and center on finding unity in the Truth of God’s perceived plan. As always in Quaker process, snags are inevitable. Sometimes, the smallest word or detail can delay finding unity. Sometimes one deeply held dissenting opinion causes friction during the process. But when a decision is finally made, it is usually a solid, well-considered, and creative outcome which all stand behind in unity.
I am certain that any Quaker who has been in a Business Meeting can identify with “hitting a snag.” In South Berkshire, the lengthy decision making process hit a snag while considering the question of whether to have benches or chairs in the new Meetingroom. Deliberations were long, arduous, and difficult. It shook the unity of the community. Today, chairs are in the Meetingroom. It still feels like a Quaker Meetingroom even without benches. And I have to tell you….the chairs are very, very comfortable.
The picture is of the South Berkshire Friends Meetingroom with the comfortable chairs. The windows overlook their beautiful grounds. On the right is their nod to Quaker benchdom.
I again find this blog fascinating not only in what it tells about Quakerism but for what it tells about each one of us and our thought processes. I like this way of decision making better than one person overruling the opinions of others--- and look how wonderfully they did. What a beautiful room to worship in.
Thank you for all your insights. They are wonderful.
I feel so blessed to be able to partake in your journey.
W Thomas Manders(non-registered)
Jean this was another interesting insight into quakerism. As a non-quaker I am finding these blogs exceptionally interesting. This house certainly has a different feel from the others, a little warmer to my eyes. I am not certain how even I feel about that but if that meeting through its decision process finds this correct then it must be. The decision process doesn't sound like it would lead to something else. I was trying to think of why a rug or chairs would be an issue and I guess, comfort could be one reason and distraction by the design in the rug. I think though that it might offer something else. Maybe the design of the rugs helps the mind focus on possibilities and the complicated process of life and faith like the quaker decision process.
This is certainly different and there's a lot to be said for comfortable blue chairs on a fine celestial rug but for some meetings Laboring in the Light can have the La ommitted in the word laboring .In this case Comfort is beautifully documented by you.
Thanks for adding pictures to the Blog. I learn a lot about Quakers, and particularly your understanding of the Quaker Ethos from this blog. Keep it up.
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