Northampton Friends Meetinghouse
Northampton Meeting is found on the second floor of a building on a side street in downtown Northampton. It is a condo-style Meetinghouse, the first one of this kind that I have seen!
The Meeting itself began as a worship group in 1991. It was approved as a full-fledged Monthly Meeting in 1994. Then, the members began to look for an appropriate place to call home. In 2001, they purchased parts of the second floor of a downtown building. The architect, Lynn Posner Rice, reworked the interior space for the use of a Quaker Meeting. The space today has a library, a kitchen, a coatroom, 3 First Day schoolrooms, a community room, and the Meetingroom. About 35 people attend Northampton on a regular basis.
In prior blogs I have talked about the five testimonies, which are really codes of behavior for Quakers. The five testimonies are peace, equality, simplicity, integrity and community. (See blog entries for Amesbury and Adams, August of 2014, and Mount Toby, December of 2014.) Northampton’s Meetingroom brings to mind Quaker simplicity at its best. The space has lots of windows and natural light, a wood floor, and benches in a circle-type arrangement. It is a lovely, light space reminiscent of the older meetingrooms I have been in, though far more modern.
The testimony of simplicity arises out of a desire to give the inward experience the highest priority. Anything that diverts from the inward experience is considered unnecessary. This focus on the inward begins in the style of worship, which is plain and simple quiet worship while seeking the Inner Light. But it also extends to all outward appearances in dress, speech, and architecture. Any outward distraction is considered an impediment to spiritual growth. An early Quaker named John Woolman expressed another aspect of simplicity:
May we look upon our Treasures, and the furniture of our Houses, and the Garments in which we array ourselves, and try whether the seeds of war have any nourishment in these possessions.
In short, he believed that creation of luxuries and other unnecessary things leads to the oppression of others, and that this, in turn, can lead to war. If all live simply, such oppression is not an issue. Today this is referred to simply as “right sharing of resources.” And in the clearest form yet: Live simply so that others may simply live.
As in all testimonies, the outward manifestations of the testimony of simplicity have changed over time, but the essence of it remains the same. Quakers were well known for what is thought of as traditional Quaker garb: dresses in muted gray and brown colors with simple bonnets with no ribbons or other ornamentation. Men wore plain black suits and hats, which they did not take off in the presence of others. Today Quakers dress in what I call Quaker Casual. The best definition of this for me is: anything goes, as long as it is comfortable and functional.
Plain speech with thee, thy, and thou was once used, but is no longer the norm. The names of the week and the months were numbered. Today, Business Meeting minutes are still recorded with this nomenclature and Sunday School is still referred to as First Day School.
At one time, music and the arts were banned. This is no longer true today.
In today’s busy world, right ordering of priorities, with reduction of waste, clutter and too much busyness is an important aspect of simplicity. If one is too busy, there is no time to focus on the interior quality of life and on spirituality….
In architecture, early Quaker Meetinghouses were modest and simple and generally reflected the beliefs of the builders. In accordance with the testimony of simplicity there is no ornamentation of any kind. The benches are usually in an inward facing square or circle that focuses on the people involved. Even though they are simple buildings without ornamentation, they are usually aesthetically pleasing to the eye, which is in accord with the desire for harmony within their communities. The simplicity of the buildings allows the worshippers to focus on inward prayer.
Northampton has managed to achieve simplicity in their Meetinghouse even though it is in a condo building. The Meetingroom is simple, with benches arranged in a circle. An ex-convict who was working to rehabilitate himself made the benches, which are fashioned after Costa Rican Quaker benches. The other rooms of their Meetinghouse are remarkably uncluttered and simple also.
The picture is of the Northampton Meetingroom. I had a difficult time deciding if I should put in a more documentary photograph of the Meetingroom. I finally chose the photo that represents (for me) the very spiritual nature of the room, and the uplifting of spirit that occurs there. How can one help but look inward in such a beautifully simple, harmonious room?
This Meeting Room looks timelessly modern. What a wonderous space for a gathered meeting. I especially like your text which describes Friend's values. the photograph is a perfect illustration of what you are telling. Northhampton must be a very lively, well attended meeting. Who wouldn't want to gather there?
As always you do such a wonderful job of capturing the sense and place.
I so look forward to reading and seeing your continued path on this photographic and spiritual journey.
As always, very interesting. The benches are beautiful, but they don't look comfortable. How were they to sit on?
E Grace Broderick-Noonan(non-registered)
Jean, what a wonderful, simple, explanation of the reasons for "simplicity". and what a photograph! It looks like a pencil drawing, and is quite beautiful.
My, this looks very 17th century!
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