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Smith Neck Friends Meetinghouse
I will get to the story of Smith Neck, I promise. But first, I have to give some more bits of Quaker history and Quaker theology lite.
In their earliest days Quakers were a mix of the mystical and evangelical. Waiting in silence, gathered meetings and belief in the Inner Light are all mystical, seeking experiences. But make no doubt about it, early Quakers were also evangelical and preached with fervor so that others could hear their truth. Evangelical fervor brought Quakers to American shores and increased the numbers of Quakers in the colony dramatically. I am astounded that 2000 Quakers came to the opening of the Apponegansett Meeting and that 2400 Quakers lived on Nantucket in its heyday.
As religious tolerance grew in the Colonies in the late 1700's, Quaker evangelical fervor lessened. Meetings had less vocal ministry and followed strict behavioral rules. Many Quakers were disowned for marrying out of the Society of Friends, for playing music, for fighting in the Revolutionary War, or for wearing bright colored clothing. After 1820, the numbers of Quakers began to decline.
Following this “Quiet Period”, the mid-1800s ushered in a new era with differences of opinion about Quakerism, followed by schisms. There were three major splits during this time. I will talk about just one of them in this blog.
John Gurney came along in the mid 1800s. He emphasized the evangelical side of early Quakers, placing the Bible as the ultimate authority, with the Inner Light in a more supporting role. This was quite different from the traditional Quaker practice which placed the highest value on continuing revelation from the Inner Light with the Bible in a more supporting role. Gurneyites further broke from tradition by holding meetings for worship with pastors, sermons and music. These were called programmed meetings. This appealed to many Quakers in those times and led to further expansion of Quakerism in the American Midwest and West.
Today, in fact, the majority of Quakers worldwide have programmed Meetings. However, in Massachusetts, the majority of Quakers practice traditional Quakerism with unprogrammed or traditionally silent Meetings for worship, with the belief in the Inner Light as the primary authority and the Bible in a supporting role. There are currently just two Meetings in Massachusetts that hold programmed Meetings: Smith Neck and Allen’s Neck, both in the Dartmouth area.
Now…. back to the story of Smith Neck Friends Meeting, as it is known locally. It conducts business under the formal name of Dartmouth Meeting, which was originated in 1699. The story of the Smith Neck Meetinghouse continues the rich Quaker history of the Dartmouth area (See blog entry for Apponegansett, February, 2014.). The Quaker settlers in the Smith Neck area of Dartmouth began to meet in homes about 1768. The group was designated as a preparative meeting under the care of Apponegansett. In 1818, the Meetinghouse was built at Smith Neck. Over time they have added a community room, electricity, plumbing and a change to one uni-sex door for the entrance to the Meetingroom. At the time of John Gurney, the Smith Neck Quakers began to invite pastors to preach. To this day, this Meeting has continued with a programmed service with a part-time pastor. The service includes singing as well as a short period of silence. There is an organ, a piano, and a pulpit for the pastor, as well as benches that look more like pews. They describe themselves as Christ-centered, which means a greater emphasis on Jesus and the Bible than I have found at most other Massachusetts meetings. Despite having a pastor, they have traditional Quaker governance with committees and a Clerk.
When I first walked into the Smith Neck Meetingroom, my thought was: This looks like a church. What am I doing here, and what will I photograph? I felt a little out of my league. However, as I began to meditate and photograph, I realized that though there are stylistic differences and probably even some theological differences, there is a recognizable culture that is uniquely Quaker.
There were two things that made me feel right at home in their Meetingroom. There is an old wall clock ticking in the quiet of the room. And the hymnal on the organ was open to the hymn “We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.” I found myself quietly singing all the verses as I worked. Both of these things were so familiar to me from my home meeting, Valley Meeting in Pennsylvania, which was an unprogrammed traditional Meeting. I used to listen to the clock tick during silent Meeting, and we sang that hymn on First Day morning before settling into silent worship. The sounds of the clock and the hymn helped me to realize that although Quakers may practice different forms of Quakerism, may have Meetingrooms that look different, may even have slightly different theologies, we share some similar beliefs and we share a very similar “Quaker culture.” And we are united in our beginnings as a religion and united in a belief in the Light Within. We also subscribe to the same Quaker testimonies, which is a very important set of values to share.
I have chosen a straight forward picture of the interior of this Meetinghouse. It is a beautiful and well maintained Meetingroom. I wanted to show how this Meetinghouse differs from unprogrammed meetings: the benches are all front facing and there is a pulpit. Not visible in this photograph is the organ in the left front of the room. The aforementioned clock is on the right wall, near the window.
I have a new computer with a new monitor, so your pictures are even more spectacular (and they were good on my old monitor). I do like the text, the history is very interesting and I love your thoughts about each of the meetinghouses. Keep up the good work.
I love the photographs, and am starting to love the commentary nearly as much. Thank you, Jean.
I'm glad you gave history background...otherwise wouls not have thought this a Friend's Meeting. I especially loved your touch about the clock and the hymn making you feel connected.
The austerity of the setting feels Quakerly, very simple in spite of its similarity to a Protestant church in having pews.
Thanks for the History lesson. I did not realize what came from Guerney.
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