This is how we kept warm on icy mornings, back in the day before the meetinghouse had a wood stove. Friends would heat the stones in their own hearths, place them in metal carriers, and huddle over them in the hour of worship. The stones would also keep the carriage warm on their journey.
We call them “benches,” not “pews.” And they’re movable, not fixed to the floor. But as we’ve adapted more of the meetinghouse to other functions, chairs have replaced benches in some rooms. So what do you do with the old ones?
Above the coffee pots in our meetinghouse sits this painting, originally used as an illustration in an edition of John Greenleaf Whittier’s collected poems.
The particular poem is “How the Women Went from Dover,” telling how three Quaker women came to town in 1662, preaching and teaching until they were arrested, convicted, and sentenced to cruel punishment. It was the start of our Friends Meeting, the fifth oldest congregation in the state. Despite continuing persecution, nearly a third of the population became Quaker.
Nowadays, the general public knows little or nothing about Quakers. So some of us are trying to be a bit more visible.
For the past several years we’ve been participating in the annual Apple Harvest Day street fair the chamber of commerce hosts the first Saturday in October. It’s grown into a beehive that sprawls over the entire downtown and down along a riverside park, attracting tens of thousands to town. While many of the tents are for arts and crafts vendors or local eateries, nonprofits are also a major presence.
Each year, we’re learning a little more. Remember, too, that it’s repeated positive impressions that eventually lead individuals to try what you’re offering.
We’re just getting our message out. We’ve developed from these humble first appearances to a more focused Meet a Quaker theme. Unlike many of the other tents, we’re not selling anything – we’re just trying to raise the visibility of the state’s fifth oldest congregation.
Peterson Toscano is a remarkable Bible scholar, one who frequently opens a passage in a new way to me. Let’s say I quote him a lot. But he’s also, well, as he’s described it, a “quirky, queer, Quaker performing artist and comic” and environmental and social justice activist and a lot more. He adapts readily to any audience, large or small, young or old, indoors or out. Oh, and he is incredibly funny, even when dissecting a Biblical passage. I always find him quite refreshing.
Here he is in the Gonic meetinghouse in Rochester, New Hampshire.
Like many other Yearly Meetings in North America, ours holds its annual sessions in August, these days gathering for nearly a week on a college campus. It’s a powerful time of faithful work on business decisions and administration, worship, Bible study, inspiration, fellowship (often around food), music and dance, and friendships old and new.