Bethany Mennonite

Bethany Mennonite, in the western part of Woodstock, Vermont.
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Meet a 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.

Our first year. Nothing too slick.

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.

We met a lot of friendly people, answered questions, asked a lot of our own, and had a good time.

A refreshing take

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.

Peterson as himself …

 

… and as Marvin. Some of his characters, though, as so convincing I can’t see Peterson at all.

Time for Yearly Meeting

Oops! At least it wasn’t the R that fell.

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.

The golf carts are a popular way to get from one end of campus to the other, especially when you’re on a tight schedule. The volunteer drivers, I might add, are usually well into celebrating their inner child.

Rare books and files

It’s a big cabinet with protective doors. I love the smell of old books when they’re opened.

The library in many Friends meetinghouses may have a few shelves like this. From a similar bookcase in Ohio I once borrowed Joseph Besse’s 1753 two-volume A collection of the sufferings of the people called Quakers, for the testimony of a good conscience from the time of their being first distinguished by that name in the year 1650 to the time of the act commonly called the Act of toleration granted to Protestant dissenters in the first year of the reign of King William the Third and Queen Mary in the year 1689. Alas, we don’t have that one in our collection – those big books are a genealogical treasure. We still have plenty for a serious scholar or bibliophile to engage. It’s likely that many of the authors visited Dover as travelling ministers.

Who was it who so meticulously wrapped and cataloged all these and more so many years ago?

Look what we did 50 years ago

Found stashed in the gallery upstairs.

We’re getting ready to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the erection of our meetinghouse in June 1768. It’s our third and went up in one day, like an Amish barn-raising nowadays. The big sign stashed in the gallery upstairs announced a play one Friend wrote and the rest of the Meeting performed in honor of the 200th anniversary. Yes, poet John Greenleaf Whittier’s parents were married in our meetinghouse.

Gallery window

The second floor of the Dover Friends meetinghouse was originally a gallery — or balcony — that we closed off in the 1950s to conserve heat in the worship room below. One half of the space has since been converted into classrooms, but this side is used mostly for storage.