Back in 2006, on a road trip through the Northeast, we attended an unprogrammed Friends meeting in Providence, Rhode Island. Our experience this morning at Old Haverford Friends Meeting in Haverford, Pennsylvania, was in most ways the same.
This meeting is exactly 200 years older than Newberg Friends, which is considered old on the other side of the country. According to Wikipedia: Quakers have always reserved the word church to mean the body of people who make up the worshiping community: Quakers do not use the word church to refer to the bricks and mortar of a worshiping community. George Fox, an early Quaker, spoke of places of worship that have steeples as steeple houses, and those that do not as meeting houses. That would make Newberg Friends a steeple house. Or more accurately, a bell tower house.
At 10:50, we entered the meeting house, where five people welcomed us.
I took this picture after everyone left, but this will set the stage for my description of the morning. As we found a bench, one of the women told us they’d just decided to “try singing something.” Someone suggested “For the Beauty of the Earth” and found it in their nice new Friends hymnbook. The designated piano player chose an appropriate key on the electronic piano and wondered aloud whether it was about right. “This would be your highest note.” (plunk, plunking the note) Once everyone was satisfied with the key, he played the intro. After we’d sung all four verses, a woman on the front pew said, “Well, that wasn’t too bad.”
As we neared the startup time—11 a.m.—a young family of four came in, and they talked a little about their new baby, seven weeks old and how the adjustment was going. An older couple sat in front of us. At this point we numbered eleven. At exactly 11, one man and one woman left their seats to sit on the facing bench.
It looks like a choir loft, but in the Quaker meeting house the facing bench is where the “ministers” sit. We follow their lead, which was to close our eyes and sit very still. In the stillness we are to give God our full attention. His message may be for us personally
or for us to share with others in the room.
Ten minutes into the silence the door opened and in two women with two children entered. One of the children was dressed as Batman, mask and all. It was impossible to not look and smile. None of the children made a single sound. For a good five minutes! But then without fanfare, they all left with at least two of the parents. They had obviously learned it wasn’t okay to make noise in the meeting house, but there were no noise restrictions on the other side of the door.
I was happy for the distraction, because an hour of silence in a very warm room with only the appearance of air movement (ceiling fans moved but barely) can make me ever so slightly antsy.
At the stroke of noon, the “minister” stood up and shook hands with each person with a “Good morning!” A bit of business was shared and we were asked to tell where we are from.
We told them we were from Newberg Friends Church in Newberg, Oregon, home of George Fox University. This picture of George hangs in their meeting house, so we had an instant connection. Even without Facebook.