Thursday, April 5, 2018

Meeting House

I was one of the volunteers at our local museum who was invited for a tour of our local Quaker Meeting House, built 1810. Quakers came from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Not exactly Loyalists, committed to living under the British Crown, but probably looked on with suspicion by the Americans who had won their Revolution by force. Mainly, I think, the Quakers were offered free land in return for working on Yonge Street, and religious freedom.

Our host was great. He is a "convert" (as other faiths would say) or a "convinced Friend." In his 30s, he took his family to see the Sharon Temple, not far from us. Everything he learned about the "Children of Light" impressed him, so he asked how he could get in touch with them. The answer was that they had ceased to exist as a group, basically with the end of their founder's life. But they were an offshoot of the Newmarket Quaker Meeting, which still exists.

He gave great testimony. It is very common for Quakers to be active in the broader community, especially among those most in need. Prison missions are still extremely common. He has worked recently around the U.S./Mexico border, providing water to those crossing the desert. He will probably be in "Palestine" soon. "The least important thing we do is meet in this building on Sunday morning." Yet they have met every Sunday since 1810. Sometimes now fewer than 15 people, out of 50 or 60 "paid members." A lot of silence, no readings or collection plate. Standing to speak spontaneously, and there must be some silence to follow. Music (rarely) also spontaneous or unplanned, meaning no instruments.

Simplicity, pacificism, equality (women and children given much higher status than they were elsewhere in the 1600s).

I'm wondering: Is there just a kind of hippy openness, or is there some bite to this? Weddings came up. The young couple has to meet with a clearance committee. They can suggest some members of the committee, others will be volunteers. Tough questions will be asked about the young people's understanding of what they are getting into. The committee has been known to say no, you can't be married in this building. If the wedding goes ahead, once again the "ceremony" may be largely a matter of silence, unless someone has something to say. The young people read vows they have written. Everyone present signs the marriage licence, and takes responsibility for helping the young couple through life.

I didn't ask, but I think there is a kind of ex-communication. Our host said if you express your belief, say it has come from deep reflection and from your conscience, this will be respected. For example, some of them drink (although this may be unusual). When there has been military conscription, some have served. (More commonly they seek ambulance duty and such--at the front). But then he said briefly you might be presented with "queries" I think by the clearance committee. I gather the goal would be to see if you believe or do things that are actually contrary to Quaker ways.

The building is truly an oasis of peace, now encroached on by a subdivision. Our host said the province agreed to make the neighbouring Courthouse a neutral colour so as not to present a contrast with the meeting house. When the hew houses were being approved, the Town asked if it would be helpful to make front doors, not back doors, face the meeting house, so as to keep down the noise.


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