Hello my name is Joshua Ponter. I am a member of Haddonfield Monthly Meeting in South Jersey’s Philadelphia area. I have embarked on a year-long mission to travel around the country collecting stories about the founding of different meetings and looking at the way we practice Quakerism today. I will be blogging about my travels on the PYM website. Find my latest entry below. Please email me at JPonter1@gmail.com if there is anyone from your meeting who would like to sit down with me and speak to some of your history — or if you would like more information on me or my project . Thank you!
Another lesson learned from my rough start is how vital my car will be along this journey, and the importance keeping it in good working order. I decided to backtrack a little and get some repairs done I otherwise would have put off indefinitely had I only been driving locally. It was stormy and rainy almost the entire time the car was in the shop, so I was glad not to have to drive through that weather.
Eventually, I made it to Maryland and quite accidentally attended Worship at Pipe Creek Monthly Meeting. I had every intention of parking the camper at a nearby campground and driving into Baltimore to attend Homewood Meeting but on arrival the gate was down and no one was in the office, so I found a Walmart to camp at for the night.
The next morning I set off up the mountain roads through the dusty fog. I would occasionally see a patch of sunlight break through the clouds and illuminate the valley below. My heart would rise then immediately sink as I realized this was only a fleeting tease. The sun was just not in the mood and neither was I, thinking, “I bet this would be beautiful if…”
I arrived about an hour before Worship began to walk around the grounds and take some photos of the meeting house and the small ancient cemetery — its stones weathered and gray, the meeting house weathered and gray, the weather was gray. It took a bit of digging into some archives to figure out what time they had worship, as the meeting has no website, facebook page, or listing on the main FGC website. So I sat down next to the old bricks to journal. The bricks were at one point plastered but the mountain winters left only specks of the gray finish atop the crumbling red and mortar.
The fact that it took me so long to find the worship time led me to consider the strong possibility that this meeting was no longer attended and had gone the way so many have of late as the Quaker population ages. There were still signs of life, however. A small light on inside, freshly cut and stacked firewood, small ruts in the lawn from vehicles parking and pulling away, and a splattering of Fox quotes on posters gave me hope while I sat there in the damp air, alone save for the enormous silhouettes of black vultures perching high in the surrounding trees. My journaling then stopped abruptly with the words, “People are here!!”
Initially, when I presented my project to people and told them I planned to wing the interviews, as it were, they would respond with a furled brow and the strong recommendation to seek guidance from folks who had experience with these types of projects. So, I did. I came up with this outline:
Conduct a recorded interview with at least two people, asking the same half dozen questions at each meeting I visit. Those being:
- Can you tell me some stories about how your Monthly Meeting was founded?
- What can you tell me about the practices and worship of your meeting?
- What can you tell me about the demographics of your meeting and how they differ from the surrounding community?
- What can you tell me about the past of current conflicts within your Meeting? How have or are you dealing with them?
- What conflicts, if any, do you see arising in the future?
In practice this never works out the way I plan and in the end I end up, you guessed it, just winging it.
Notes from my Interviews with Pipe Creek Monthly Meeting
Including myself there were 13 humans in attendance at worship, most of whom were of an older generation but not all. The room was small with 14 benches, none of which are half the size of those from the meeting of which I am a member. The inside had certainly been renovated within the last 20 years with new floors and ceilings, but a small wood stove remained like an after image from former years. The new heating system around the floor board chirped sporadically giving life to the ancient building. My cheeks were warm and heavy from lack of sleep and the previous day’s stressful drive, but my heart fluttered with anticipation for the conversations after worship. Not much was said to me before we started, and I was slightly concerned about the reception I would receive as I looked around the room trying to read the faces.
It turned out that this was an amazing group of individuals whose primary language was that of laughter. I definitely do not remember any of their names, but they had great food! While we were eating, I was able to air most of my questions.
So I’m told in 1735 a group of Hicksite Quakers (a branch of liberal Quakers) settled in the area, moving down from southern Pennsylvania. In 1736 people began to have preparatory meetings in their homes, and the Meeting house was built in 1772. One of the major goals of the first Quakers in the area was directed towards abolition, to the extent that they denied membership to any applicant until they freed their slaves. Unfortunately, membership began to decline in the area because, until the 1800’s, the policy was that if a Quaker were to marry a non-Quaker they were read out of the meeting (removed from membership). The Quarterly Meeting (a regional body of Quakers) was also home to a Quaker school which burnt down around the time of the civil war. Attempts to renew and rebuild the school had to end around 1890 due to failure to secure the funding necessary.
I was able to sit in on their business meeting which focused mostly on efforts to help with homeless shelters around food preparation and expediting the food distribution process. Afterwards, they had time for a bit more conversation when I learned that there had been some discouraging conflict within the Quarterly Meeting involving gun regulations. Unlike the area I am used to, this is a very rural setting. I have a sense that more people have guns than not in their homes, nevertheless it was interesting to find it a source of disagreement within the Quaker community.
Thank you, Pipe Creek Meeting for your warmth and spirit! I will keep you with me in my travels!