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!
Salt Lake City – Utah
For my next stop, I arrived in Salt Lake City, via a rather circuitous route. Rather than going directly there, I decided to take a bit of a detour through Nevada. That makes 19 states so far! I really wanted to drive through the Salt Flats west of the city, though I promised myself I wouldn’t actually drive onto the flats themselves. I like to think I learn my lessons sometimes. If you have never been, I have to say it is one of the most spectacular drives in the country. Certainly rivaling the coast of California and the mountains in New Mexico… for about the first 45 mins… The looming mountains that give way to the city itself remain on the horizon for at least another hour or so, like a cardboard mockery or a taunting, teasing reminder of how much farther I had to go down this long straight road. I feel like there is a metaphor in there somewhere.
At one point, right before I got there I had to cancel the reservations I made at the campground on the lake. What seemed like a straightforward 20-minute drive in actuality was a 4 1/2 hour detour to the one and only Quaker meeting in the state of Utah. I was pretty excited about this one, not only because I was extremely curious to learn about the coexistence between them and the Mormon population but because it would be my first traditional Quaker worship in about four states. While I really enjoyed the diversity of the practices I was able to participate in so far, they have made me appreciate our silent worship that much more.
The members started meeting about 50 years ago in a local community center. At this time, they were under the care of Logan Monthly Meeting and members of Pacific Yearly Meeting. Logan meeting has since been laid down and Salt Lake City Monthly Meeting is now part of Intermountain Yearly Meeting. You might remember me referring to Intermountain YM when writing about El Paso. I feel like that there needs a moment of consideration; the vast distance between El Paso and Salt Lake City. It makes me feel somewhat spoiled and more than a little ungrateful when I complain about having to cross the river for Quaker activities between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and it makes me wonder if there are ways for more PA Quakers to get involved with the goings-on in NJ. Attracted by the peace movement their membership grew through the 70’s, enough to warrant the purchase of their own building in the 80’s. Unfortunately, though this transient population came through the local University and left shortly thereafter. People come now attracted by their ideas around LGBTQ equality, Quaker process, and often consider their selves refugees from the Latter Day Saints church.
The meeting itself is now housed in what used to be an old Methodist church that was built in 1914. They Worship in the main room sitting in a circle of about 25 chairs. I am told on any given Sunday there are around 20 or so attenders. This Sunday we started with some music out of a homemade songbook. Mostly hymnal style but some were reminiscent of those we find in “Rise Up.”
I get the impression that is a really diverse group who practice a variety of beliefs. While none are in direct conflict with each other, I am told it is sometimes hard to focus on a single objective. For example, when the decision was made to purchase the building there was a great deal of concern that this would take away from some of the peace and social concern issues which were much more important to some members than the issue of where they worshipped. Some members lean more to the evangelistic Christian side, while others like to focus on things like opposition to war and violence, and others on LGBTQ rights. It is worth mentioning that no one I spoke to at this Meeting had any Quaker association before joining. Most were raised in the Mormon Church but had trouble reconciling their practices into what they considered a spiritual lifestyle. At one point I asked if silent worship was a problem for new members as I had heard that to be the reason so many of the Evangelical churches seemed to water down that tradition or do away with it entirely. The reply was an outright no. It seems despite all of their differences this was one commonality that bound them together in faith and practice.