Friends Meeting House - History

History

Quakers do not believe that meeting for worship should take place in any special place. They believe that "where two or three meet together in my name, I am there among them" (Revised English Bible, Matthew, Ch 18, v 20). Therefore meeting for worship may take place in any place. Early Quakers often met for worship outdoors or in local public buildings. However, when the Religious Society of Friends began to grow there became a need for buildings to house their meetings.

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. This practice is shared by a number of other non-conformist Christian denominations, including Unitarians, Christadelphians, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Mennonites.

Some Friends meeting houses were adapted from existing structures, but most were purpose-built. Briggflatts Meeting House is an example of the latter. The hallmark of a meeting house is extreme simplicity and the absence of any liturgical symbols. More specifically, though, the defining characteristics of the Quaker meetinghouse are simplicity, equality, community, and peace. Though never explicitly written or spoken about, these tenets (or “Testimonies”) of Quakerism were the basic, and only, guidelines for building a meetinghouse, as was seen through the continuity of the use of Testimonies within meetinghouse design. While meetinghouse design evolved over time to a standardization of the double-cell structure without explicit guidelines for building, the meetinghouse’s reflective architecture revealed a deeper meaning. The meetinghouse design manifested and enhanced Quaker Testimonies and the cultivation of the Inner Light that was essential to Friends. Quakers easily moved from one place of meeting to another, but when given the opportunity to design and construct their own place of meeting, Friends infused their Testimonies in the planning, design, and construction of the building.

Meeting Houses built in a traditional style usually had two meeting rooms: one for the main meeting for worship, and another where the women's business meeting may be held (often referred to as the women's meeting room). Meeting houses of this style usually have a minister's gallery at one end of the meeting room, where traditionally those traveling in the ministry would have sat, with an elders bench immediately in front of this. Wooden benches facing this occupy the rest of the room, often with a gallery for extra seating. Meeting houses of this style usually have high windows so that worshippers sitting in meeting for worship cannot see outside.

Meeting houses built in a more modern design will usually consist of: a large meeting room, smaller rooms for committees, children's classes, etc., a kitchen and toilets.

The meeting room itself is a place for Friends to withdraw from the world. The windows are set sufficiently high that worshippers will not be distracted by the activities of the world's people outside, or in some cases they provide a view into the meeting house garden. The seating was originally long, hard and wooden. Today it is usually separate chairs but the layout remains the same — a square or rectangle facing inwards to a central table.

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