Quaker Meeting – 52 Churches

An advantage to the 52 Church project (more accurately the 52 Houses of Worship project) happening on Cape Cod is my proximity to relatively old churches and traditions. For example the oldest American synagogue is an hour away in Newport, Rhode Island; Plymouth is a mere 30 miles away, and the oldest Quaker meeting in the country is less than ten miles to the north in East Sandwich.

There are some significant churches on my mental list that I look forward to, either because of historical reasons or pure curiosity, and one of those is the Quaker meeting in Sandwich. This morning I went with great anticipation for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the historical importance of Quakerism to Cape Cod. I felt a bit guilty indulging in the Quaker meeting so soon in the project, but it was what I decided to do, so I did it.

“Quaker” is a perjorative term affixed to this particular practice of religious dissent and faith which began in 1650 in England when a judge dismissed the faithful as “quakers” because the power of their beliefs made them tremble before God. It arrived in Massachusetts shortly after the Mayflower, and its early adherents were severely punished, chastised, and even put to death for their beliefs, leading some to emigrate out of Plymouth to Sandwich, the oldest town on Cape Cod, where a meeting was founded in 1658. Other persecuted Quakers fled the North Shore of Massachusetts and founded the first white settlement on Nantucket. Over time many of the most prosperous whaling fortunes (Coffin, Howland, Folger) were Quaker fortunes. I strong recommend Peter Nichols “Final Voyageand Nathaniel Philbrick’s “In the Heart of the Seafor a clear look at Massachusetts Quakers and their relationship to the seacoast, industry, and the first American fortunes. My whaling captain ancestor, Thomas Chatfield, was not a Quaker.

But I digress. To the meetinghouse and its remarkable service.

The meetinghouse was built in 1810 in Kennebec, Maine, dismantled, barged down the coast, and reassembled by the numbers on its present location  north of the King’s Highway (Route 6A) in East Sandwich. It is on Quaker Meetinghouse Road and sits on a small hill in a wooded copse of locust and holly trees. The architecture is quite severe and ultra-New England, with weathered shingles and remarkably plain but beautiful detail work.

I arrived ten minutes early and entered the door as a woman stepped outside and declared “there’s a fire in the stove, make yourself at home.”

I stepped into the narthex/entryway, signed my name in the guest book, dropped some money into a box labelled the “building maintenance fund” and guessed at which closed door I should open. I stepped into a moderately sized room with rows of pews facing to the northwest and another set facing back towards the door. In the middle of the room was a woodstove and the chimney rose up to the ceiling and made a 90-degree turn to the chimney on the western wall. One woman sat in the pews. She did not turn when I entered. I found my place in the back row corner seat and made myself comfortable. It was so silent in the room that I didn’t dare snap a photo of the interior. This shot is from the Meeting’s website:

Not a word was said in the room for the next 70 minutes.

More people arrived and the only sounds in the room were the soft ticking of an old clock by the door, the rustling of one man’s synthetic jacket, an occasional airplane flying overhead unseen in the blue sky, the ticking of the woodstove as it slowly warmed up the chilly room, the shifting coals as the logs burned down, three sneezes that were unanswered with “gesundheits” or “god bless you’s,” the occasional rustling as someone shifted in their pew, the turning of a page as a man in the front pew read a Bible. This was not a place to have a cough, a rumbling stomach, or the hiccups.

No one preached. No hymns were sung. No prayers were said outloud.

I was attending an unprogrammed meeting. That means there was no minister or service, but instead a meeting of friends to contemplate God. I’ll quote from the Meeting pamphlet:

“We invite you to share the hospitality of our Meeting House and join in our unprogrammed Meeting. The Meeting asks that you listen attentively, both to the remarkable harmony of the silent waiting and to the minustry that may arise from the silence. We ask you to wait with patience and openness for an understanding of Friends Meeting.

Meeting really begins only when we are all joined in the silent waiting upon God that is known among Quakers as Centering Down.

Speaking, when there is any, arises from a deep religious experience and is preceded by the conviction that this experience must be shared. This is sometimes senses as an upwelling of the spirit, sometimes as an insight following study, meditation and prayer. It is always humble, always a result of the most earnest seeking. It is not casual or argumentative and seldom is humorous.”

The meeting ended around 11 am when the same woman who welcomed me stood up and shook hands with another person. I greeted the people around me, there were introductions by all, and some announcements of forthcoming meetings, food drives, and pot luck suppers.

Random observations:

  • I was perhaps the youngest person there
  • There were too few people to make any pithy sweeping demographic statement about the parking lot
  • I want to return to this service more than any of the previous three experiences

What I thought about during the 70 minutes:

  • Whaling and why Quakers dominated that industry (I have no idea).
  • William Penn
  • Quaker Oats
  • Why such a silent, benign, pacifist gathering would be persecuted 350 years ago
  • The branches of the bare locust tree through the antique glass windows and how that swirling effect is like my eyesight now
  • How completely timeless the room was — nothing in it other than the clothing and eyeglasses we wore and the three electrical ceiling lights was from this century
  • Richard M. Nixon (his mother was Quaker and his father converted)
  • The overalls the bearded man who tended the woodstove wore
  • Would someone speak?
  • This was the quietest I have ever been for an extended period of time
  • How much I enjoy this project

Here is the Wikipedia entry for the Religious Society of Friends. Next week, I may go Catholic.

Chrome OS running on a Lenovo S10

Imaged Chromium onto a 4 gb USB key, set the boot order on a brand new Lenovo S10 to look for a USB FDD first, and voila — I am running Chromium (and blogging).

Now to try this USB trick on a certain smartbook … Video to follow later. Fairly easy process involving a .tar file, Bittorrent, an image writer and simple instructions.

Why? Why not. If the wireless drivers worked I’d consider running Chromium and Google apps forever on this PC.+

Update:

Instructions are on PC World

Follow @hexxeh on Twitter, he’s the rocket scientist who figured out how to build this native-boot image(versus virtual machine insubstantation)

The login and password are “facepunch”

Unitarian Universalists of Barnstable – 52 Churches

I resumed my spiritual smorgasbord with a trip to Hyannis to attempt to attend services at the Brazilian Assembly of God church on Mary Dunn Road. I pulled into the parking lot at 9:45 – having had no luck in finding the service times as the church has no website – but things looked very sleepy, so with only a few minutes left on the clock until 10 am (which I assume is the default start time for many Sunday services) I fell back on Plan B and continued north to Route 6A, the Kings Highway, and turned into the Unitarian Church of Barnstable across the street from the Trayser Museum on Cobb’s Hill above the intersection of 6A and Captain Phinney’s Lane. This was not an entirely compulsive decision as I have admired the church for many years and wanted to have my first Unitarian experience somewhere in the course of my 52 visits.

The service didn’t begin until 10:30, so I drove down to Barnstable Harbor, parked the car, and listened to an excellent 1973 Boston Music Hall concert by the Grateful Dead that featured a flawless Here Comes Sunshine/Weather Report Suite from the Wake of the Flood album. That was an appropriate warm-up for my introduction to what may be one of the most liberal of the Christian denominations, if indeed “Christian” is even an appropriate label to fix to the “UU”. Unitarianism is very much a Boston tradition – the church has its headquarters on Beacon Hill and the church is identified with Ralph Waldo Emerson, a former Unitarian minister and perhaps the foremost American philosopher of the mid-19th century along with his peer, Henry David Thoreau. When I studied 19th century American religious and intellectual history in college, the influence of the Transcendentalists on the Unitarian church made me make a mental note to check it out one day – a note that took 30 years to realize.

The Unitarian Universalist Church is a liberal religion – more a congregation of people bound spiritually than by religion – which has no overt Christian dogma or reliance on scripture. Wikipedia has a long definition, here’s an excerpt:

Although Unitarian Universalist congregations and fellowships tend to retain some Christian traditions, such as Sunday worship with a sermon and the singing of hymns, they do not necessarily identify themselves as Christians, nor do they necessarily subscribe to Christian beliefs. The extent to which the elements of any particular faith tradition are incorporated into one’s personal spiritual practices is a matter of personal choice in keeping with Unitarian Universalism’s creedless, non-dogmatic approach to spirituality and faith development.”

None of this was known to me as I entered the church, so I entered with an open mind after wrestling with the front door for a few tugs until a nice woman (subsequently identified as the Reverend Dr. Kristen Harper) popped it open and bid me to enter. I took a back row corner seat in the straight backed pew, and pulled a guest card and history from the hymnal rack. The church was built in 1905, and was the eastern parish in the original Congregationalist parishes of Barnstable founded in 1646 (the western parish was the last church I visited, but that congregation is Congregationalist ((which is the antecedent for Unitarianism according to Wikipedia}). Reverend Harper, as luck would have it, posted some thoughts on how to define Unitarian Universalism on the church website last month. I suggest reading her reflection for a more personal attempt to define the “UU”.

The choir was rehearsing with great gusto as I filled out the guest card and blinked wetly with feeble eyes at the big room (note to self, need to read a basic guide to church architecture so I can show off with words like “narthex”). The podium, or altar, was simple, with a back wall displaying several bas relief carvings of a Star of David, Islamic Crescent and Star, Yin and Yang, Cross, and of course the Flaming Chalice symbol of Unitarian Universalism. No Jesus. No Virgin. No overt displays of any religion’s totems over another’s. The church was built in 1907 — replacing an earlier structure destroyed by fire in 1905 – and was designed by Guy Lowell, the architect of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

The pews filled up and folding chairs were brought in to accommodate the late arrivals. Reverend Harper rang a bell and the organ played a nice prelude of Thanksgiving hymns, including one I remember liking as a ten-year old, the classic Dutch hymn of Thanksgiving, “We Gather Together to Ask the Lord’s Blessing.” Reverend Harper made her introduction and welcome, noting that the congregation welcomed gay, lesbian and transgendered visitors. The chalice was lit, the congregation rose, and in unison made their affirmation. A hymn was sung, then a nice communal type of ritual was performed, with the congregation rising and walking up the center aisle to the altar where each picked a pebble from a bowl and dropped it into another while giving silent thanks. I was tempted to participate, but have decided not to engage in any rituals such as communion or other altar activities out of respect for the congregants and for fear of giving offense through lack of protocol.

At the back of the hymnal was a series of readings, or prayer-like statements, known as “responsive readings” written by many noted authors including Abraham Lincoln and Rabindrinath Tagore, the Indian Nobel Prize winner. We read “To Loose the Fetters of Injustice” (I forget who the author was).

The reading was “The Arc of the Universe” by Charlie Clements and the sermon was entitled “Guest at Your Table: Water Justice,” which fit neatly into my preconceptions that the UU would carry on the Transcendentalist koan of a “sermon in every stone.” Reverend Harper was a very eloquent and persuasive speaker and rooted her message that inequities in the distribution and availability of fresh water in the Third World and among the poor in local realities of drought and water use on Cape Cod. She kept me wide awake, the Churbuck test of any sermon.

Random observations:

  • Christ was never mentioned, nor any Bible quoted
  • The music and the setting were traditional. Juxtaposed with the absence of any overt Christian trappings, the music made this an unChurch-Church experience.
  • Barack Obama and Martin Luther King were cited by Reverend Harper, who is of African-American descent and who did a wonderful job quoting Rev. King’s “If not now, when?” speech
  • The average age of congregation tilted to 50
  • There were two dozen children and teens present
  • I didn’t see many twenty or thirty year olds
  • The sexes were equally represented
  • The parking lot had a high quotient of Mini Coopers and Subarus, this was not an SUV or BMW crowd

Next week — I have to catch up on a missed Sunday due to travel from San Francisco to Boston earlier in the month — so I may attempt a double-header this coming weekend with a synagogue visit on Saturday and a church on Sunday. Oh, and church recommendations are always appreciated. My neighbor, the Right Reverends Jeremy and Nicole are giving me some pointers in exchange for the loan of my clam rake. I will be in San Francisco over the Christmas holidays and thought I’d hit the Zen Center and perhaps Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill, Glide Memorial on Van Ness or the North Beach church where Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio tied the knot.

Whereabouts — week of November 23

Vacation this week as I burn through unused vacation days before they expire at the end of the year. In Cotuit — clamming, blogging, fixing leaky roofs; puttering is the operative word of the week. All children return tonight, big family feed on Thursday.

Following week — RTP for annual industry analyst conference. RTP the following week for winter planning.

Whereabouts — Nov. 16-30

Monday – Nov. 16: Cotuit

Tuesday-Thursday: Nov. 17-19: Morrisville, North Carolina

Friday -Monday: Nov. 20-30: Cotuit, Thanksgiving vacation

Returning to the east from California today — intense day of phone stuff tomorrow, sttategy review with COO on Tuesday, digital marketing team stuff for the balance of the week, then home for the holidays. Thus ending a solid month of travel from RTP to Beijing to San Francisco to RTP. Next road trips — back to back weeks in RTP the first two weeks of December, then west back to San Francisco for XMas and eventually CES in Vegas the first working week of 2010.