Quakers to dedicate Anne Arundel meetinghouse County's first such building in 150 years

April 18, 1993|By Angela Winter Ney | Angela Winter Ney,Staff Writer

At the end of a quiet street just outside Annapolis, surrounded by daffodils, Quakers commune in silence.

The Annapolis Religious Society of Friends dedicates its new building today, the first meetinghouse in the county in 150 years.

The brick building, designed by a Quaker architect, is unostentatious and graceful. Inside, the congregation of about 50 can look out through plain glass windows on fields of flowers and woodlands on three sides.

The 4 1/2 -acre tract on Dubois Road off Bestgate Road also is graced with unadorned wooden benches and tables.

The physical peace of the location reflects the spiritual freedom that draws many Quakers, says Dorothy Kinsman, the clerk of ministry and oversight. Ms. Kinsman grew up a Presbyterian but became a Quaker more than 20 years ago.

"I liked the fact that it's left up to the individual to go at his own pace [spiritually]," she said. "Nobody's pushing me. We have people from all backgrounds -- Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, as well as birthright Quakers, or people whose parents were Quakers."

Of course there are the traditional Quaker hallmarks -- "testimonies for peace, brotherhood, simple living," says Betty Lou Riley, clerk of the meeting.

The Annapolis Friends Meeting began in the early 1960s, when a few committed Quakers gathered under the Liberty Tree at St. John's College. They have since met in private homes and in churches.

Money for the $500,000 building and $65,000 lot was obtained through the group's semiannual flea markets, called Quaker markets, as well as loans from the Philadelphia-based national headquarters of the Society, called the General Conference, and the Homewood Friends Meeting in Baltimore. Members also helped by making interest-free loans, Ms. Kinsman said.

The Annapolis Meeting is one of 17 Friends groups in Maryland. The Society of Friends has about 200,000 members worldwide, comprising four different branches. The largest is the Silent Friends, such as the Annapolis group, which has no minister and communes in silence.

Quakers believe that God communicates directly to all men and women without intermediary. Thus they have no sermon, and worship in silent meditation.

In Annapolis, members wait in silence until someone has what they call a "leading" to speak. "Usually it's fairly personal," said Ms. Kinsman. "Then someone else may speak relating to that."

Members aren't required to agree with others' statements. "We don't debate," Ms. Kinsman says. In some meetings, no one speaks at all.

For new Quakers, sitting in silence can be tough, Ms. Kinsman acknowledged. "I got very restless at first. You have a feeling of 'Why doesn't something happen?' "

Gradually, one comes to feel comfortable with the approach, she said.

Friends have traditionally been characterized by their opposition war, support for equal treatment of women and minorities and uncomplicated way of life.

They also emphasize what they call "answering that of God in every person," or looking for the best in people. "We believe every person has something of God in him, and we're supposed to respond to that," Ms. Kinsman said.

Myths circulate about how the Quakers got their name, but a Quaker Manual of Faith and Practice suggests that followers of George Fox in 17th-century England were dubbed Quakers by a judge who said their earnestness made him tremble.

Quakerism in Maryland dates to 1672, with the establishment of the West River Meeting in Galesville, one of the first in the United States. The meeting was visited that year by George Fox, and a few years later by William Penn, the Quaker proprietor of Pennsylvania.

In 1698, the county had six Quaker meeting places, but no Anglican priests. But before long, the numbers of Friends had diminished. Some Quakers were forced out of Anne Arundel County because they refused to take an oath of loyalty to Lord Baltimore (Quakers do not swear oaths).

Others, under persistent government pressure, gave in and joined the Church of England. Still others left the movement or were asked to leave because they owned slaves. County Quakers outlawed slavery in 1777.

By 1812, at the last recorded visit, the Galesville meetinghouse had almost disintegrated; the site was described as a "desolate spot."

The old Quaker burial ground at Routes 468 and 255 is still maintained, however.

The spirit of the early Quakers continues in the Annapolis Meeting. Treasurer Schuyler Elsbree, a birthright Quaker, says he's thrilled with the new building -- but challenged to remember what the group had, even without its own meetinghouse.

"The atmosphere will be different, with a building, but spiritually it won't change what we already have," Mr. Elsbree said. "That's what we want to remember."

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