Friends meeting house

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Plymouth Friends Meetinghouse, in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, built 1708; porch added 1867
Chichester Friends Meeting House near Philadelphia, built 1769
Interior of the Arch Street Friends Meeting House in Philadelphia, built 1805

A Friends meeting house is a meeting house of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), where meeting for worship is usually held.

Typically, Friends meeting houses are simple and resemble local residential buildings. Steeples, spires, and ornamentation are usually avoided.

When Quakers speak of a "church," it generally refers to the persons of the worshipping community, rather than the building itself.


Generally, Quakers believe that meeting for worship can occur in any place - not just in a designated meeting house.[1][2] Quakers have quoted Matthew 18:20 to support this: "Where two or three meet together in my name, there [is God] in the midst of them."[3][4] Therefore, theoretically, meeting for worship may be held anywhere.

Before the advent of meeting houses, Quakers met for worship outdoors, in homes, or in local buildings.

In the late 17th century, Welsh Quaker Richard Davies (1635-1708) described his experience meeting Friends outdoors:

I went to visit [four] young men, my former companions in profession of religion. Two of them were convinced [Quakers]...we agreed to meet together; but none of us had a house of his own to meet in. We determined therefore to meet on a hill in a common, as near as we could for the convenience of each other, we living some miles apart. There we met in silence, to the wonder of the country. When the rain and the weather beat upon us on one side of the hill, we went to the other side. We were not free to go into any neighbours' enclosures, for they were so blind, dark, and ignorant, that they looked upon us as witches, and would go away from us, some crossing themselves with their hands about their foreheads and faces.[4]

In 1662, John Bowne was arrested by Peter Stuyvesant for holding Quaker worship at his 1661 house in Flushing, Queens, then part of New Netherland.[5][6] Bowne was deported to Holland and placed before a panel from the Dutch West India Company.[6] After claiming that the Dutch colony had reached a religious-freedom agreement with his community, Bowne was set free.[6] Two years later in 1664, the British took control of New Amsterdam and promised more religious freedom for colonists.[6]

Perhaps due to the growth of the Religious Society of Friends, or due to discrimination, there arose a need for buildings to house meetings.[citation needed]

In 1670, Friends in England built the first worship-purposed meeting house.[7] The Hertford Meeting House is located in 48 Railway Street, Hertford, East Hertfordshire.[8] This is the oldest Quaker building in the world, still in use for worship meetings.[9] It was thrice visited by Quaker founder George Fox.[7]

In December 1672, while traveling in Wales, Fox stated that his group "had a large meeting in the justice's barn, for [the justice's] house could not hold the company."[10] This shows that holding meeting for worship at home was common in areas where a meeting house was not available.

In 1682, the Third Haven Meeting House in Talbot County, Maryland was built. This is considered the oldest surviving Friends meeting house in America.[11]

Some Friends meeting houses were adapted from existing structures, but most were purpose-built. The 1765 Brigflatts Meeting House in Cumbria, England 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 meeting house's reflective architecture revealed a deeper meaning. The meeting house 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.[citation needed]

Interior of the Colora Meetinghouse in Maryland, showing the facing benches and the moveable divider typical of 18th and 19th century meetinghouses in the area


Quaker meeting houses generally lack spires, steeples, and other architectural decorations to embrace simplicity. Colonial American Quakers built meeting houses that resembled residential homes to display the building's role in the community, avoiding "churchly" ornamentation.[12]

While imprisoned for his beliefs in 1665, Quaker founder George Fox had a conversation wherein he explained "church" terminology and derided steeples:

George Fox: What dost thou call the church?
Dr. Cradock: Why, that which you call the meeting house.
George Fox: Has Christ shed his blood for the steeple-house; and purchased and sanctified the steeple-house with his love? And seeing the church is Christ's bride and wife, and that he is the head of the church, dost thou think the steeple-house is Christ's wife and bride, and that he is the head of that old house, or of his people?
Dr. Cradock: No, Christ is the head of the people, and they are the church.
George Fox: Then but you have given the title "church," which belongs to the people, to an old house, and you have taught the people to believe so.[13]

The meeting house/church distinction is shared by a number of other non-conformist Christian denominations, including Unitarians, Christadelphians, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and Mennonites.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]


Sydney Friends meeting house
The Quaker Meeting House in Congénies, France




United States[edit]

United Kingdom[edit]

See also the list of Friends Meeting Houses in England




  1. ^ "Meeting the Spirit - An Introduction to Quaker Beliefs and Practices". Retrieved 2022-07-11.
  2. ^ "5 ways to make Quaker meeting houses work for the future". Quakers. Retrieved 2022-07-11.
  3. ^ Hodgson, William (1844). Select Historical Memoirs of the Religious Society of Friends, Commonly Called Quakers: For the Information of Young Persons and Inquirers After Divine Truth. the Author.
  4. ^ a b Hodgson, William (1844). Select Historical Memoirs of the Religious Society of Friends, Commonly Called Quakers: For the Information of Young Persons and Inquirers After Divine Truth. the Author. p. 145.
  5. ^ "The Trials of John Bowne: Blog". Bowne House. Retrieved 2022-07-11.
  6. ^ a b c d "Margaret I. Carman Green - Weeping Beech Highlights - Bowne House : NYC Parks". Retrieved 2022-07-11.
  7. ^ a b "Quaker Meeting Houses Listed | Historic England". Retrieved 2022-07-11.
  8. ^ Historic England. "Hertford Quaker Meeting House, Hertford (1268759)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 2022-07-11.
  9. ^ "Hertford Quaker Meeting". Quakers. Retrieved 2022-07-11.
  10. ^ Fox, George (1852). Journal of George Fox: Being an Historical Account of the Life, Travels, Sufferings, Christian Experiences, and Labour of Love, in the Work of the Ministry, of that Eminent and Faithful Servant of Jesus Christ ... W. and F. G. Cash.
  11. ^ Moynihan, Susan (2019-09-01). 100 Things to Do in Annapolis and the Eastern Shore Before You Die. Reedy Press LLC. ISBN 978-1-68106-213-6.
  12. ^ "Our Historic Meeting House | Cornwall Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)". Retrieved 2022-07-11.
  13. ^ Fox, George (1852). Journal of George Fox: Being an Historical Account of the Life, Travels, Sufferings, Christian Experiences, and Labour of Love, in the Work of the Ministry, of that Eminent and Faithful Servant of Jesus Christ ... W. and F. G. Cash. p. 42.
  14. ^ Rose, pp. 369–371.
  15. ^ Rose, p. 281.
  16. ^ a b Rose, p. 138.
  17. ^ Rose, p. 290.
  18. ^ Rose, p. 361.
  19. ^ Rose, p. 362.
  20. ^ Rose, p. 307.
  21. ^ a b Rose, p. 353.
  22. ^ Rose, p. 429.
  23. ^ Rose, p. 311.
  24. ^ Rose, p. 185.
  25. ^ Rose, p. 240.
  26. ^ Rose, p. 231.
  27. ^ Rose, p. 186.
  28. ^ Rose, p. 288.
  29. ^ Rose, p. 352.
  30. ^ Rose, pp. 349–350.
  31. ^ Rose, p. 518.
  32. ^ Rose, p. 300.
  33. ^ Rose, p. 183.
  34. ^ Rose, pp. 362–363.
  35. ^ Rose, pp. 312–313.
  36. ^ Rose, p. 310.
  37. ^ Rose, p. 359.
  38. ^ Rose, p. 177.
  39. ^ Rose, p. 208.
  40. ^ Rose, p. 279.
  41. ^ Rose, p. 273.
  42. ^ Rose, p. 193.
  43. ^ Rose, pp. 390–391.


  • Alexander, William. Observations on the Construction and Fitting Up of Meeting Houses &c for Public Worship: Illustrated by Plans, Sections and Description, Including One Lately Erected in the City of York, Embracing in Particular the Method of Warming and Ventilating. York, England: the author, 1820.
  • Butler, David, The Quaker Meeting Houses of Britain, Friends Historical Society, 1999. ISBN 978-0900469435.
  • Lippincott, Horace Mather. Abington Friends Meeting and School: 1682–1949. n.p.: n.p., 1949.
  • Rose, Harold Wickliffe. The Colonial Houses of Worship in America. New York: Hastings House, Publishers, 1963.

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