The Berks Sacred Harp Singers are privileged to meet regularly to sing in the historic Exeter Friends Meetinghouse, the land for which was donated by the grandparents of Daniel Boone on Christmas Eve of 1726. The first two Meetinghouses built on the land were log structures which stood across the road from the present stone edifice, which was erected in 1759. Few changes, including addition of electricity, plumbing, heating, and the small white wooden frame room off of the porch for the children’s First-Day (Sunday) school, have been made to the building over the centuries.
Having a floor plan common to many Quaker places of worship at the time, the Meetinghouse layout consists simply of two rooms with an openable wooden divider wall, historically permitting the women to hold their own separate monthly business meeting simultaneously with the men’s business session. The divider wall was kept open during worship, allowing all present to hear the Friends who might have been led to speak out of the silence. The raised benches on one side of the room allowed elders of Meeting to sit facing the rest of the congregation (hence the terms “facing benches” and “facing elders”). In present time, the second room (if entering from the porch) now houses a growing group of young children instead of dividing the genders, leaving the wooden porch annex as the discussion room for teens and young adults.
Other noteworthy distinctive features of the old Meetinghouse include a doorway with a precipitous drop to the ground, which was a typical amenity of the times allowing for saddled horses and horse-drawn carriages to drive alongside the building to load and unload women, children and the elderly. A black woodstove in the midst of what is now the main room is still lit in wintertime to warm and cheer those who gather for worship. Also of interest is the adjacent burial ground without grave markers, enclosed by a stone wall. Added more recently is the bird sanctuary faithfully nurtured by the Meeting’s children, who learn from an early age to care for the Creation.
Notably absent are such items as an altar, pulpit, symbols, musical instruments and ostentatious decor. There is no pastor, but only the belief that “Christ has come to teach his people Himself,” not only through study, work and contemplation during the week, but also in expectant waiting during the silence of the gathered Meeting. Such yielding is often rewarded with personal spiritual insights, which sometimes are vocalized as testimony by worshipers as they feel led by the Holy Spirit to speak from the heart of their own personal encounters, or of the Corporate encounter, with the Divine. Friends seek to be guided by, and sometimes fall humanly short of, the larger testimonies of Peace, Equality, Integrity and Simplicity, both as presented in scripture and as experienced in the contemporary world.
Exeter Friends welcome inquirers to visit or to explore the Meeting’s own website here: https://www.quakercloud.org/cloud/exeter-friends-meeting .