Tag Archive: National Constitution Center


After visiting the National Constitution Center (see previous post), the RCC convention group walked a few blocks over to the Arch Street Friends Meeting House. The land on which the building sits was originally a Quaker cemetery since 1693. The land was set aside by William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, as a burying ground for members. When a series of yellow fever epidemics necessitated mass burials a hundred years later, the brick walls around the property were erected to protect the graves from “rowdy boys and wandering cows.”

The meeting house was built on top of the graves in the early 1800s. Quaker women lobbied for a structure providing equal meeting space for men’s and women’s business gatherings. The meeting house, with identical meeting rooms, was the world’s largest Quaker meeting house. After men and women began to conduct business together in the 1920s, they began to gather in the west, or woman’s, meeting room.

Today, the west room remains unchanged. The east, or men’s meeting room, now serves multiple purposes. For the plenary, we gathered in the west room. As we entered the room, I could imagine the meetings of the past 200 years. The benches had been chiseled and had never seen a single sheet of sandpaper. The souls of all the people who sat their over the years seemed to be present in the hazy air illuminated by the sun through the windows.

Dr. Emma Jones Lapsansky-Werner is emeritus professor of History and Curator of the Quaker Collection at Haverford College. Lapsansky-Werner told the group about William Penn’s utopian vision that led to his design of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. In response to a question about utopia today, the professor said that “God lives in public transportation, community parks, markets where people sell their own wares, and schools where parents participate in teaching.” Mary Beth Coudal, who co-led a workshop on social media at the convention, has an interesting post on Lapsansky-Werner’s quote.

Dr. Lapsansky-Werner also mentioned – among other things – an interesting fact about the  earlier Philadelphia map. In focusing on his Philadelphia utopia, Penn had the roads into the city from outlying townships marked “road from (insert town).” The idea being that all roads led to Philadelphia. Penn was introduced to a Quaker missionary when he was fifteen, and became a Quaker at 22.

William Penn never lived to see the fruits of his labors – he died penniless due to shoddy business practices and mistreatment by others. But his democratic principles served as an inspiration for the United States Constitution and he was an early champion of religious freedom. Dr. Lapsansky-Werner gave an entertaining and marvelously informative lecture to the interfaith audience.

The lecture was not only appropriate to an interfaith group with her information on the Quaker community, but also with the story of Penn’s stand for religious freedom. It was also appropriate for the location of its delivery – the Quaker meeting house. To underscore the significance, it was announced during the convention activities on Saturday that the Arch Street Friends Meeting House had received historical designation status the day before.

Peace be with you.

On Friday the 13th, the second day of the RCC convention, we took the train into Philadelphia from the Airport Marriott. After eating lunch at a rather crowded food court, we met at the National Constitution Center. Unfortunately, we only had 45 minutes to an hour to tour the  museum before the special museum program began. I would like to return with Cyndy, if not the rest of the family, to have time to explore the museums and sites of Philadelphia. Much has changed since traveling there with my family when I was a teenager.

I discussed my family’s trip to Pennsylvania in an earlier post. I also mentioned the trip our family took in 2010 from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, through  Pennsylvania, and down to Washington, D.C. The special exhibit at the Hall of Fame that year was a Bruce Springsteen exhibit. Fast forward to the convention trip to the Constitution Center. I ate most of half of my sandwich (the “real” pastrami – as opposed to the turkey pastrami you get in Dallas – was a welcome treat) and wrapped up the remaining half in my bag.

I wanted to get to the museum in order to have as much time to wander around the museum as possible. It is the 225th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution this year. I was walking through the mall taking pictures when I came close enough to clearly read the banner hanging above the entrance. There was a special exhibit at the time and it was – you guessed it – a Bruce Springsteen exhibit (it was, in fact, the same exhibit).

Now the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame I completely understand, but the National Constitution Center? Come to find out that they had put a different twist on the exhibit and were demonstrating Springsteen’s “use of music as a tool to express his First Amendment Rights.” Which makes sense. But here is the “kicker” as they say. The National Constitution Center is the first and only venue where the Springsteen exhibit is to travel from the Hall of Fame. What are the odds that I would be at both venues at the time of the exhibit?

The museum program, however, entitled “Freedom Rising” was very entertaining. The narrator stood in center of the circular theater swathed in lights and sound, with slides running around the upper part of the theater. The presentation told the story of the beginning of our country and government. Although the presentation was a little louder than absolutely necessary,  the narrator’s voice was uniquely appropriate for the material.

While I had little time to explore the museum, I did discover that the museum is remarkably interactive. Unfortunately, the crowds of school children and families made listening to the recordings difficult and required constant movement – leaving little time to absorb the information. But I certainly plan to make an effort to return and further explore the National Constitution Center and other fine museums in Philadelphia. Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell are a short walk from the NCC.

Back to the odds of my being at both displays of the Bruce Springsteen exhibit. I agree with Albert Einstein that “coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” But then there is the thought that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes, though, there just does not seem to be a reason.

So I put it to you – what do you think? Is there always a reason behind everything? When there does not seem to be a reason are we simply unable to discern it? Are there such things as coincidences and happenstance occurrences?

Peace be with you.

%d bloggers like this: