Tag Archive: Pennsylvania


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.

Since attending my uncle Jack’s funeral this past week, I’ve been thinking of times I remember being with him on family occasions. My daughter, Jennifer, took her first steps at Jack and Juanita’s house. Eventually my thoughts traveled to other experiences of my younger days. Such as our family trip to Pennsylvania.  Cyndy, the three boys, and myself replicated part of that trip in August of 2010. The trips were also on my mind because I am flying to Philadelphia this week for the Religion Communicators Council’s national convention.

Be that as it may, the story from the Pennsylvania trip when I was a teenager that came to mind was when we were driving through the farms in Amish country. The view was gorgeous and breath-taking. I think I even put down the book I was reading – I always read when we drove long distances. We drove through miles and miles of farms and fields.

We passed several produce stands – which were larger, as a general rule, than the stands I was used to seeing in Texas. The stands in Texas were mostly single farm stands whereas the Pennsylvania stands were co-op. After the third stand, my mother said “we need something sweet.” We pulled into the next stand, mom went looking and came back with several pounds of cherries.

We left the produce stand and continued our journey. The four of us ate cherries until we were nearly sick. Then mom spotted a nut stand.

“Now I need something salty,” mom said, after which dad pulled into the stand. This time she came back with a pound or two of a nut mixture.

We continued down the road, stuffing ourselves with nuts. Fortunately, we had some cherries leftover. With the sandwiches and lemonade mom had made, we were able to stretch the sweet and salty cycle for most of the day. However, during the unfolding of the sweet and salty saga, another story unfolded.

As we ate lunch and switched between salty and sweet, we put our reading material down, turned down the radio, looked out at the scenery, and shared observations and stories.

After a while we quit eating and were just talking and sharing. The salty and sweet episode was, at the outset, giving in to selfish urges. But, rather than simply giving in to the urges, we used it  as a time to have a conversation and draw closer to each other.

Which is a lesson I have kept with me since our family vacations all those years ago. For one thing, a family vacation is not about having a perfect time, leaving all the problems behind. A vacation is about having an experience together out of the ordinary (facing different problems) as a family. When the vacation is over, you remember the good times the most, not the difficulties.

The other part of the lesson pertains to the sweet and salty episode in particular. In different forms it occurs in every vacation, and life itself. Satisfying urges is not, in itself, a bad thing. But if we let the urges control the circumstances, the urges become more important than the fellowship and our faith. God made food to feed us, but Jesus also said “is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

Peace be with you.

%d bloggers like this: