The Beat of a Distant Drum

2022 marks our return to a full complement of activities and few restrictions. The excitement is palpable. The Quaker house Steering Committee is delighted to welcome our new Friends in Residence, Kriss and Gary Miller. See their page here. Kriss will be blogging in this space each week.

Making Music on Bestor Plaza: Quaker House Manager, Gary Miller on drum. Day 1 of the season!

This was a beautiful week. We packed up last Sunday just like Chautauqua-goers have always done, compacting daily lives into just the bare necessities to get through the summer. We arrived to a lovely welcome from Chautauqua Friends that have, after only a few days, already become part of our family of friends. The house was waiting, anxious to breathe again, as we all are after shedding the outer covering that got us through the dreariness of winter; a winter that has lasted for years. We are all so very anxious to be together again, and even more, just to be together.

The past few years have been challenging. The distance has cost each of us something yet it has also offered us a deeper appreciation of what it means to gather together in community. Appreciation was the feeling today on Bestor Plaza. A lone fiddler whose instrument called out to welcome a drummer, their notes joining to invite a viola. Instrument after instrument called out to create the symphony of community that has longed to be again together. And just as the players came to play, the listeners came to listen, and finally, from the corners of the plaza, the children came to dance.

So it is that we begin to be together once more. And just like everything else we experience at Chautauqua, the founders called us to take that togetherness out into the world once we leave this place. May we build outside this institution the unity we find inside. And may we always remember to look to the Light to guide our way.

“April is the Cruellest Month…”

Blog by Ron Petersen, QHCHQ Steering Committee member

April 2022

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Early Spring Crocus in Snow

So opens T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land”. As I begin work on the blog entry I agreed to do for this website, April has not quite arrived, and some spring rain to stir our dull roots seems like an appealing alternative to the current half-foot of snow and temperatures in the teens. I had planned to visit our home at 28 Ames because being at CI would help bring focus to this post, but it looks like that will have to wait another day or two.

On Friday, April first I stopped at CI for a visit. It was a typical spring day in Western New York, cold and blustery with on and off rain. The work to convert the back corner of the property into a patio appears to be about half done and the rear stairs are gone, perhaps we can come up with and improved design to replace them.

Back patio area nearing completion.

The railroad tie that used to mark the end of the driveway was laying across our planting in the front yard, so I moved it off the plants and rested it on some stones for now. There is a band of orange surveyors’ tape around that huge tree across the street, so I think maybe they are planning to remove it. It’s probably older than the institution by at least a century. I took a walk and didn’t find a lot of signs of spring, but there was a lot of activity around Bestor Plaza. I was surprised by how little contracting activity was going on, maybe April 1st is a contractor’s holiday!

the iconic Bell Tower at twilight

I walked down to the Belltower and checked out the planting work around there. Not much activity yet but I think the native restoration work will succeed. The lake was clear of ice but there was a strong wind out of the north and the shore was being pounded with waves running almost a foot high.

I’ve taken some time to peruse the schedule and activities for the CI 2022 season, and it looks to be an exciting blending of what affects us collectively and opportunities to reflect on our personal experiences and how we are shaped by the world. Week two explores reconnecting with the natural world and should provide an opportunity to acknowledge this very direct path to knowing the Divine. Most of the weekly themes tie directly to how we, as Quakers, experience our lives in this culture and how we are being called to act and interact with it. Hopefully at Quaker House, we will be be able to provide our guests with access to these dialogues and also opportunities to explore more deeply.

Like so many aspects of our lives, the process that drives our work at 28 Ames seems to be rooted in that blend of memory and desire Eliot alludes to. We all have long histories with CI, as residents, visitors, attenders of the summer Meeting for worship, volunteers, advisers, contractors, the list is long, and now, with one challenging season behind us we have newer and more focused memories to help us find our way forward.

Quaker Hospitality

Blog post by Kathy Slattery

Our very first year, was a process of continuous learning. This year offers much the same, but at a slower pace. Last year I served as House Manager and Registrar. During the 2022 season, I will serve again as the Registrar while looking forward to being at the house frequently to offer spiritual hospitality.
The part of my roles that I love best is truly meeting each guest in a space of spiritual hospitality. The first conversation with potential guests comes in all kinds of ways, from text messages to persons who came by Quaker House last season, and want to come back for more. And once they arrive, what a revelation! I remember deep conversations around the kitchen table; a crowd of people surrounding the front garden, intently listening; the waiting stillness of worship; and laughter and watercolors pouring off the second floor porch like ministry.

I also remember some poignant moments, like sitting around the kitchen table, listening to men in leadership in Homeboys Industries, telling stories of their life experiences. And one guest, early in the season, texting me, asking if I could find a stopper for the old clawfoot tub in the bathroom. She explained, “it’s not for me–it’s for the friend I came with. She’s a frontline healthcare worker, and she’s just exhausted from the pandemic. A soaking bath would really help her to relax.”

And there was the time when I was home alone, in the kitchen in the back of the house, and I thought I saw someone on the porch. When I went to look, I met a woman with such sadness. I invited her in. She told me that her husband had just died. He was a Quaker; and they both had loved coming to Chautauqua. So she wanted to just sit in Quaker House and savor all the good memories. With her permission, I sat with her; and the worship went deep. Grief is not heard until someone is listening.
This year we continue to explore different ways of being present and connecting with guests, Chautauquans and visitors. The richness, the juiciness, of meeting face-to-face is a blessing. In person, it is possible, as one guest put it, ‘to meet in the eyes’.
Each week is like a feast set out. All are welcome! Come as you are! Take what you need, be it a much-needed restorative sabbatical, a week of spiritual community, or satisfying your need to know more or be inspired; welcome into a spaciousness that nourishes exploration, delight, creativity and untracking from well-worn patterns.
As Rumi wrote
This being human is a guest house.                           

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,                           

some momentary awareness comes                           

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!                           

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,                           

who violently sweep your house                            

empty of its furniture,                                      

still, treat each guest honorably.                           

He may be cleaning you out                           

for  some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,                             

meet them at the door laughing,                             

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,                             

because each has been sent                             

as a guide from beyond.

Taken from Selected Poems by Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks (Penguin Classics, 2004).             

Quakers at Chautauqua @ 1900

Blog post by Mary Finn, Steering Committee member Posted Feb2, 2022

Early visitors often stayed in tents on the grounds.

I love being a Quaker, and being at Chautauqua, and doing historical research. All three passions came into unity when I learned that a major Quaker organization, the Friends General Conference (FGC), had been established at Chautauqua in 1900. FGC has been described as “The most influential center of American Liberal Quakerism in the 20th century.”

The ‘History’ page on this website provides an introduction to this confluence of Quakers and Chautauqua and notes that little research has been published on the origins of the Friends General Conference, or on the relationship between Chautauqua Institution and Quakerism. Why did Bishop Vincent invite Quakers to hold their 1900 Conference at Chautauqua? Who were the Friends who accepted his invite?

There is no lack of historical resources available to answer these questions. Pulling out the threads of underlying assumptions these two groups held in common, however, is especially challenging given the complexity of these organizations and the setting in which they met—the post-Civil War, pre-intensely industrializing, newly-emerging Darwinian decades—1870 to 1900. But the shared concerns of Chautauqua Institution and the Liberal Quakers who founded FGC are there and I am intrigued by the connection of both groups to progressive/liberal ideals that increasingly came to the fore in the late 19th c.

Given the sophistication and worldliness of the FGC’s founding Friends, I was surprised by Friends’ referring to their gathering at Chautauqua as an ‘innovation.’ All previous Conferences had been held on the campus of Friends’ Colleges or Boarding Schools or Friends’ Centers, all of which were in the midst of ‘Friendly neighborhoods.’ Friends coming to mingle with Chautauquans was said to be an innovation that had caused some ‘temerity’.

Friends expressed the hope that they would not be judged by any severe standard, saying “we are a ‘plain’ people, and are met to discuss ‘plain’ matters, in a ‘plain’ way.” These Liberal Friends, however, had given up the Quietism of their predecessors and the symbols of plainness in dress and speech that had marked Quaker distinctiveness. They did not see themselves as Peculiar, but the hesitancy of ‘coming out’ so to speak, was still there.

The opening remarks by Chautauqua Institutions’ Vice-President Wilson Day assured Friends they would not “be looked at askance, or watched with a critical eye” because of their shared ties of universal friendship. The quietness of Chautauqua was emphasized as being in keeping with Quaker worship, “silence being the best form of worship,” and the ‘catholicity’ of Chautauqua meant everyone was free to worship as they wished.  

But there might have been some hesitancy as well on the part of some Chautauquans who were not quite sure who these Friends were. The Drift of the Day column in the Assembly Herald however, reported on the first day of the Conference that, “The Friends are a good-looking, sensible, intellectual lot of people, just like other Chautauquans.” The hesitancy of the Friends relieved, they settled into what seemed like a typical Chautauqua experience, in a ‘strange’ but by no means unfriendly environment.

Friends announced that their meetings were open to all; hundreds of Chautauquans attended the opening session. On Day Two the program on the Friends’ Union of Philanthropic Labor was especially full of interest and the Amphitheater was filled by 10:00 am.

According to the Assembly Herald, “Friends have captured Chautauqua by their intense earnestness and enthusiasm and the practical Christianity as seen in their everyday lives…when this conference comes to a close Chautauquans will have learned many admirable things concerning the Society of Friends. From the expressions of the Friends, it is certain that they are finding more and more to admire in Chautauqua.”

The published Proceedings of the 1900 Conference at Chautauqua hoped to convey “the spiritual and intellectual uplift both given and received by our people mingling with the people at Chautauqua.”

More to come.

The World is Always Turning

By Shari Castle PhD

An old folk song says that the “world is always turning toward the morning.”  As I sit here in wintery Chautauqua, I think about how the world is always turning toward the summer season.

Here on the Chautauqua grounds, I’m in my cozy winterized condo having just checked on our family summer cottage.  Its porch is covered with its winter tent.  The Quaker House has its winter tent on as well.  Both are locked up tight, electricity is off, and pipes are drained. 

This is the Chautauqua of snow, Christmas lights, a boat-dock free lake shore, covered organ pipes in the Amp, and year-round residents walking around in scarves and boots.  The bookstore, library, post office, and cafe are open, but on winter hours.  Quiet and serene compared to the hustle and bustle of the summer.

Chautauqua is about renewal.  Renewal in all seasons.  In the summer, we experience renewal through learning, growing, connecting, and activity.  In the winter, Chautauqua is about rest, quiet preparation, and anticipation.  Restful renewal that prepares us for the active renewal of the summer season. 

Quaker House too is at rest.  We rest, plan, anticipate.  We look forward to new and returning faces, new themes and programs, new conversations and connections, new opportunities for spiritual, intellectual, and social renewal at the intersection of the Quaker House and Chautauqua Institution.

It’s never too early to start planning for the next Chautauqua season.  Themes have been announced, programs are being prepared, and Quaker House registration for guest rooms is OPEN.  We are beginning to plan, and we hope you are, too.

For now, we are happy to rest.  At the same time, we are happy that the world is always turning toward the Chautauqua summer season.    

Bestor Plaza in winter with bold CHQ letters

What Hides Beneath the Snow

            It’s December and winter time at the Chautauqua Institution.  And the Quaker House has entered its season of hibernation.  The porches are enclosed with canvas drapes protecting chairs and bicycles, the water pipes are drained, wall air conditioners stored inside, perishables removed, furniture covered in sheets, WIFI disconnected and stand by power turned off.  The newly planted front yard of native ground cover plants, replacing a gravel lawn, are mulched and bedded down to survive the snowy climate of Chautauqua’s western NY accumulation of plus 200 annual inches of snow. 

         It’s not a hibernation like bears or groundhogs whose metabolism – heart beats, breathing, temperature and energy consumption – all slow down but do not cease.  By winters end they may have lost a quarter of their body weight but for bears the young are born and nurse while the mother slumbers.  But the Quaker House is more like a Wood Frog.  During hibernation the frog’s heart actually stops beating and 35 to 45 percent of its body becomes frozen.  Wood frogs actually go through a freeze thaw several times during the winter.  In the Spring, the frogs thaw and begin the cycle of life all over again.

         The Quaker House is frozen now with no breathes or bodies, still and serenely quiet, cold to the bone.  Like the Wood Frog, it awaits the year’s Spring and the advent of a new season at Chautauqua.  While the Steering committee envisions new programs and personnel, the house is looking at improvements and maintenance for the upcoming season.  A new patio is in the works for outdoor gathering and hospitality along with the steady diet of carpentry, painting and improvements that are the blessings of being a homeowner.

         Hibernation is one of many of nature’s tools for coping with the extremes of environmental change.  For us humans, life is coping for sure but it is also transformational, where we become greater than where we started – at the intersection of Chautauqua Institution and the Quaker Faith, we have found a source of the living water.  We invite others to this place.




Week Nine: All Together Now

from Emily Provance, Friend in Residence

Begonias hanging from a porch at Chautauqua

Friday afternoon, a few people lingered after storytelling, and Kathy Slattery (our house manager) offered leftover Italian ices.  We chose between orange and raspberry-lemon.  Then we sat on the steps and savored the melting tang on our tongues, rough concrete beneath our bare feet, talking . . . Richard Rohr, The Hunger Games, lacrosse, dance therapy.  Summer.  The dying days of August, when everybody’s almost but not quite too hot. 

These were the final, sweet, sticky moments of Quaker House’s first Chautauqua season.

Guest Book and poetry book on table at QHCHQ

It’s hard to think about resilience in times like that one, and resilience was the theme of our week.  We heard from photojournalist Lynsey Addario, Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers, author Diana Butler Bass . . . compelling stories of people and groups enduring trauma and well-researched suggestions for how we, too, can persevere through stress and tragedies.  But I couldn’t help puzzling over the gap between the lectures and the idyllic surroundings.  And I found I had more questions than answers.

Rain garden and view of Chautauqua Lake.

Is resilience a trait of the individual or a trait of a whole community?  Is enduring difficulties alone a quality we want to study and embody?  Or is there another model, in which we use what we have to strengthen everyone?  In other words, are we following Daniel Boone, who deliberately moved away from population centers to “conquer the wilderness” on his own?  Or are we emulating Jahmal Cole, whose nonprofit, My Block, My Hood, My City, encourages resilience in teenagers of color by “building a more interconnected Chicago”?

And what is the difference in resilience between those who experience unexpected trauma, or circumstantial hardships they cannot escape, and those who repeatedly choose to enter situations of violence or poverty or famine or epidemic in order to walk alongside the humans living and surviving there? 

Does resilience imply stability?  Or does resilience imply agility?

Or is it the case, as one man suggested at storytelling Friday afternoon, that “there’s no such thing as resilience; the word you’re looking for is a verb.  Adapt.”

I don’t have clarity.  I do know that in the cold of winter, when the days are short and the sun mostly hidden, I’ll lean on the memory of Italian ices and laughter with three strangers on the steps of Quaker House.  And I’ll remember what Oscar Mmbali, pastor of Belize Friends Church, said as our speaker at this week’s Wednesday brown bag: “To share what you have is to keep hope alive.”

Belize Friends School

To share what you have is to keep hope alive.  That, I think, is resilience—in every sense.

Taking Care

Week Eight:

from Emily Provance, Friend in Residence

22,537 Brain Soul Stock Photos and Images - 123RF
Caring for both brain and soul

If there’s ever a time to delve into brain and soul, the time is now. 

This week at Chautauqua, the institutional theme was “The Human Brain: Our Greatest Mystery.”  The interfaith lectures centered on the human soul.  We talked about the extraordinary power of the human brain, its capacity for both good and evil (and what does that mean?), the brain’s reaction to story, the reported soul experiences of those who have come near death, and trauma passed down through generations.  We also heard gut-wrenching stories (and isn’t it funny that we talk about responding to stories in our gut?) about the treatment of humans with mental illness.  Tuesday morning speaker Norman Ornstein told us, “My adult son had no understanding that he suffered from a mental illness.  He resisted treatment because he believed he was having a religious experience.  The legal system gave us no recourse, and as my wife says, ‘He died with his civil liberties intact.’”

Eighteen months of societal chaos and collective isolation has left many, perhaps the majority of us, with brain sickness or soul sickness, and really, how do we know which is which?  Where does deep, empathetic sadness and anger end and clinical depression begin?  When does trauma need prayer and when mental health care?  Perhaps the answer is “both, and,” but I’m not content to leave it at that.  The obvious intellectual answer is not so obvious when we’re in the midst of it.

What is Neurodiversity? - Mighty Well
The many aspects of neurodiversity

Our Wednesday brown bag speaker at Quaker House, Emily Savin, talked on “A Quaker Perspective on Neurodiversity.”  She reminded us that early Quakers said we were not waiting for the coming of Jesus,

that we have with us always the Inner Christ, that we are perfectly and exquisitely made for the building of the kingdom of God on earth, if only we work together, if only every person lives into who they’ve been created to be—including those of us with autism or ADHD or dyslexia—and we all need support to live into our full selves.  She reminded us that mourning doves build notoriously messy nests, but rather than change the nature of the nests themselves, they look for structures in which to build that will support their messiness, preserving the nests and the eggs alike.

June 2017 | Field Notes: Nesting Mourning Doves Tolerate Human Presence

What support do you need right now?

This was the final question I asked the group at Friday storytelling: what has helped your brain and your soul during the last eighteen months?

Playing board games at Quaker House

Being able to stay home and safe.

Conversations with friends.

Supportive family.



Long walks in nature.

More golf!

Helping other people.

Making decisions together with a spouse.

Art and music.

Practicing empathy.

Waiting for the morning speaker in the Amphitheater

Our Monday morning speaker, Angus Fletcher, told us that the human brain is the strongest force there is, with the ability to save the world and the ability to destroy it.  If that’s true—and I believe it is—than let’s take care of our own brains and souls, and each other’s.

Week Seven: The Economy

from Emily Provance, Friend in Residence

During worship Sunday morning, I watched a carpenter ant crawling across the cover of a hymnal.  It started in one corner, made its way to the next, then turned ninety degrees rather than crawl right off the top.  At the next corner, it turned again, then again at the next.  In this way, the ant proceeded to circumnavigate the hymnal cover seven or eight times before deciding to cross diagonally.  But that didn’t lead to a solution, either.  There was no escape from the hymnal cover, short of stepping off what must have seemed like a veritable cliff, as tall as the ant’s body.

 So began Chautauqua’s week on economics.  We heard from economists, podcasters, and public policy influencers.  We heard that the economy’s actually working really well right now—for everybody except poor people (that is, according to every metric except unemployment and homelessness).  We heard that purpose-driven companies also make more profits and that people can be influenced by their theology to vote against their own self-interest.  

But we didn’t hear anything that really broke the standard paradigm.  The same arguments, the same metrics, the same tension between radicalism and incrementalism . . . and a lot of dodging of difficult questions that didn’t fit neatly within a given speaker’s assertions.  Sister Joan Chittister demanded we consider the question, “What is your spirituality of money?”  And yet, that’s not really an economic question.  It’s a personal finance and philanthropy question.  Economics seems to exist in a non-human, theoretical space.  It may be the sum of individual monetary transactions, but it’s also one of those systemic things with its own movements and momentum.

Each Friday, Quaker House has storytelling, and I share several stories on the theme of the week.  One story I told this week was of Lizzie Magee, the creator of the game that became “Monopoly.”  (She was not a Quaker, contrary to rumor.)  Her original game, “The Landlord’s Game,” included two versions of the rules.  It could be played competitively, winner-takes-all, or it could be played cooperatively, with all wealth gained benefitting all players.  Eventually, the game idea was stolen by a man called Charles Darrow, slightly modified, sold to Parker Bros., and published with only one set of rules, the set that assumed a winner-takes-all model.  Magee’s original intention of showing an alternative model was lost.

I don’t think Friends have a collective economic testimony.  We have testimonies of integrity, equality, and stewardship, and these might influence our individual economic decisions.  But we have not yet come to clarity on how to approach systemic economics.  

This week at Chautauqua, though it’s been genuinely fascinating, has felt like the moment when the carpenter ant tried crossing the hymnal diagonally.  At least it’s something different than wandering in circles . . . but it’s still not a pathway to an actual solution.

Week Six: The Clay

Potter’s Wheel at Arts Building

by Emily Provance, Friend in Residence

“I was trying to make a vase,” the woman said, “but the clay wanted to be a cream
pitcher. It had a lip around it, no matter what I did. So now I have a cream pitcher. And
it’s beautiful.”

The next night, well after dark, I found myself in the ceramics studio, watching a
Homeboy make a cereal bowl. “Hey, turn on ‘Unchained Melody,’ like in Ghost.”

With some fumbling, somebody pulled it up on a cell phone.

“Nah, it’s too quiet. Turn it up.”

“Put the phone in a pot,” I said. “It’ll be louder.”

I need your love . . . I need your love . . . God speed your love . . . to meeeeee . . .
(Imagine here a roomful of off-key singers.)

Home | Homeboy Industries

Our theme this week was “empathy.” I had no idea it would involve so much sculpting.
Chautauqua includes a number of arts programs, drawing from an extraordinarily
accomplished international student population: opera, dance, theater, instrumental
music, writing, visual arts. The students don’t mix with everyone else as much as you
might think, but this week, I found myself invited to the art studios, where I met a few
dozen visual artists (painters, sculptors, weavers, multimedia artists), of every race and
gender, ages eighteen to sixty-two. Their work seems to happen when the sun goes
down: art about identity, history, equity, immigration, stories, people, nature. Every
artist has a private studio, but they move freely in and out between them, learning and
talking and playing and laughing. That night, me too, along with the homeboys.

Homeboys at a potluck meal at Chautauqua

The homeboys, of Homeboy Industries, are formerly incarcerated gang members who
now work for the largest gang recovery organization in the United States. Two of them
spent the week at Quaker House. Homeboy Industries has a jobs program, mental
health services, addiction services, a high school, a GED program, tattoo removal, and
a whole lot more. Their personal stories are powerful and not mine to share, but what I
loved most was hearing them talk about their work. “It’s all about relationships.” I heard
that maybe a thousand times. “Love is at the center of everything. We learn how to
trust. Humor is healing.”

Homeboys speaking in the Amphitheater

And, more specifically: “We don’t fire nobody. Somebody has a behavior that’s a
problem, we ask, ‘What’s that behavior communicating?’ If somebody tests positive for
drugs, we say, ‘Hey, there’s something going on in your life that is causing that
behavior. We got a program to help you figure that out. Your job will still be here
waiting when you get back.’”

If somebody declines the help, they can walk away. “But we’ve learned,” the homeboys
told me, “it’s not if they come back, it’s when they come back. Because now they know
there can be another way. If they don’t die and they’re not in prison, they’ll come back
to us. They know they can be loved.”

Capuchin monkeys in empathy experiment

Our Tuesday morning speaker, Frans de Waal, talked about empathy in primates. He
showed us a video of a famous experiment in which two Capuchin monkeys are in
cages side by side. They are each asked to do a simple task—retrieve a rock—and for
doing so are given food rewards, either cucumbers or grapes. If both capuchins get
cucumbers, they’re both fine. If both Capuchins get grapes, they’re both fine. But if one
gets a cucumber and the other gets a grape, the Capuchin with the cucumber pitches a
fit. How come the other guy gets super-yummy grapes? The Capuchin will eventually
throw the cucumber, refusing to accept an inferior reward.

De Waal suggests this is evidence of empathy, but to me, it’s not empathy until you do
the same experiment with chimpanzees—because, in the case of chimpanzees, the

animal with the superior reward will also protest the inequity. He’ll refuse the grape
unless his neighbor gets one, too. That fits the definition of empathy: understanding
another’s feelings and sharing them.

“I was trying to make a vase,” the woman said, “but the clay wanted to be a cream
pitcher.” I heard this story at Quaker House from a woman dropping by. It felt like it
captured the theme of the week. Rather than demand a vase, she listened to the clay
on her wheel. If it wanted to be a cream pitcher, well . . . a pitcher can be beautiful, too.

I’ll finish with a quote from one of this week’s morning worship liturgies: “Who needs you
to listen deeply to them today? Who do you need to listen to you?”

Who needs to you listen deeply to them today?

On Listening - Clean Learning