Reflections of a Fifth Generation Chautauquan (and Quaker House Committee member) Submitted by Shari Castle
I am a 5th generation Chautauquan. There are so many reasons why I come back year after year. But you may never have been here.
So Why Should You Come?
You get the arts, education, religion, and recreation all in one place. All of the highest quality. Symphony, opera, theater, visual arts, classes, lectures, book club, worship services, interfaith lectures, swimming, boating, running, shuffleboard and so on.
It is a safe, friendly, and respectful community. Shared space and civil discourse. Single individuals and multi-generational families.
You can attempt to do everything or you can do nothing but sit on the porch and watch the lake. Or something in between. It’s totally up to you
Restful, rejuvenating, inspiring, reflective, restorative, social. Busy, but not stressful. Historic and cutting edge. Partaking in something unique, important, and special.
And, There’s More….
walks, picnics, porches, yoga, ice cream, bikes, the library and the bookstore, a grand hotel and a sidewalk cafe, a bell tower that chimes, people of all ages, and so on.
Just a few reasons why you should come to Chautauqua.
Forty-five years ago, I planned to attend Meeting for Worship for the second time. My usual procedures for going anywhere- simplest (have something to eat. Write the directions) to adaptive (was it snowing? Did I need an umbrella?) were this time accompanied by an unfamiliar sensation – a feeling that almost anything might happen once worship began. And so it did. And so continues my still-surprising and warmly welcomed anticipation that Meeting for Worship will be a time of unpredictability , surprise and grace.
As Quaker House at Chautauqua has emerged out of the ministry of Chautauqua Summer Meeting and the wholly-present work of those who breathed life into those ministries, this strangely familiar sensation connects me to the very practical work of this new creation. What will this little home for Chautauqua Meeting become? Who will minister there and what life will be changed because of a word, a teaching, a living example? Our committees all have sturdy agendas yet Steering Committee members approach each meeting with the expectation that something unexpectedly, enrichingly wonderful is likely to emerge.
I once thought that creating the place for welcome and worship at Chautauqua would be a process of orderly organization and careful attention, and so it is and must be. The mystery held within a spiritually-grounded anticipation has led to miracle and wonder, and to our nourishment from deeper waters. While we are in those deeper waters, being challenged, stretched and tipped-over a bit by our committee work, we come to know the joyful astonishment that accompanies a good spiritual workout.
Years after that second Meeting for Worship, I taped up an Annie Dillard quote:
“ it is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets…”
The past few months have been a mix of discovery, experimentation, thoughtful organization and amazement. This is not unlike my own spiritual journey and perhaps yours? Quakers found ourselves homeless on the grounds of Chautauqua…then receiving the promise of a house of our own at Chautauqua – a handsome 1911, gabled three story, 5 bedroom, 2 bath 1800 sq.ft. cottage with oak trim and hardwood floors:
We were faced with two practical challenges: converting a traditional family style floor plan of separate rooms and simple accommodations into a public space that could welcome worship for up to 40 attenders with space flexible enough to serve living, dining and small group programming during the week, and making certain that every change met local building codes, zoning regulations and as much accessibility as could be managed within the building’s structure.
Here’s where we started
Here’s where we started with the main floor dining and living space prior to the remodeling:
In order to make a multi purpose Quaker meeting and resident living space, the plan was to remove the dividing wall between the dining and living room and expand the living space onto the side porch to square off the room, making one large unified room. Here is the work in progress with the walls reconfigured, the dry wall restored and first coat of primer.
Now, this may not look like that wood coated entry hall now but for us the founding committee it is a living transformation that will welcome many Friends into gathered worship and inform our Chautauqua experience with a sense of fellowship and joy.
Next, are some different challenges for making a home into a Quaker House and some buried opportunities to help bring this endeavor to life. Stay tuned and see what will come to light, through the Light in this, our Quaker House.
More than 120 years ago in western New York, Quakers found their way to the Chautauqua Institution. Yes, it was the place where several regional and national Quaker committees came together, in 1900, to form Friends General Conference and it was a place that helped Friends find-among the Institution’s buildings- a right-sized space for their First Day worship. For decades, that space has been the Octagon House, a small building donated in 1884 by graduates of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Club (CLSC)-America’s oldest book club. Although it was our happy home for decades, it was not accessible, had no bathrooms and was on one of the noisiest street corners in the Institution. For all of those years, Friends would rise after worship and ask one another whether there was a way to find, get, raise funds for or be given a house that could become the Friends House- a home of our own.
Two years ago, Chautauqua Institution reclaimed the building as a book shop for the CLSC, and the Quakers became houseless, filling in ‘here’ for one year and then ‘there’ for another. The Unitarian Universalists graciously provided their Denominational House parlor which meant that their guests couldn’t be there on Sunday mornings. The space was smaller than we needed and it was clear that this was not sustainable.
We Find a New Home
Friends from Farmington-Scipio (NY) Region joined in spirit and with bodies to help find a way forward. Much looking, and meeting, and consulting led to the arrival of an anonymously gifted house in the Institution. Centrally located, modest and sufficient in size, rehab-able to meet the needs for worship, hospitality and program, the house was built in 1911 and was purchased from the children of Mary Louise and Rev. Carl Viehe who were founding members of the Chautauqua Peace Society. The house felt as if it were filled with spirit.
Located at 28 Ames Street, the story of making a house into a Quaker home began with the house’s 3 stories, 5 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a two story wrap around porch (see photos of outside).
The first house inspection noted that the electrical entrance needed to be updated, that the dormers were in need of caring for wood siding that was bare and exposed and the insurance required that the moss on the roof be removed. Then, we moved onto designing the modifications needed for our purposes and then addressing code requirements as part of the process. We confirmed that a 3 story home converted for public space required life-safety measures that included a fire suppression (sprinkler) system and smoke and CO detection in every room. ADA accessibility required an entrance ramp and an enlarged first floor bathroom to accommodate a wheel chair.
Remodeling to Fit Our Needs
For the purpose of Meeting for Worship, the living room would be enlarged to combine with the dining room into one large meeting space. To do this, the side wall of the living room would be moved out onto the side porch requiring new foundation piers to support new bearing beams replacing the old bearing walls. At each step of the way, what had become the “founding committee” enlivened the full process with cheerful and creative problem-solving.
Construction started with removing the interior wall coverings, insulation and oak moldings that would be set aside and saved for reinstallation later. But first, we had to transport all the furniture to storage and cover the floors to protect them from the construction activity. (photos of inside demolition).
The Way Forward
Friends have responded to this calling with spirit and heart. The Founding Committee divided its members into website development, communications, programming, house management, hospitality and governance documents. Members have served in clerking and recording, and taken on the roles of treasurer and construction manager/ general contractor. Some members of Fredonia Friends Meeting- Ron Peterson, Rick Townsend and Sam Kaiser have offered their skills as electricians, carpenters and painters for the making of this dream into a reality.
We share in a boundless gratitude: for everyone whose shoulders have been put to this wheel, for everyone whose spirit has encouraged and guided us, for everyone whose astonishment and joy have been contagious. Our story- the story of Quaker House at Chautauqua- has only just begun. Welcome, each of you, to join and rejoice with us.