Religion is one of the four pillars of the Chautauqua experience (along with The Arts, Education, and Recreation). The Department of Religion has a long, rich tradition of supporting denominational houses that enrich the religious and spiritual experiences of visitors at the summer assembly. The Quaker House at Chautauqua is the newest, only 3 years old, bringing the total to 15. Our mission it to seek the Living Water at the intersection of Chautauqua and Quakerism; to provide spiritual nourishment.
Each denominational house has a weekly Chaplain. Using more Quakerly language, we call ours, Friend of the Week. The Friend of the Week’s role is to deepen a Quaker presence at the House and on the Chautauqua grounds, contribute to programming, and participate in the community. Programming includes Sunday Meeting for Worship, Brown Bag lunches for presentation and discussion, social hour, and a Friend in Residence workshop, plus special events. The Friend of the Week is integral to the Quaker House program and community.
We seek to match each Friend of the Week with a weekly theme about which they have background knowledge and expertise. They facilitate relevant conversations and overlay a Quaker perspective onto the issues that arise. We listen to them talk about their work in the world and how Spirit has led them along the way. We engage a diverse group of Friends of the Week (ethnicity, gender, age, Quaker affiliation, life/work experience) to bring multiple voices to our conversations. The Friends of the Week help us live into the intersection of Chautauqua and Quakerism.
Find a listing of our Friends for the Week for 2023 here.
Home boys and Home girls have found their Chautauqua home with the Quaker House – their official host at Chautauqua.
Three groups of 4, each group comes for a week and stay at the QHC.
Entering into the Chautauqua sabbatical experience, they take home experiences of sailing, new friends, and affirmation of their humanity from a radically different world. They experience theater, opera, and pottery, leaving behind for us their witness of amazing human transformation based on the vision of Father Greg Boyle founder of the world’s largest program of gang rehabilitation and reentry. https://homeboyindustries.org
It is based on the premise that we are all exactly who God meant us to be and that through love, mutuality and kindness we can discover our true selves.
Blog post by Sue Tannehill — Steering Committee and web support.
Each month during the off season, a member of our Steering Committee posts a reflection for our blog. This month’s blog is late and as we are almost at Thanksgiving time, gratitude seems like a good theme for November. Western New York just finished shoveling out from a “Snowvember” event that left as much as 82” of snow in Hamburg, NY ( about 45 minutes from Quaker House). North of Buffalo, where I live, we only got about 15”. I am grateful to all who plowed the streets and for the amazing ways in which people pull together and help one another at times like these.
At Quaker house, we are making use of this down time by winterizing the building, evaluating policies and planning programming for the 2023 season. This year, winterizing doesn’t mean draining the pipes, it means insulating walls and crawl spaces, working to get the building usable during the winter. We are grateful to Fredonia Friends Meeting – located about a half hour away – which offered us funds to do this work. It will expand the kinds of hospitality that Quaker House can offer during the off season.
Quaker House had much to be grateful for during the 2022 season. People stopped by our newly created patio and ate grilled corn cooked by Gary (Check out the zany Corn Song that is going viral) enjoyed wonderful conversations and music too!
Our Friends in Residence agreed to a multi-year agreement, building on the relationships they forged over the summer 2022 season. Kriss is also building relationships among the Denominational Houses, which hold a unique space on the grounds of the Institution. Her work means increased communication and support among these houses. Gary’s music gifts bring people together. The entire Steering Committee is delighted!
As a parting gift for the season, Kriss created a photographic essay that imitates the rhythm of the book, Good Night Moon. I put a button to it on the home page of the website. Please take a look!
Reservations will open for previous guests December 1st 2022, and for new guests Jan 1st 2023. We hope that your summer plans include a visit to Quaker House! If you live nearby, remember that Sundays are always free and you are always welcome.
When I learned a few years ago that Quakers met at Chautauqua in 1900 to form Friends General Conference (FGC), “The most influential center of American Liberal Quakerism in the 20th c.” (Hamm, 2020), I was surprised and intrigued. Who were these Quakers and why had they come to Chautauqua to create this new organization?
I had not seen any reference before to a special connection between the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and Chautauqua Institution although of course there is a Quaker Meeting here on Sundays during the nine week “season”. But most mainline religious denominations have Sunday services here too so it hadn’t occurred to me that there might be more to the story. However, when I saw that not only had up to 2000 Quakers spent a week here during the middle of August, 1900, and that their organizational activities had been a major part of the Chautauqua program–with every meeting and event listed in the Daily and reviewed by the newspaper staff—I decided to keep digging.
My questions and tentative answers:
Who were those “Hicksite” Quakers who founded Friends General Conference?
They were Liberal, reform-minded Quakers from seven “Hicksite” Yearly Meetings. Many also were or had strong connections to “Progressive Quakers” who had formed their own yearly meeting in Longwood, PA in 1853, after almost 20 years of struggle for reform within the Hicksite yearly meetings. The conflict over reform began shortly after the 1827 Separation that divided the Religious Society of Friends in the U.S. into two rival streams generally referred to as Hicksite (liberal) and Orthodox (conservative).
The story of the founding of FGC in my view is the story of the “Liberal” Quaker response to the steady decline in the number of Hicksite Quakers, the undemocratic structure of the Society of Friends, and the need for social reform. So the story becomes WHOwere those Liberal Quakers and what exactly was their reform mission? How has Quakerism practice today been impacted by their reforms?
The hero of the story, again in my view, is Henry Wilbur, a birthright Quaker member of New York Yearly Meeting that you have never heard of but who drew the disparate interests of FGC founders into a shared commitment to Outreach, to sharing the Truth Quakers had discovered.
What drew Quakers to Chautauqua from Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, Genesee, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois Yearly Meetings* to establish this new organization?
Four Associations had formed within each of the seven Hicksite Yearly Meetings to address Quaker concerns: the First Day School Association; the Union for Philanthropic Labor; the Religious Association, and the Education Association. Beginning in 1868 the Associations from each yearly meeting began to gather together to address their shared concerns. These gatherings had always previously met in “Friendly” neighborhoods where Quaker ‘peculiarities’, which were gradually being discarded, were accepted as part of the scenery. Why did the process that had been in place since 1868 change? Was this first stepping out motivated by the desire to conduct outreach?
*(combinations of Friends’ local Monthly Meetings located in loosely defined geographical areas)
Why did two Methodists from Ohio, John H. Vincent, a minister and Lewis Miller, a prosperous entrepreneur, who co-founded Chautauqua Institution in 1874, invite Liberal Hicksite Quakers to hold their 1900 gathering at Chautauqua in the midst of the Assembly “season”?
According to Deborah Haines (2000), “The relationship between Chautauqua and Friends General Conference has yet to be researched.” But I have identified some areas of common interest that offer clues if not definitive answers to these questions. It’s a complicated story with many intersecting topics but it seems clear that the founders of Chautauqua, and those who founded Friends General Conference, shared the outlook of Religious Liberals, a widespread movement in the late 19th c. that sought more liberty in religious beliefs, and a vastly expanded access to a liberal and liberating education.
Lastly, How can we discern the import of these events for Friends and Chautauquans today, one hundred and twenty-two years later?
Chautauqua Institution, a quickly growing educational concern, had, during the twenty-six years preceding the 1900 origination of FGC, devised and developed one imaginative educational innovation after another, some more successful and lasting than others, but with enough value overall to earn CHQ respect in the history of adult education.
Quakers, in 1900, had been around for 350 years and, in America, had suffered from division and conflict and their own low-grade civil war for decades. The founding of FGC in 1900 promised a greater ascendancy of the Liberal and Progressive elements within the Society of Friends, a story that has not been properly told.
Haines (2000) provides a Brief Historical Overview of FGC as a start in remedying the fact that the creation of FCG has been largely overlooked in the history of the “spiritual re-awakening” that transformed American Quakerism in the late 1800s. Strangely, however, her story of the Liberal Hicksite founders of FGC opens with a discussion of the impact of the spiritual re-awakening on the Orthodox version of Quakerism that competed with Liberal Quakerism. Fager (2002) has an explanation for Haines’ lapse but that comes later in the story. The significant point for now is that the Liberal/Progressive version of Hicksite Quakerism provides a vision that could today, as was proposed in 1900, begin to reverse a decline that threatens the very existence of the denomination.
Liberal Quakers shared the Chautauqua founders’ vision of the way forward through education to both;
a) modernize the understanding of Bible stories, and the structure of religious organizations,
b) increase each individual’s belief in their power to think for themselves and to demand a just democracy through a liberating education.
The story of these common interests and shared values begins with the Sunday School movement that originated in England in 1781. Sunday Schools were introduced in America shortly thereafter, 1786. But we’ll skip ahead a century—to the post-Civil War rapid expansion of Sunday and First Day Schools and consider how Sunday Schools contributed to the Chautauqua founders’ goal of eliminating the “opportunity gap” resulting from lack of education for adults, and to FGC’s founders’ desire to share with adults through outreach the core Quaker doctrine of establishing a “democracy of opportunity”.
Watch for a future blog on the rise of Sunday Schools and First Day Schools
This blog is from Friend in Residence Kriss Miller – a reflection on her first year as Friend in Residence along with her husband Gary.
I’ve read a lot of good books in my life, but I have read very few books that became so intertwined with my own longing that I slowed the pace of my reading to delay the ending. Those books are rare and delicious and require a particular kind of savoring. They teach one about their own dreams and desires. I love those books.
This summer at Chautauqua was one of those “books” for me. I came to this position with curiosity, excitement, and a heartfelt desire to do all I could to support the Quaker House and its mission. As the summer wore on I felt my growing connection to these grounds, the founding ideals of Chautauqua, and the Quaker House intersection with these more deeply than I could have anticipated. I was introduced to a wide range of characters that brought joy, insight, and meaning into the story of my summer. The settings and storylines ranged from beautiful and idyllic to stressful, even terrorizing, in ways that would have been almost unimaginable at the beginning of the season.
The Chautauqua experience is both a tale of fiction and non-fiction. The storyline is unique; messy, beautiful, creative, and mystical. This story is filled with dynamic and interesting characters; talented, inspiring, and living lives of paradox. It is an ongoing story where current chapters are being written that clarify both the facts and fiction of past chapters. It is a riveting story that develops characters who are part of an experience and experiment of what it means to be in community with humans striving for high ideals in both the best of times and the worst of them. Each of us here this summer took our place in this story.
The 2022 season went by so fast. Too fast. This was a “beach read” that I couldn’t slow down. It was an immersive practice of being in and savoring the moment. It was a recognition of the importance of engaging in this practice of being every day as we write the story of our own lives. Be in peace, friends.
Week 4, The Future of History, gave us time to consider both the darkness and light of our history. The speakers urged us to examine the complexity of our pasts with courage, honesty, and compassion. We were challenged to acknowledge the true costs of our actions and to educate and integrate these truths as a society. Without this process, we cannot begin to imagine the future of our history as a nation, let alone our being as individuals.
This will not be easy. There is no universally known workout routine that promises to strengthen character, increase our ability to be flexible in the face of societal changes towards inclusiveness, develop stamina for problem-solving, and offer the increased capacity required for staying in the process of reimagining our nation.
In her poem Practice, from her book Ledger, Jane Hirshfield offers a poetic observation that resonated with me as I thought of our limitations in exercising our compassion, creativity, and understanding, towards the goal of a stronger tomorrow – mid-poem she writes:
I also do ten push-ups, morning and evening.
From the knees.
They resemble certain forms of religious bowing.
In place of one, two, four, seven,
I count the names of incomprehension: Sanford, Ferguson, Charleston, Aleppo, Sarajevo, Nagasaki.
I never reach: Troy, Ur.
I have done this for years now.
Bystander. Listener. One of the Lucky.
I do not seem to grow stronger.
Though Hirschfield did not see the change desired, she does offer a crack of light when we read “I do not seem to grow stronger”.
The Week 4 speakers gave us much to ponder as they offered varying levels of hope and practice. The golden thread that I found running through every lecture was the word LISTEN.
I wondered further about how unpracticed we have all become at a skill that we focused on every minute, of every day, from our earliest moments of existence. In the womb, there was a time when we first heard our mother’s heartbeat, then the sounds of our family waiting to welcome us; the joys and sorrows of the coming world. We heard the music that would eventually fill our homes and ears, unfiltered by the salty water of our first home.
Our earliest ability to listen gave us the power to learn spoken language if our ears were able to hear, but listening comes through all the senses. Listening is required to hear the messages of touch and taste, it is needed to understand the smells and sights that tell us the stories of who we are and who we are capable of being. Listening is far beyond words.
As we consider how we birth a new nation of inclusion, compassion, and consciousness, perhaps we should start by once again just listening. The answers will come. Just. Listen.
It was a sunny day and a gentle breeze that provided the backdrop for Victoria Loorz to remind those of us sitting in the Hall of Philosophy of the importance of staying in conversation with nature. In the Interfaith series for this Wild week 2 of the Chautauqua season, Loorz brought up ways in which inaccurate interpretations of the Bible can alter one’s perception of not only their place in the world but the world’s place as well. Other speakers echoed the same sentiment during the week, beckoning us back into an existence where human connection, collaboration, and conversation with the natural world are the rule, rather than the exception.
We humans are unique creatures. We are filled with wonder yet selfishly controlling. We are born with a drive to create yet we are dangerously destructive. We have expanded an almost unimaginable intelligence yet we are incredibly ignorant. We can be wholly capable of solving problems of enormous magnitude at the same time we are burying our heads in the sand.
While pondering this post, breathtaking images from the edges of creation were coming back to NASA via the James Webb telescope. These awe-inspiring images instantly made me feel tiny and weightless. There is relief in the weightlessness, relief in feeling very small. There is laser clarity that ours is not the only point of view. So I wonder. What if somewhere, in a faraway spot in this seemingly eternal darkness, there is one teeny tiny dot that represents our sun. And just maybe, somewhere in a far-off universe, there is a child, pointing up at our star, and wondering what is happening where we live. What are we doing to keep our light shining.
The Webb Telescope photos serve as a reminder of the limits of our universal value. It also gives us permission to savor the amazing gift of being part of this web of existence. It urges us to treasure our place in this beautiful, wild, and wonderful universe. It offers us the opportunity to de-center ourselves as the sole focus of the Creator. If we are called to see that of God in all, then the all includes caring about and for every piece of this wondrous existence in our corner of eternity.
It was 8:45 in the morning when we stepped out into the crispness that is uniquely Chautauquan at this time of year. Gretchen and I walked to the daily Peace gathering. On the way, I noticed an odd piece of hardware, a slotted washer laying in the street. I am a maker of things. I especially like to collect detritus and imagine how it came to be found. A few blocks later and a length of rusty hanger strap was added to my stash; a world of possibility came into view.
Soon we joined the voices in prayer, clasped hands, and completed our short time together by singing Let There Be Peace On Earth. I felt like a “Who down in Whoville” praying that we too might be on the brink of experiencing the benefit of expanding hearts in a world too full of Grinches.
Starting the season with the topic What is America’s Role in the World, was a heavy lift. We are in crisis. We are juggling a lot right now: climate change, the hearings about January 6th, a serious gun violence issue, ongoing Covid concerns, and a SCOTUS decision to irrevocably change the rights of all those for whom pregnancy is a possibility. The ink was barely dry on the Court’s decision as I walked toward the amphitheater to welcome the start of the season. I yearned for possible solutions from minds much wiser than mine.
The national struggle is real. Now, more than ever, I hear people discussing their exit strategies; an exodus from the country that claims to be the city on the hill, the beacon of hope; the model of what it means to be exceptional. Each day I have wrestled with this question: What might this country look like if this were true? What would it be like if we were exceptional? While this doesn’t make for an easy night’s sleep, it certainly has made for a week of deep contemplation and rich conversation.
Stay open, I cautioned. Look around, I reminded. Answers are everywhere. Later Gretchen offered a closed fist saying, “I have a gift for you.” I held out my hand where she dropped a key; a key with a story, a key that once had unlocked something. Then my husband brought me what looked to be a pad from a piece of furniture that he found in the street; lost while moving in, or perhaps, moving out. And when I arrived back at Quaker House, Bhante had left an avocado pit for me in the sink. Three gifts in one day, three people who had understood things important to me. Each had a lesson; a key that opened a door to the unknown, a felt pad that added a layer of protection against the damage done by constant friction and the ever-intriguing gifts of the avocado pit. Avo pits can be sprouted and grown into a producing tree. They can also be boiled to yield the loveliest peachy-pink brew that successfully dyes fabric or can be distilled into ink. The rich color staining all that it touches.
I kept the washer and the key in my pocket all week and listened for what they might have to share, but it is the avocado pit that informed me the most. America itself is this seed, this pit, with so much beauty and so much potential packed inside. If we are willing to truly be exceptional then we will face and wrestle with our truest past, grow into our fullest potential so that we can provide for future generations and like the avocado pit, mark the places where we make contact with exceptional beauty.