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The Northampton Friends meeting gathers weekly on center street in Northampton, following a longstanding tradition of Quaker practice in New England. The religious society of Friends was founded in the mid to late seventeenth century in England by George Fox. In its contemporary incarnation, Quaker theology spans many different theologies, but in its early days it was based upon a post-Reformation Protestant faith. Throughout its history, however, Friends have had common core values of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship. The structure of most Friends meetings, including ones in New England, are unique. Some meetings, like the Northampton meeting, have no ordained clergy; instead Friends gather together in a space where all are considered equal. In meeting for worship, Friends gather in silence, and, if one is moved to speak with a message from one’s inner light, one may do so. This is a fundamental part of the theology of the Society of Friends: everyone is equal before god (or spiritual powers) and therefore formal hierarchy, prejudice, and violence are frowned upon. Friends have long been persecuted across the world for their beliefs, which are typically far more liberal than the beliefs of their religious contemporaries. Today, the Northampton Friends, like many other Friends, are dedicated to activism in the community and globally.
Every Sunday morning at 11, Quakers gather at the Northampton Friends Meeting. They greet each other and converse before heading into the meeting room. Once inside, worship in silence begins. It remains quiet until someone has a message to share or until worship ends. Typically there are two to three messages spoken, but at times the worship remains in complete silence. Each time there is a message, a microphone is used to ensure that it can be heard by everyone. Once an assigned person shakes their hand with their neighbor, it signals the end of worship and everyone follows suit. Announcements are made, and afterwards, people move to the social room where they socialize and have food and refreshments. On the first, third, fourth (and fifth if there is one) Sundays there is a chance for sharing or adult education at 9:30 am. Usually it is a time where adults share various aspects of their spiritual life with each other, but on occasion they have a guest speaker. Additionally, there is a business meeting held on the second Sunday of the month to discuss business in the spirit of worship. There is no voting; instead, they use collective discernment. They make sure to welcome all people, no matter how new they are, to attend these meetings.
The Northampton Friends adhere many traditional Quaker values and beliefs, while also striving, as is typical of Friends, to make the meeting accessible and welcoming as possible. For example, the Friends in Northampton are accommodating of those with sensitivity to smells and keep some benches scent free, and though they are on the second floor, are accessible to those with disabilities and difficulty in movement. By continually growing and modifying the space to be accommodating and progressive, the Friends Meeting of Northampton keep to the values of the Religious Society of Friends, values promoting equality, inclusion, and welcome to everyone.