A Meeting Housed in a Condominium

Faith can move mountains, or in this case, move a monthly meeting from a classroom to its own space, a condominium right downtown. Northampton (Mass.) Meeting has existed for seven years. Because some members had taught at Smith College, the meeting approached the college for a space in which to hold worship. The chapel is committed to diversity on campus and was delighted to welcome us. Classroom space was offered in Bass Hall after the comfortable lounge in which we intially met disappeared during renovation. There are obvious physical problems with not having our own space such as not being able to leave things out in view, but the hardest to bear had to do with people, children in particular. It is very hard to build a strong sense of community identity when there is no physical center for a meeting where committees can meet and people can share food and hold gatherings. Children are even more sensitive to spaces; it has been very hard to develop a good children’s program in the classrooms so we have found families coming very irregularly. We are grateful to Smith College for hosting us all these years, but it became very clear that we needed a space of our own.

I won’t go into the history of attempts to find property, the eventual purchase of land, and the agonizing over building our own meetinghouse. We are a relatively small meeting with 33 active members. The architect who worked with us designed a wonderful building, but when we heard the cost we found ourselves wavering. How could the meeting ever raise that much money? Should we spend so much on ourselves? What about our commitments to simple living and sustainable resources? Was it feasible to share the space with another organization? How would some Friends get to meeting for worship with no bus service? We spent many hours pondering these issues in threshing sessions.

Suddenly, out of the blue, we saw a notice about a local developer who had bought and was renovating a historic building in the center of Northampton. Would we be interested in buying into the proposed condominium? The basement would house a local interfaith homeless shelter that we had been instrumental in starting. Above us would be a group that worked with battered women. Other social service agencies and independent providers would also be in the building. Although a radical switch in thinking was needed, this answered some of the fundamental questions we had been asking ourselves, and the opportunity for outreach was unparalleled. The money issues were still there and the amounts had not changed significantly, but somehow the risk seemed worth it. Finally the decision was made, although some Friends found it very hard to give up the land we had dreamed about for so long.

A resource development committee was formed and charged with making our dream come true.

We rolled up our sleeves and made a plan. In our favor was that we were committed to building a nontoxic space and that we were probably the first U.S. monthly meeting to be part of a condominium. Out went the appeals to individuals and foundations. The results have been astounding. Goethe said, "Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans. That the moment one definitely commits oneself then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no one could have dreamt would have come their way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it."

Northampton Meeting has experienced this truth. The generosity of individuals and foundations has been such that we exceeded our original fundraising goal and have been able to purchase the space with monies raised. We will only need to borrow for building the interior space and are working to raise funds to lower our loan costs. Then we can turn our fundraising attention to special items within our new space. Friends are combing the tag sales this summer for furniture, and we have received a Quaker grant to build benches through a local incubator project.

In a time when miracles seem few and far between, we feel blessed and hope to be moved in by December 2001. We started on a wing and a prayer and are in sight of the airfield. We send heartfelt thanks to all those who are helping to make our dream a reality.

Claire Bateman

Claire Bateman is a member of the Resource Development Committee of Northampton (Mass.) Meeting.