Chestnut Hill Meeting's new meetinghouse.

The Freedom to Build

A Brief History of Meetinghouse Design and the Story of Chestnut Hill Meeting’s New Building Chestnut Hill Meeting’s new meetinghouse. Photo © Gail Whiffen. Use the media player above or right‐click here to download an audio version of this article. When🔒

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John Andrew Gallery is a member of Chestnut Hill Meeting in Philadelphia, Pa., and a member of the Arch Street Meeting House Preservation Trust. He is the author of Sacred Sites of Center City, a guide to all the places of worship in Center City Philadelphia, and of Living in the Kingdom of God and other spiritual essays.

Posted in: Features, February 2014

2 Responses to The Freedom to Build

  1. Mr. Jim Giddings February 18, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

    City & State
    Greenville NH
    Hiring union labor is important. Unions allow workers’ families to live a stable decent life. If the cost of hiring union labor was so much higher than that of hiring non‐union labor, did Friends go to the union and ask for a hardship reduction in rates for a non‐profit project? Did Friends attempt to understand and prevent the anger that led to the workers’ committing sabotage. I understand that the creation of great art or the creation of a sacred space can sometimes be more important to a community than taking care of more prosaic needs for food, education, retirement security, but how much overlap is there between the Friends, etc. who will benefit from the facilities (one community) and the people hired to build it (another community)? It is probably true that most Friends’ institutions are very sensitive to cost, and perhaps the majority hire exclusively non‐union labor for that reason, but where does cost fall within the hierarchy of factors we consider when we decide to undertake a major project? Is cost always near the top? Is economic justice always near the bottom?

    We might ask why is a non‐union general contracting company “highly respected” if it denies its employees the benefits of having a union? Is this the kind of institution that Chestnut Hill Meeting and other Quaker institutions want to support? For a union to maintain a “thug squad” that sabotages non‐union projects is abhorent and extreme, I admit, but one can understand why working class people might resent being passed over, dismissed or snubbed by an organization that has enough surplus funds to build a lavish addition so special that even photographing its interior is forbidden.

    The article refers to a supportive reaction from the general public (I assume this means supportive of the Meeting and/or the non‐union contractor, not the union or the saboteurs). Did that general public include working people who have, aspire to or desperately need union jobs?


  1. James Turrell: Beyond the Skyspace - Friends Journal - February 4, 2014

    […] Read the story of Chestnut Hill Meeting’s new building and a brief history of meetinghouse design in “The Freedom to Build” by John Andrew Gallery. […]

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