Powell House is the conference and retreat center of New York Yearly Meeting Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Located in rural Columbia County, our mission is to foster spiritual growth after the manner of Friends (Quaker) and to strengthen the application of Friends’ testimonies in the world. Website: powellhouse.org.
Elsie K. Powell House, located in Old Chatham, N.Y., continues to move slowly toward a more regular in-person event calendar. Both youth and adult programs are offering retreats at a reduced capacity, with COVID-19 protocols in place. The schedule, protocols, and registration portals are accessible on the website.
Programs this year have included a work weekend; retreats for all the youth age/grade cohorts, including EarthSong (the annual graduation/launching celebration); with several online events, including a discussion about how to help the people of Ukraine, a workshop on vocal ministry, and a two-part workshop on mediating trauma through creative expression.
Since March, many traditional rental groups have been hosted: the Dharma Group, Oakwood Friends School, Alliance of Families for Justice, family reunions, and sojourner groups. A new “Testimonies to Mercy” seven-part traveling series that blends in-person and online events runs from this September to June 2023 under the leadership of Quaker practical theologian and public minister Windy Cooler.
The capital campaign also continues, focusing on improving the physical plant with green energy and accessible accommodations, as well as establishing an endowment to support excellent programming.
While autumn 2021 began the transition back to in-person events for both adult and youth programs, Powell House returned to only allowing sojourner visits in December, due to the spike in pandemic cases. The Second-Thirds program, for Friends ages 35-59ish, was well attended virtually this fall, with topics of financial concerns, parenting, and spiritual journeys. Weekly Zoom Bible study regularly gathers eight to twelve folks as they make their way through the book of Genesis. Online or hybrid events will continue to be offered, even as in-person programming begins to return this spring. The Youth program will hold three conferences in March and April: “On The Spot!” for ninth to twelfth grade, “Play, Create” for sixth to eighth grade, and “Outer Space, Inner Space” for fourth and fifth grade. Powell House’s COVID-19 protocols encourage communication and consent along with a combination of masking, social distancing, being outside, and rapid testing. These are working well, and there has not been a single case of COVID-19 in the youth or adult programs. Powell House currently asks that all in-person attenders at Powell House be vaccinated.
Elise K. Powell House has started the reopening process. The move from online conferences to meeting in person was marked by a Garden Club Day held on June 26. This one-day event was held outside with masking and distancing protocols in place.
The first in-person youth conference since closing in March 2020 was held August 13–15. The conference included the annual send-off ceremony for graduating high school seniors. Along with masking and distancing, it was held with limited capacity.
Sojourning has continued to be a source of spiritual renewal while a reopening strategy is slowly phased in. It is one of the few ways that visitors have been able to enjoy the grounds throughout the period of being closed due to the pandemic.
Virtual programming has been a strong point of connection across the Powell House community and beyond. “How Are the Children?,” an event held May 25, drew in a group of 30 people to talk about Quaker meetings and families during post-pandemic times.
Powell House recently launched its capital campaign with a goal to raise funds for renovations to Pitt Hall—one of the conference buildings—as well as for other projects on the horizon.
Elsie K. Powell House in Old Chatham, N.Y., has continued to provide programming in the form of virtual workshops and youth conferences throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, weekend-long adult retreats have been held over Zoom, exploring a range of topics such as clerking and opening to the heart of worship. The extra time within a weekend-long event has allowed for deeper exploration of the topics at hand.
“Drive-Thru Dinners” have also been offered about once a month, allowing people to stop by and pick up a dinner prepared by chef Tony Barca. These events have allowed the staff to work together in a new way, nurture connections within the community, and make new connections with Old Chatham locals.
Online events have been a steady source of groundedness in a time when it is much needed. Youth attenders have expressed that while a virtual conference is much different from an in-person one, there is still a lot of joy and community that can be shared over Zoom. Weekly Saturday evening worship also provides groundedness and community for Friends.
Powell House is still able to host sojourners in the Anna Curtis Center and Pitt Hall, and is grateful for the energy they bring to the space during this time when the buildings and grounds are largely empty.
On March 12, Elsie K. Powell House was closed to any in-person visits due to COVID-19 precautions. Since then, it has re-oriented its programming toward providing pay-as-led, mainly two-hour virtual workshops on Saturdays. Thus far Powell House has offered over 25 workshops that have attracted approximately 250 individuals from all over the world. The youth program has also focused on virtual events for the past six months, as well as welcomed new youth directors: Sarah and Martin Glazer.
The management of the house’s closure has been well supported by the governance of the Powell House Committee. Staff have been paid throughout the closure. Most have returned to onsite work utilizing social distancing protocols. Additionally, plans for a capital campaign have gone forward, focusing on updating and renovating outdated electric, heating, and water systems, as well as creating endowment resources for future programming that is based on the strategic plan. The financial contributions of constituents and other supporters have been integral for enabling Powell House to survive throughout this pandemic.