Rochester Friends’ New Meeting House

By Mary Kay Glazer, Rochester Monthly Meeting

It has been about six months since Rochester Friends moved into their new meeting house, and in that time the look of the faces worshipping has changed almost as dramatically as the building itself. Each week brings new people, and now the sunlit meeting room that once seemed so large is full to the brim. Many of the newcomers have children, which makes for a vibrant first-day school. All this new life is the fulfillment of the promise of a spring day last March when we first moved into the not-quite-complete renovated commercial building on the eastern edge of downtown Rochester.

Rochester Friends have easily settled into the inspiring new space they now call home. “It’s beautiful,” they say. “The new meeting room is so bright and spirit-filled.” The light in the meeting room comes from skylights and windows, which brighten the room even in Rochester’s many cloudy winter days. The room is larger than the meeting room on Westminster Road. Now, guests who visit for weddings, memorial services and other special events can all fit in the meeting room. Children have ample space as well, and Friends no longer elbow each other when gathering for pot lucks.

This move put Rochester Friends on the leading edge of a renaissance of Rochester’s East End cultural district, which includes the Eastman School of Music and the Eastman Theatre. The first new housing units in central Rochester in thirty years are now nearly complete. The seventy-seven units are located right behind the meeting house. Other new construction is also taking place. Rochester Meeting has long been an integral part of the city’s history. The meeting began in the early 1800s when two of the first five houses of worship in the city were Friends’ meetings. However, all Friends meetings in the county were laid down in the early 20th century. Our present meeting was reborn in the 1930s and 1940s. Today, Rochester Meeting has about 100 adult members. Attendance for first-day worship ranges from thirty to eighty people. There is an active religious education program for the burgeoning number of children, including an inter-generational activity once a month.

The roots of this new meeting house trail through the years, beginning in 1961, almost immediately after Rochester Friends bought their previous home on Westminster Road from neighboring St. Paul Episcopal Church. Although that building is an elegant century-old home, meeting records show that just a few years after moving in, a long range meeting house planning committee took a look at whether the house met the needs of Rochester Friends. In 1973 and 1978 committees again examined the concerns with the Westminster meeting house. Each time, Friends decided that the house’s benefits, including its rich woodwork and design, made it worth staying.

Still, the concerns lingered. As beautiful as it is, the house has high maintenance costs and is inaccessible for people with physical mobility difficulties. Over the years, Friends grappled with options to fix the house, including investing in architectural plans for handicapped accessibility. But no one in the meeting wanted to alter the grand structure of the house. So in 1993, an ad hoc committee began the process once again, and this time Friends were clear it was time to move.

With that decision made, Friends wrestled with what they wanted in a new meeting house. City or suburb? Build new or renovate? Inevitably, these discussions turned to questions of Rochester Friends’ place in the greater Rochester area. Many business and threshing meetings took place as Friends struggled to answer.

Several options were investigated until a new home was found in the industrial building at 84 Scio Street about a mile from the Westminster meeting house. What was once a plumbing contractor’s offices and supply center now holds a 32 x 35 meeting room, a 26 x 60 community room and kitchen (to be used for pot lucks, dancing and other gatherings), religious education classrooms, nursery, library, office space, and a caretaker’s apartment. Libby Stewart, Rochester Meeting’s historian, discovered that the oldest part of the brick building dates back to the 1850s with many additions through the years. Friends have preserved much of the brick interior walls. The meeting house is now completely handicapped accessible with a Liftavator and a hearing system. It has a new pyramid roof, a new staircase, and a new interior configuration since most non-weight bearing walls were removed.

A capital campaign among Rochester Friends and friends and relatives of Friends raised nearly $300,000 in contributions and pledges. In addition, the FGC Meeting House Fund helped with a $60,000 mortgage. There was also plenty of “sweat equity” with Friends giving up their Saturdays and weeknights to do such jobs as clean, prepare surfaces, lay tile, and clean some more. With the expertise of meeting member and builder Ted First, we were able to act as our own general contractor. Remarkably, this major undertaking only took eight months from the first demolition to our first worship in March, 1999.

Now, Rochester Friends have paused for reflection as we decide what to do next. Do we need air conditioning, or was the summer of 1999 just unusually hot? How shall we develop our small courtyard area? In addition, we will be making decisions about renting some of our space to a compatible non-profit organization who can use the building during the week and help defray some expenses.

And as we decide, our meeting continues to grow into our new space.

You can see the Rochester Meeting House for yourself when you attend the 2000 Gathering of Friends.

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