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The Hockessin Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends

Creating a Foundation for the Beginning of our Fourth Century

   In the year 2030, the Hockessin Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends will mark the 300th year of its founding. Eight years later, in 2038, one half of the building that contains the room for meetings for worship will have stood for the same three centuries. The meeting room has doubled from its original size with periodic internal alterations over the centuries that reflected the changing needs of the Meeting’s membership.

   A Monthly Meeting of Friends is akin to a living organism.  The life of the Meeting grows and thrives through the spirit of the lives of its members. In three hundred years, Hockessin Meeting has flourished vigorously and survived stagnation. Yet the spirit that gathers the seekers of the Inner Light to the Hockessin Meeting has never permanently dimmed.

   In the first decade of the 21st century within the membership of Hockessin Meeting a leading arose quite unexpectedly in the way that a seed plants itself in the ground and with careful tending eventually grows into a flowering tree. This leading called the members of Hockessin Meeting to engage in a process that has led to an expansion and renovation of the buildings in which the Meeting exists. In accomplishing that process, the Meeting has experienced a renewed spirit in seeking the Light that guides the lives of Friends now and in the future.

   This is the story of that leading. The hope in this writing is that future generations of Friends in Hockessin Meeting will find this record of the efforts and aspirations of this generation helpful   as a guide to changes that may be called for in the years to come. Specific details of the renovations such as contracts, documents, and correspondence with architects, contractors, and public officialdom have been preserved elsewhere. This writing is meant as an overview of the renovation project that occupied the energy of the Meeting for over a decade as well as an expression of the hopes and plans of the present membership for the future of the Hockessin Meeting.

  Brief History of Hockessin Monthly Meeting

   On Friday, April 6, 1730, a few Friends living in Millcreek Hundred gathered at the home of William and Catherine Cox located on a tract of land owned by Friend Cox known as Ocassa. The Cox home was about a quarter mile west of the present meeting house. The Cox family and the Dixon family, owners of land adjacent to the Cox property, had been given permission to hold a meeting for worship by New Ark Monthly Meeting, not to be confused with the present city of Newark, Delaware. This New Ark Monthly Meeting had been meeting alternatively on First Days (Sundays) between Centre Meeting and “Old” Kennett Meeting.

   The Friends meeting on Ocassa on that Friday in April denote the birth of what was to be known in the future as Hockessin Monthly Meeting. The similarity between the names Ocassa and Hockessin is notable. The Ocassa meeting was apparently a success in attracting several Friends who resided in the area, and seven years later New Ark Monthly Meeting granted permission for those Friends to build a meeting house and meet for worship on First Day rather than on Sixth Day (Friday).

   The building of the meeting house was completed in 1738 and is currently the eastern half of the meeting room today. Seven years later a growing membership led to the addition of what is the western half of the present meeting room. Names of those early members of what was to become Hockessin Monthly Meeting remain unknown since rolls were kept in the Monthly Meeting and therefore blended with the names of those Friends attending Centre and Old Kennett. However, according to the research of the late Friend Sanford Smith, the deeds for lands in the area in the 1700’s include family names that are well known in the Hockessin area today such as Gregg, Hollingsworth,Jackson, Marshall, Mitchell, Philips, Pyle, Wilson and Wollaston to name a few. By the 1800’s the rolls included other names familiar today around Hockessin: Cloud, Dilworth, Mancill, Mendenhall, Pierson, Poole Pusey, Sharpless, Walker, and Yeatman.

   Hockessin Monthly Meeting and Centre Monthly Meeting have a close historical relationship that has involved uniting and separating at various times over the past three centuries.  They had been meeting together under Old Kennett until 1786 when they became separate Preparative Meetings still under Old Kennett. Then in 1808, Old Kennett was split and Centre and Hockessin became Centre Monthly Meeting.

   However, as the population of Friends grew in the Hockessin area, Centre declined in the 1800’s and in 1884 Centre Monthly Meeting for Business joined with and moved to Hockessin where the meeting was called Centre Meeting at Hockessin. Some Friends continued to attend Centre Meeting at the Centre Meeting House primarily in the summer about once a month.

   This situation continued until the 1950’s. In 1954 Hockessin formed its own legal corporation and charter and the name of Hockessin Monthly Meeting of Friends was officially adopted in 1959. Centre resumed weekly meetings for worship, became a Preparatory Meeting in 1990, and regained full Monthly Meeting status in 1995. The funds of Centre that had been under the care of Hockessin were returned to full management of Centre and that meeting was incorporated as a non-profit Delaware corporation.

   The history of Hockessin Monthly Meeting shows a propensity for sharing its home with Friends of a different disposition.  In the “Great Separation” between Orthodox and Hicksite Friends beginning in 1827 and lasting until 1955, both groups of Friends for a few years shared the meeting house. On First Days, Hicksites met for worship in the mornings and the Orthodox met in the afternoons. The Hockessin Orthodox Friends gradually became ensnared in the trap of their orthodoxy. They demanded such rigidity in living their lives they were not permitted to marry anyone outside their own group, even Hicksite Friends, whom they called “Separatists”. The Great Separation ended when there were no more Orthodox.

   In 1973 the Hockessin Friends Meeting House was officially entered into the National Register of Historic Places under the United States Department of the Interior. In the “Statement of Significance” that is included in the National Register the one event of national significance is noted thusly: “The Revolutionary War touched the meeting house on the night of September 9, 1777, when Lord Cornwallis stationed troops there.”

   This intrusion of the military onto the property of the Hockessin Meeting did not shake the commitment of the Meeting to its peace testimony. In 1779 the minutes of the Meeting noted that “Solomon Gregg hath so far joined the war as to muster or exercise to learn the art of it.” He was disowned.

Maintenance of the Meeting House and Property

   The minutes of Hockessin Friends Meeting over the decades are not rich with details regarding material and structural matters. The research of Sanford Smith points out that Monthly Meeting minutes were mostly concerned with the conduct of members’ personal lives and caring for the poor in the wider community. In this generation of Hockessin Friends we are fortunate that long-time members of the Meeting such as Tom Marshall can personally recall some events from his own experience or from hearing about them from others.

  The reality is that over the centuries relatively few major physical changes have been made to the property and structures located on it. The changes have been made piecemeal when the Meeting sensed a need to accommodate a changing membership or culture within the Society of Friends. Tom Marshall recalls that in 1929, the “social room” that was to become the first addition to the meeting for worship room since that room was doubled in size in 1745, was about the size of a large closet.

  Sometime in the 1930’s the social room was expanded to the size it was to remain until razed for the presently completed renovations. A kitchen area and storage shed, also now demolished for the current renovations, were added sometime after that. The social room served needs of the Meeting as a classroom for First Day school as well as a classroom for a pre-school held under the aegis of the Meeting.

   Hurricane Hazel in 1954 ripped off the roof of the horse sheds. Later those sheds were partially converted into classrooms for First Day School and the pre-school. The burial ground across from the Meeting House came under the perpetual care of the Meeting through the devoted leadership of Hockessin Friends such as the Mitchell family. The caretaker’s house and the property on which it stands were purchased during the 1940’s through the generosity of Warren Marshall.

   It is likely that for over a hundred years the meeting house was covered with a white stucco, probably to support the caulking on the stone structure.  In 1976, the year of celebration of the American Bicentennial, a sense of the meeting developed that the stucco should be removed to restore a more original and therefore more “colonial” look to the outward appearance of the Meeting House.

   In that year of national celebration internal changes were made including the removal of the platform in the center of the meeting room. That raised section of the room had been used as an area for staging Christmas stories, listening to invited speakers, and providing space for a desk for a “superintendent” and secretary to preside over Monthly Meeting for Business. The platform was also the site of the facing benches where elders of the Meeting looked out over the assembled Friends and made the decision to end the silent meeting for worship by shaking hands. In this generation of Friends, the term “elder” has disappeared, and so has the concept of “facing benches”.

   These 1976 internal changes to the meeting room were not the first time that significant alterations to that room had been made. Friends have recognized the spiritual equality of men and women and from their earliest days and have included women as equal partners with men in the decision-making process of our Meetings. However, that inclusion for many decades was conducted under cultural standards regarding acceptable contact between the genders. Women and men sat in separate sections of the meeting house and made direct contact with each other only after each group had come into agreement separately on matters that affected the Meeting as a whole.

   Hockessin Friends Meeting was no exception to these early perceptions of the proper association between the two genders. The door at the center of the meeting room provided separate entrances for men and women Friends. A partition ran down the center of the meeting room with sliding panels that could be opened or closed depending on the situation at hand. The two sections were heated separately by fireplaces, one of which can be noted today plastered over on one side of the room. On the opposite side of the room the other fireplace is still in use during Christmas celebrations.

   The minutes of the women of the Hockessin Meeting for December 2, 1875 proposed that the meetings for worship and business be held “with open shutters”. The unity of the women was laid before the men who asked for a month to consider the matter. They considered for another 17 years. In March 1893, the shutters in the panels were opened during meetings. Then, sometime in the 1920’s, the separate doors were combined and the partition entirely removed.

“The Great Renovation” 2001-2014

   The leading to renovate the Hockessin Meeting House and surrounding structures did not commence in grand fashion. Those few Friends who gathered in what they called “a brainstorming session” on ideas for renovations to facilities at Hockessin Meeting” on June 10, 2001, did not harbor any ideas that their initial brainstorming would lead to the investment of over a million dollars into the renovation of the property. Such a sum would surpass all of the investment of financial resources made into the property since 1738. Their major concerns were a roof that leaked and better heat.

   The ultimate success that was to come out of that initial meeting in 2001 may be seen in retrospect as the result of three key elements: the process, the financing, and the volunteer involvement among the membership.

The Process Begins

   The minutes of the brainstorming session for ideas for renovations to the facilities of Hockessin Meeting on June 10, 2001 indicate that the motivation for calling the meeting may have been to deal with a leaking roof in the social and meeting rooms, but the ideas generated at that meeting created the framework for most of the changes that would take more than a decade to complete.

   Some of the “brainstorms” in the minutes taken by the late Joan Hannum of the “renovations sub-committee” consisting of Richard Bernard, Juliana Smith and the late Paul Cobb included “bathrooms with heat, hot water and handicap accessibility”… “tear down and start new the Meeting Room Back” (referred to here as the social room)… “an entrance foyer…place for coats”… “a new kitchen”… “library”… and “renovate the shed classrooms and keep them separate from the main building”.

   The sub-committee discussed changes for the pre-school then operated by the Meeting and could not foresee the issues that would arise later regarding that pre-school. The sub-committee wisely noted that a safety inspection of the building should be called for and “we should not do anything until we have visited other meetings who have either built new or renovated recently”. Those visits, the sub-committee concluded, could reveal possible architects, time involved, and of course, the “cost”.

   The process by which Friends arrive at decisions and the time it takes to implement them may be among the slowest known. However, the prolonged pace between idea and action proved to be a major strength in reaching the end result in this most significant structural change in the history of Hockessin Friends Meeting. Each decision was thoughtfully discussed in sessions open to all interested in the plans. Each person’s idea, complaint or concern was heard with respect and without divisive challenge. When a decision was made to move ahead with a plan or financing that plan, no one stood in the way of unity within the Meeting.

   A period of over 18 months passed following that initial brainstorming session until the trustees established a budget item of $300 for an “expansion” committee to move ahead with researching what needed to be done regarding repairs. Then, in the Spring of 2003, necessity became the mother of movement: the social room ceiling collapsed. The cost to repair that immediate problem was about $7,800.

   In 2004 during the spring and fall an expansion committee began holding meetings and decided to visit the meetings suggested in 2001 such as Gwynedd and Gun Power Falls with the purpose of gathering from them all relevant information about their recent renovations.

   Then in the fall of 2004 a lead paint inspection revealed the presence of lead paint in the social room and exterior of the building. A remediation had to take place over the Christmas school break so that the pre-school could continue operation. The cost to the Meeting: about $5,600. This emergency led to a meeting of a renovations committee in January of 2005 to discuss what must been done regarding the pre-school. The renovations committee consisted of Richard Bernard, Carol Bernard, Steve Cleary, David Kee, Tom Marshall, Peter Tupitza, Beth Parker Miller, Sandi Dahn and Juliana Smith.

The Pre-school and Concerns with Education

   Education exists as a necessity in the very heart of the Society of Friends because education is an essential element in understanding the continuing revelation toward the Truth. Hockessin Friends Meeting established the first school in this area of what was to become the State of Delaware in 1740. Two years after the meeting house was built, a log house to serve as a school was erected on a part of what is now the burial ground.

   This school became too small and in 1818 a building was erected west of the meeting house on what is currently a children’s playground. In 1829, when Delaware enacted a “Public School Act”, the meeting’s school became part of the public system known as “#29”. In 1869, that school was closed and another public school was opened in what was to become the Lamborn Library on the corner of Valley Road and Old Lancaster Pike.

   The closing of the school on the grounds of Hockessin Friends did not diminish the commitment of members of the meeting to education but re-directed it by supporting Friends schools such as George School, Westtown, and Wilmington Friends both financially, through gifts and scholarships, and as members of school boards and teachers.

   Friends in Hockessin Meeting responded to a need in the area for a pre-school by establishing such a school in 1962 utilizing the social room and First Day School classrooms. Then, during the years 2005 and 2006, Hockessin Friends were faced with a monumental decision regarding the future of the pre-school. The lead paint and the collapsing ceiling made it obvious that the pre-school existed in an environmentally unacceptable location.

   Throughout the winter of 2006, the Meeting held threshing sessions on the third Sunday of the month as 10 a.m. to discuss the pre-school in the context of the future of the meeting and the kinds of facilities Friends needed to support the mission they wanted to achieve in that future. These threshing sessions proved to be a critical element in opening a clearing for the Meeting to create a new environment for a new mission. In May 2006, the pre-school was laid down.

Commencing the Renovations

   Following the visits to other Friends’ Meetings, the explorations conducted in 2005 were highlighted by the process of choosing an architect. The renovations committee interviewed eight architectural firms and asked for the creation of a master plan. Based on the response to that request and the results of work for other meetings, Frens and Frens, Restoration Architects, of West Chester, PA, were officially hired in February 2006. The remainder of that year involved working with the chosen architects while awaiting their preliminary drawings.

   Investigations into issues involving zoning and utilities also began in 2006. Hockessin Friends in the future who contemplate renovations that in some way require permits and inspections of civil authorizes should be advised that this is a bumpy road to travel. Contacts with state and county officials in an attempt to clarify and then meet their requirements repeatedly resulted in delays. For example, in 2011 when construction permits were applied for, New Castle County required the meeting to go through a preliminary land use application because the Meeting was building more than 1,000 sq. ft. and as “a church” the Meeting is classified as “commercial” which requires stricter compliance in land use review.

  Once again in the fall of 2006 and winter of 2007, in the tradition of Friends, two major threshing sessions were called by the renovations committee to seek input from all interested Friends in regard to future plans.

   On March 11, 2007, the architects presented a preliminary master plan to the renovations committee and any others who desired to attend the meeting. In May 2007, the Meeting approved a basic plan for expansion and renovation. The architects then took the next steps of estimating project costs, and a Master Plan with preliminary cost estimates was presented to the Meeting in July of 2007.

   A severe attack of “sticker shock” struck the Meeting. The total project cost of the Master Plan was estimated at $1.5 million dollars. This figure was well beyond the most prohibitive expectations of any member of the Meeting. The initial reaction was to scale down the plan or build in phases. A target budget of $500,000 was suggested as realistic to the Meeting’s resources.

   The renovations committee met with the architects and offered a few scaled down options. However, in June 2008 after a second revision of options the architects came back with a cost estimate for a plan that still required a budget of between $900,000 and $1.5 million.

  By this time, the dye has been cast in the minds of the Meeting’s members. There would be no turning back. After a thorough review of the options and upon the recommendations of the renovations committee, the Monthly Meeting agreed “to move forward with building renovations and construction with a goal of breaking ground in the spring of 2009”.

   Hockessin Friends determined to meet the challenge of raising the funds to support their decision with high hopes and more than a little courage.

Financing for the Future of the Meeting

    In July 2008 Friends began forming a financing committee “to raise funds for the project”. That committee, whose efforts were to prove critical in the success of “the project”, was not gathered for its first meeting until May 2009.

   Meanwhile, actions in preparing for the renovations did not cease. In August 2008, Richard Bernard and Pete Franck, the Meeting’s treasurer, met with the architects to discuss the next steps for building and construction. The architects recommended a negotiated bid process working with “a trusted general contractor” instead of a competitive bid process. The fact that competitive bidding would increase the architectural fees was enough to convince members to follow the architect’s advice.

   Mark Hoopes was chosen as the “trusted general contractor”, but only after he met with members of the renovations committee for what was termed a “comfortability/fitness check”. This meeting was followed in March 2009 with a pot luck lunch where Mark Hoopes met with all interested members of the Meeting.

   In May 2009 the finance committee for renovations held its first meeting charged with determining a realistic budget. Steve Cleary and Wright Horne served as co-clerks. Members of the committee were Carol Bernard, Richard Bernard, Faye Duplessis, Beth Parker-Miller, Erin Parker-Miller, and Steve Spangler. A goal of $1.1 million was set as the target budget. The finance committee met during the summer months of 2009 to prepare for fund raising and to present the budget to the Monthly Meeting.

   Four revenue streams were identified: 1. Existing meeting Resources/Funds; 2. Lead Individual Members; 3. Grants; and 4. General Meeting Membership.

   The challenge to raise over a million dollars with a Meeting membership base of around 75 adult Friends might have been reasonably viewed as overwhelming. However, by March 1, 2014, when the major additions to the building and renovations to the meeting room were completed, the Meeting had raised $1,145,174 in dollars pledged and/or liquidated. That total represented $45,174 above the starting goal of $1.1 million.

   This extraordinary achievement was accomplished due to the dedicated efforts of the finance committee and to the undeniable fact this very old Meeting had nurtured the spiritual life of Friends long gone who generously supported the Meeting during their lives and who remembered the Meeting in the dispositions of their wills.

   Seventy percent of the funds raised for the project came from the liquidation of investments held by the Meeting. The largest amount was gained by liquidating $377,702 from the burial ground account. The decision to use these often long held investments was discomforting to some older members of the Meeting. However, the prevailing sense of the Meeting was that the Friends who had shared their beneficence had expected their gifts at some future point to be put to good purpose. Building for the future of the Meeting certainly met that criterion.

   Thirty percent of the funds raised came from grants from trust funds and donations from individual members/attenders. The trust funds that responded positively to the request for support included the Marshall Reynolds Foundation, the Meeting House Trust Fund and the Tyson Memorial Fund. Within the Meeting, two major donors who chose to remain anonymous each pledged $30,000 and the vast majority of members/attenders generously pledged whatever their financial situation allowed.

   As of this writing, the renovations are not yet completed. Financing will be needed for renovating the shed classrooms, renovating the interior space of the former bathrooms, and some painting and restoration of the exterior of the meetinghouse. Friends in the future will be able to find final figures in the materials preserved elsewhere.

   The last note of the successful financing of the renovations is that as of April 2014, with all the invoices for all the work to date paid in full, Hockessin Friends Meeting is in the same financial position that it was before the first invoice was received. Thanks to a recovering economy and the generosity of Friends, the financial standing of the Meeting has replenished what was depleted in the liquidations. The Meeting’s financial resources have been wisely managed and wisely used.

The Plan Becomes a Reality

   With the financing of the building and renovations agreed to by the Meeting, the contractor’s bid for construction was presented to a joint meeting of the renovations and fund raising committees. The contractor estimated that tear down/construction could begin in March 2011 “after the first thaw”. On December 5, 2010, the renovations committee recommended that the Meeting proceed by signing a contract with our general contractor, Mark Hoopes.

   The contract for demolition and construction of the new addition was signed on March 13, 2011, with a growing confidence as the search for grants and donations began to show promising returns.

   During the months of March through May, as the general contractor was attempted to secure construction and demolition permits from New Castle County, members of the meeting came together to clean out and clear out the social room, kitchen and store room in anticipation of the start of construction. Smashing through walls that would soon be gone forever provided amusement as Friends discovered items such as straw fans, old photos, and props from earlier Christmas pageants.

   During this period important decisions involving heating and sewerage were resolved in unity within the Meeting. The Meeting agreed to go ahead with installation of a new on-site septic system since the old cess-pool set-up would not comply with the new septic requirement for the new construction hook-up. The new septic system cost $17,499.

   The burning of wood had been the principal method of heating the meeting house throughout most of its history. In the twentieth century, wood was replaced with the burning of oil. In the entire renovation process no issue was dealt with such clarity than the need to abandon a heating system dependent on fossil fuel. In the early 21st century, using fossil fuels was considered socially irresponsible in many circles including Friends. The Meeting therefore agreed to the installation of a geo-thermal system of heating that immediately began to reduce the cost and provide an operation that was virtually silent. Meeting for silent worship was greatly enhanced.

   Demolition took place during August of 2012 and excavation created the space for a new foundation. Construction of the new addition began immediately and was completed in September 2013.

  Meanwhile, in June 2013, a joint meeting of the property and renovations committee met and established priorities for the remaining renovations needed to create a completely refurbished environment for Hockessin Meeting. Friends attending that meeting included Carol Bernard, Richard Bernard, Anne Cleary, Ryan Cleary, Pete Franck, Juliana Forbes, Charles Jackson, John Lamming, Richard Logan, Beth Parker Miller and Jan Rivera.

   The top priority was to renovate and refurbish the meeting room. Removing the carpet, sanding the wood floors, repairing and repainting the walls and ceiling, removing the glass windowed partitions, and thoroughly cleaning the fireplace and windows were all promptly accomplished.

  The Hockessin Friends Meeting received a Certificate of Occupancy in September 2013.

The volunteer effort and unity of the Meeting

  The story of the “Great Renovation of 2001-2014” is not complete until all Friends, present and future, understand the extraordinary volunteer involvement of the Hockessin Meeting’s members and attenders of all ages. A listing of members and attenders of Hockessin Meeting during the years of rebuilding and renovating is included here.

  That involvement included a volunteer leadership that may be difficult to find among Friends who are without the established authority of a clergy. When there was a need for leadership, individual Friends did not need to be appointed. They stepped forth willing to assume the tasks that needed to be accomplished. Among those Friends, the contributions Richard Bernard are noted. Richard served as “point-man” on the entire project, researching, organizing, recording, and being present at every meeting from the brainstorming session in 2001 until the Certificate of Occupancy was granted in 2013.

Planning for the Future of Hockessin Meeting

   As members of Hockessin Friends Meeting observed the building of new spaces and the refurbishing of old ones, a sense of the Meeting took hold that the time was ripe for the nearly 300-year-old Meeting to turn outward… to become proactive in offering the testimonies of Friends to a wider community.

   In a rare and perhaps unique approach, the trustees of Hockessin have created a strategic plan that aims to bring Hockessin Friends Meeting into greater service in the community, increase our membership while serving the needs of current members, and making sure that there are adequate funds to accomplish those goals. The strategic plan in detail was presented to the Monthly Meeting for Business in February 2014 and was approved.

   All Friends are aware that buildings do not make a Meeting. They do, however, provide the place for a Meeting to make itself a living example of God’s Truth in the world. That is the mission of Hockessin Friends. No doubt that was the same mission of the Friends gathered in 1730 in Ocassa.