A Purposeful Adventure – Beacon Hill Friends House

Postcard

I can’t quite believe it, but we’ve reached the mid-point of our time in the States. We’re here for eighty days and we’ve just reached day forty. The air has gotten a little chillier and the trees are noticeably changing colour. On Saturday the community got together to chop and stack wood, piling it on the porch of the Farmhouse within easy reach of the wood burner. Winter is on the way.

There’s still enough sun to enjoy the outdoors, and the land keeps on giving – this week it’s been chard, butternut squash and raspberries. Highlights of this last week include having some very deep Meeting for Worship in the Farmhouse, a trip to Hudson that yielded our favourite Earl Grey flavoured rooibos tea, a trip to the Norman Rockwell Museum (beautiful and sad in equal measure), and a hilarious games night on Friday. Adrian’s also had his first, brief, driving lesson and survived unscathed.

We were also wonderfully fortunate to visit Cape Cod. Emilie graciously shared her 60th birthday celebrations with us by driving us all the way to West Falmouth to stay in the Quaker guesthouse there. We visited Provincetown (like a smaller, distilled version of Brighton) and cycled the Shining Sea Bike path. This was perhaps one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. Riding past marshes with Ospreys overhead in the brilliant blue sky, and then the equally blue sea appearing before we disappeared into shady woodland, the journey punctuated by some excellent cake at Woods Hole, it was just the perfect morning.

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Cycling the Shining Sea Bikeway on Cape Cod

From Cape Cod, we headed to Boston to visit our friend Lucas, son of Jens and Spee who co-founded QIV-C. He lives in another community – Beacon Hill Friends House (BHFH).

Beacon Hill Friends House

The Beacon Hill area is a very wealthy neighbourhood in central Boston. The tall terraced townhouses and cobbled streets have a very European feel. Two of these 19th century houses were converted into one big house, which was acquired by Boston Quakers in the 1950s and turned into a residential community. The ballroom became the Meeting room, but lots of the original features remain, including the parlour and music room, the large and well stocked library and a charming, very small, elevator.

Currently 21 residents live there, making it one of the largest communities we’ve visited. Members only live there for a maximum of four years, having to reapply after the second and third years. Residents commit to attend at least three out of five evening meals a week, do weekly chores and sit on one of the various committees. The community has three paid staff members – a manager, administrator and chef.

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Being with the community for a couple of nights gave us only the most superficial of glimpses into their life together. The food was great, we were warmly welcomed and we felt very much at home. Although the membership renews frequently, it feels a well established community, with highly evolved systems necessary for such a large group of people to live well together. We sensed that having such a large core community, which is regularly expanded with visitors, must present some particular challenges. You don’t need to be a Quaker to be a resident, and, apart from a ‘Quaker grace’ at meal times, and using the Quaker Business Method, no commitment to communal religious practise is required. I think there are pros and cons to this approach, and an interesting question to ask is what makes the community explicitly Quaker? I’d also be interested to know how many people leaving BHFH continue to live in intentional community.

There certainly should be more communities like BHFH. It addresses the need for affordable accommodation in a city where accommodation is increasingly expensive, and acts as a place of experience where people can learn the difficult lessons of community living. Chief among these lessons is how to make peace with ourselves and our neighbour.

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A sign in the BHFH kitchen. Every community should have this sign!

Nature Notables

Cape Cod was teeming with nature! Here were our favourite sightings:

  • Ospreys everywhere!
  • Seals in the Atlantic
  • Huge flocks of swallows continuing their migration
  • Very tame sanderlings on the beach
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2 thoughts on “A Purposeful Adventure – Beacon Hill Friends House

  1. It was great having you here! And nice to read your description. Just a note, though, BHFH was co-ed from the beginning, although I understand that men and women were housed separately by floor or by side of the house (I’m not sure which.) I think that the Quaker way here is more subtle, and depends on the person. People talk about feeling encouraged here to pursue their spirituality, and to live more intentionally, aligning their life with their leadings and values more than they would outside of community.

  2. Thanks Holly! I’ve corrected the post accordingly. Thanks for your reflection on how the Quaker ethos of BHFH supports its residents. I wish there was a BHFH in London!

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