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First Quaker meetinghouse in 80 years set for Chestnut Hill-Mt. Airy border

Philadelphia will be getting its first new Quaker meetinghouse in 80 years. Members of Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting (CHFM) have outgrown their current meetinghouse, and want to create a new one that better reflects eco-friendly Quaker values. The new meetinghouse also promises to be a place of tranquility and beauty for everyone across Northwest Philadelphia, regardless of religious affiliation.

The new meetinghouse is intended as a multi-purpose building for Quakers and non-Quakers. Signe Wilkinson, co-chair of fundraising for CHFM, says the building will fulfill all spiritual purposes, but will be suitable for so much more. "It will be a place of contemplation and reflection and peace" for everyone, imagines Wilkinson. Wilkinson also foresees humanitarian uses for the building, which include caring for Nepalese refugees and working with the Northwest Interfaith Hospitality Network to care for the homeless.

The new location will be "a football field and a half" away from the current meetinghouse, according to Wilkinson. It will be constructed behind Mermaid Lane in an oft-ignored part of the Wissahickon Valley by Cresheim Valley Drive. One reason why the Friends decided to build here is because it is convenient to mass transit, vehicles, and pedestrians along Germantown Ave. Also, it is beside a proposed bicycle trail along Cresheim Valley Drive.

Members of CHFM are especially proud of the art installation that will be built within their meetinghouse. They’ve sought out James Turrell, a fellow Quaker, to create a Skyspace light installation, which will allow skylight to illuminate the meeting space. Wilkinson says her brethren was inspired by a similar Turrell Skyspace in Houston, Texas. Realizing that the Skyspace allowed Houstonians to better contemplate, CHFM got to know Turrell about seven years ago.

The Friends are also seeking to hold true to environmentally-friendly tenets of Quakerism with the new meetinghouse. Wilkinson says that they’re striving to conform to LEED Platinum standards, although they don’t actually have the resources to apply for LEED certification. To do this, members are hoping to recycle the asphalt left over from when the site was a quarry. They’re also considering installing solar panels, although that is dependent on how much money they raise.

The funds for construction of the new building have mostly been raised, although supporters estimate that they still need to come up with the remaining 10 percent of the cost. Wilkinson says that members of the meetinghouse have donated during meetings, and neighbors and fans of Turrell have also given munificently. In addition, CHFM was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant for the new space. The first shovel is expected to hit dirt in March 2012, while the completion date is forecast for July 2013.

Source: Signe Wilkinson, Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting
Writer: Andy Sharpe
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