Selling Poughkeepsie Meetinghouse
by Don Badgley
Poughkeepsie Friends Meeting built its new meetinghouse/church in 1926 because it had outgrown its prior meeting house. It was very much a community church and gathering place and had several hundred members. Poughkeepsie Meeting was Orthodox and Pastoral, with both a large church building and also an adjacent Victorian parsonage where the minister’s family lived. In the 1970s this began to change. Friends aged and moved and died and membership gradually declined. Membership then stabilized through the addition of new members. When the last pastor was released for health reasons, he was not replaced. The meeting adopted both programmed and unprogrammed worship; by the end of the 70s, it abandoned programmed worship altogether.
The large meeting space, with pews and facing bench and lectern was abandoned except for larger gatherings and Friends began weekly worship silently in a circle of chairs in the connected gathering room. That continued for 40+ years until the entire property was placed on the market in 2020. The discernment regarding stewardship of the property began more than a decade earlier and the property was placed on the market once before, though no buyer was found at that time.
The building and parsonage were rented to many local groups including AA and several other congregations. This enabled the meeting to remain financially strong. However, there came a moment when it became clear to all that the property had become a burden to its aging caretakers and to the meeting’s financial realities. The loss of tenants during COVID was a tipping point. In 2020 a buyer—another church community—was found, and the sale was completed in 2022.
There is far more to the discernment that was required to find unity in the decision to sell a beloved property. The hope for outreach that would lead to growth combined with the sense that this “home” was part of our identity made these considerations emotional and challenging.
Then we were blessed with an offer from Oakwood Friends School to begin worshiping in their meeting room. The offer was broad and anticipated a close relationship between the school community and our meeting for many years into the future. This was “way opening” and our “meeting house” is now in the Main Building at Oakwood. We have several new members and attenders and virtual hybrid meetings have allowed us to have regular attendance from other states and countries.
Unity to sell the property was not found quickly. Many Friends grew up with the Hooker Ave. meeting house as their spiritual home, experiencing First Day School and marriages and memorial services as the meeting greeted the new generations and said farewell to the old. There was always hope that our community outreach would attract new families and that the meeting would grow but this was not to be. It is important to note that while such decisions could have divided us and threatened the meeting, they did not. We gathered in this concern and labored together with trust and love until unity was found in the Light.
Poughkeepsie Friends Meeting has not been diminished by the sale of bricks, mortar and land. We have confirmed that community, worship, outreach and Spiritual growth all arise in the Light that Guides us, not in the place we gather. We are now fewer than 50 members, but we are trusting that free of the burdens of property we can shift our energies toward the ministry and works that define us in the world.