Stamford-Greenwich Friends Meeting: The End of a Good Life
by Esmé Ingledew
Cobscook Meeting, NEYM
Stamford Greenwich Friends Meeting began as a worship group in the garden of John LeRoy DeForest in 1948. It became a preparative meeting under Purchase Meeting in 1949, and a monthly meeting within Purchase Quarterly Meeting in 1953. A building for a meetinghouse was purchased in 1951, with the help of a loan from the School Fund of the Purchase Executive Meeting. The meeting quickly grew to more than 100 members, and a large meeting room was added in 1956-1957, with the help of a loan from New York Yearly Meeting (NYYM).
From 1952 until 1968, the meeting hosted summer high school conferences in cooperation with AFSC. During the Korean and Vietnam wars the meeting operated a draft counseling center serving the Greenwich and Stamford communities. Bert and Sylvia Bigelow were early members of the meeting. In 1955, the Bigelows and other Friends in the NYC area housed two of the 25 Hiroshima Maidens, young women who had been badly disfigured by the atom bomb explosions who were brought to New York for medical treatment. Bert was also the captain of the Golden Rule, which he attempted to sail into a nuclear testing area in the Pacific in 1958.
During the late 90’s the meeting began to lose members as many retired and moved away. The First Day school gradually disappeared and no new people joined the meeting. In 2003, the clerk of the meeting, Bill Dick, wrote to NYYM to report the dwindling numbers and the difficulty of sustaining the meeting with only eight or nine people living nearby and attending meeting. In 2004, the meeting acted on some of the ideas they got from other small meetings and from a workshop on Advancement. Carol Holmes, one of the traveling Friends of NYYM, began visiting for worship regularly, as did some Friends from neighboring meetings. But the core of active local members continued to decline in numbers and in health. After a business meeting in October 2005, the clerk informed the yearly meeting that they were ready to lay the meeting down.
Over the next five years, the last members of Stamford-Greenwich meeting worked carefully though the process of deciding how, whether and when to sell the property and lay down the meeting. Support from Friends in the quarter was mixed. Regrettably, no one gave regular help with finances or property maintenance. However, members of Purchase Quarter Ministry & Counsel (PQ M&C) were able to offer some spiritual support and pastoral care. PQ M&C helped Stamford-Greenwich Friends hold meeting for worship on Sunday afternoons once a month, to enable Friends from other meetings in the quarter to participate while still remaining active in their home meetings. The numbers were small, generally 2-3 visitors with 3-4 from Stamford-Greenwich, yet the worship was consistently sweet, deep and nurturing.
Esmé Ingledew, Bill Dick’s wife and the meeting’s treasurer and recorder, carried the responsibility for maintenance and upkeep of the building in the final years. In the fall of 2007, with Bill’s health in serious decline, Esmé wrote to all the members to explain the dire condition of the meeting, and began to gather the documents necessary to sell the property. In February 2008, at Purchase Quarterly Meeting, Stamford-Greenwich Meeting was declared inactive. A care committee was formed by Purchase Quarterly Meeting to support the ongoing process of discernment about the future of the meeting. On the committee were Deb Wood and Peter Close, members of Purchase Meeting; Janet Hough, Chappaqua Meeting; and Carol Holmes, Brooklyn Meeting.
In September 2009, a memorial service for Bill Dick was held in the Stamford-Greenwich Meetinghouse, under the care of the Purchase Quarter Ministry & Counsel. With the glorious voices of Serendipity Chorale, this beautiful memorial service for Bill, the meeting’s final clerk, was also the final meeting for worship to take place in the meetinghouse.
For years, Esmé and the care committee felt the property to be a heavy burden. Stamford-Greenwich and Purchase Quarter Friends believed that the meeting should sell the property before the meeting was laid down. It came as a relief when it was suggested that it would not be necessary—that, in fact, it might not be in good order for a meeting of one active member to make a decision to sell a meetinghouse.
In the fall of 2010, the care committee sent a letter to all remaining members of Stamford-Greenwich Meeting asking where their membership should be transferred prior to laying down the meeting. The transfers were accomplished and reported to the NYYM office. The meeting was finally laid down by the quarter at their meeting on November 7, 2010. This action was reported to NYYM at Fall Sessions 2010. Upon the meeting’s being laid down, ownership of the meeting’s property and its assets transferred to New York Yearly Meeting. The care and maintenance of the property, payment of all bills, and decisions about its future use and/or sale became the responsibility of the NYYM Trustees.