It's a Sunday morning at Ellicott City's historic Mount Hebron House. About 20 people sit together in silence.
Over the next hour, some might stand up and share a message or reflection, or the comforting circle of silence might not be broken at all. Then the community members make announcements, exchange handshakes and greetings and gather around a simple meal. This is Patapsco Friends Meeting for Worship.
Although Quakers are renowned for their social activism and pacifism, they are primarily people who find spiritual connection by meditating in a group setting. They believe that God is within each person and is available to them when they wait in quiet.
"Meeting for Worship is the core. You can strip away everything else, as long as a group of two or three would be waiting expectantly," says Columbia attender Susan Rose.
Local history buffs know that Ellicott Mills, later Ellicott City, was settled by Quakers in the late 1700s. But a worship group was first recorded in Elk Ridge Landing in 1698. The group moved to Ellicott Mills when the Ellicott brothers brought commerce and population to that area.
But the meeting -- what Quakers call a congregation -- slowly diminished in size. Quaker farmers who opposed slavery might have left because of the difficulty working in a slave economy, or because of depleted soils. Families moved west with other European settlers, to Baltimore for its city life or to Pennsylvania for its stronger Quaker presence. Some might have joined other Protestant congregations. The meeting was discontinued in 1853.
For more than 120 years, Howard County had no Quaker meetings. All that remained of a once-flourishing Quaker congregation was the Ellicott-built meeting house on Old Columbia Pike (now a private residence) and a graveyard.
Columbia's inception spurred population growth and, in the past 30 years, two unsuccessful attempts were made to establish a meeting in Howard County. Quakers continued to drive to the established Sandy Spring Meeting in Montgomery County.
With the prior attempts in mind, a group of Howard County Quakers explored the possibility once again, but they needed the right place to meet. Attender Ken Stockbridge found a site in the 200-year-old Mount Hebron House, which was renovated in 1996 by Historic Ellicott City Inc. and then used as a Decorator Show House. As serendipity would have it, the owner, Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, no longer needed it Sunday mornings.
Patapsco Friends Meeting gathers at Mount Hebron House at 10: 30 a.m. each Sunday, under the sponsorship of Sandy Spring Meeting, and has about 25 adults and 15 children. An active First Day School program is held for children, who sing in the old house's second floor as the adults sit below in silence.
Jean Leslie attends Patapsco Friends Meeting for Worship.
Visitors are always welcome. For directions to Mount Hebron House or other questions, call John Buck at 410-997-2535 or Jim Rose at 410-730-2230.