It has been 120 years since Howard County has had a permanent Quaker meeting. But it has one now.
On Sunday, the Patapsco Friends Meeting of Ellicott City celebrated its new status as a "monthly meeting," the term used by Quakers for their permanent meeting groups.
Last month, the Baltimore Yearly Meeting - the regional Quaker oversight body - granted approval to Patapsco Friends to become an independent Quaker meeting.
Members of the Religious Society of Friends are also called Quakers or Friends. They have no professional minister and the worship services are silent, except for moments when members feel led to speak. A clerk serves as spokesman for the meeting.
"Ellicott City was settled by Quakers. The establishment of the Patapsco Friends Meeting marks a return of the historic Quaker presence to this area," said Sherri Morgan, clerk of the Patapsco Meeting.
The Ellicotts, three brothers who were Quakers, established a flour mill here in 1772, and Ellicott's Mill was later chartered as Ellicott City.
By the early 18th century, before the arrival of the Ellicotts, Quakers had formed a meeting at Elk Ridge Landing (now Elkridge), writes Patapsco Friends member Ken Stockbridge in a history of the Quaker presence in Howard. The Elk Ridge Friends built a meeting house in Ellicott Mills with the support of the Ellicotts.
The early Quakers opposed slavery and supported religious freedom, keeping with the principles of equality and peacemaking that still characterize Quakers today.
The Quaker meeting at Ellicott Mills was disbanded in 1853. Groups of Quakers met informally in the county in the 1970s and 1980s. About six years ago, members from the Friends Meeting in Sandy Spring who lived in Howard County began a regular worship group here, calling themselves the Patapsco Friends Meeting.
In January 1999, the group was officially designated a "preparative meeting." Patapsco Friends were under the care of the Sandy Spring Meeting until the Howard group received final approval last month to become a permanent meeting.
"It's very exciting starting a meeting like this," said assistant clerk Jim Rose. "[We] provide an opportunity for people of like mind to come and worship in the Quaker fashion."
Patapsco Friends meet weekly in historic Mount Hebron House, which the group leases from the adjacent Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church.
The stone manor sits on a grassy hillside amid large, spreading trees. About 25 to 30 people gather in the old-fashioned living room for silent worship on Sundays. Children and their teachers leave the service early for classes in other rooms of the house. Services are followed by "simple meal" - light refreshments prepared in turn by volunteers from the group.
Sunday's simple meal was transformed into an abundant potluck lunch to celebrate the meeting's new status. After the meal, the Friends gathered to sing a few songs and sign a copy of their April 28 petition for permanent standing. The celebration featured ice cream, homemade blackberry sorbet, and a large chocolate chip cookie with the inscription: "Happy Birthday Patapsco Friends Meeting."
Ramona Buck says she is a "birthright" Friend, one born into a Quaker family. She became a "convinced" Friend, another Quaker term, in her youth. Buck says it is "empowering" for her to be part of a worship community in which "each person may seek the light within."
Donelda Stayton is a convinced Friend who, like most of those who attend the Patapsco Meeting, does not come from a Quaker background. She said that she was attracted to Quaker beliefs because of its emphasis on peace and justice, gender and racial equality, and a "spiritual, experiential, meditational" format.
The Patapsco Friends sponsor a silent peace vigil from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. every Saturday at Broken Land and Little Patuxent parkways. Its purpose, the group explains, is "to remember the victims of Sep. 11 and to urge a peaceful and just response."
On Sept. 29, Patapsco Friends will sponsor a film and discussion on the topic of conscientious objectors. The program will be at the Howard County Central Library, 10375 Little Patuxent Parkway, from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Information: 410-465-6554 or www.patapscofriends.com.