In the organizational system of the Society of Friends, the local congregation is called a Monthly Meeting, based on its deliberative business sessions held once a month. This is the body that maintains the membership rolls, conducts marriages and memorial services, holds the property, and enforces discipline, as needed – not that we do much of the final one these days.
Neighboring Monthly Meetings are linked together in a Quarterly Meeting, so-named because they assemble four times a year.
The Quarterly Meetings themselves are arrayed within a larger region, creating a Yearly Meeting, the top of the hierarchy of Friends’ administrative structure.
Beyond that, the Yearly Meetings communicate as independent equals, somewhat like the Eastern Orthodox churches.
Remember, traditional Friends never take a vote, with a majority winning the decision. Instead, we wait until all are in unity. Time and again, our clerks prove sensitive in their discernment, though not always perfectly.
Thus, Dover Monthly Meeting is part of New England Yearly Meeting, the oldest in the world, which met for much of its existence in Newport, Rhode Island, before venturing to fresh locations in the 20th century.
Dover Friends also fit into Salem Quarterly Meeting, with its sessions rotating among Salem, in Massachusetts, and Hampton and Dover, in New Hampshire, and Berwick, Maine, until Dover was set off as a Quarter in 1815.
Dover’s role as a Friends’ center evolved through the establishment of “Indulged” and “Preparative Meetings” that conducted weekly worship in their own neighborhood but joined in the larger Monthly Meeting for the business decisions and community. Over time, Dover Monthly Meeting had not just the two meetinghouses in Dover – the one on Dover Neck and the other at Cochecho Village – but also groups worshiping in Gonic and Meaderboro in Rochester as well as Lee, New Durham, Gilmanton, Wolfeboro, Sandwich, and possibly Barrington, in New Hampshire, and Eliot/Kittery and Berwick, Maine.
During this period, Dover Monthly Meeting’s sessions rotated across both sides of the state line, meaning the first Quaker business in Maine was done as part of Dover, Friends Meeting based in New Hampshire. Some of Dover’s earliest clerks, in fact, resided in Maine.
In time, when these smaller bodies grew sufficiently, they were set off as their own Monthly Meetings. Three large families, after all, could fill a small meetinghouse, especially if grandparents or aunts and uncles were included.
And then, once these new Monthly Meetings were functioning, Dover continued the relationship as a kind of “mother” to the newer bodies through Dover Quarterly Meeting.
Thus, while my new book is a history of Dover from a contrarian perspective, it ranges far beyond the city itself, both before and after the Quakers swirl in.
Check out my new book, Quaking Dover, available in your choice of ebook platforms at Smashwords.com.
Welcome to Dover’s upcoming 400th anniversary.