Meetinghouse Has A Place In History As Well As In Hearts Of A Congregation The More Than 250-year-old Mickleton Monthly Meeting Continues In A Place Of Inspiration.

Posted: July 13, 1997

EAST GREENWICH — Quakers here say silence rocks. Or trembles. Or hums with an electricity that often revives, and occasionally, purges.

They testify that the power of the unspoken word has long brimmed at Religious Society of Friends gatherings in the Mickleton section of East Greenwich, 45-minute Sunday services that - but for the brief testimony of members who catch the spirit - are mute.

It's a contagious quiet that has cloaked the same quarters for nearly two centuries. Since 1799, when its bricks were fired at a local farm, the Upper Greenwich Friends Meetinghouse has hosted a separate peace. And always without pomp, as is the Quaker way.

But now, old world masonry has courted new school preservation, and the marriage promises to be sweet.

The red brick building near the nexus of Kings Highway and Democrat and Harmony Roads, the worship place for the more than 250-year-old Mickleton Monthly Meeting, has been twice recognized as a historic site. It was placed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places in December and on the National Register of Historic Places in February.

``This will give us some protection for the history of the Meeting,'' said Barbara Stevenson, who echoed the sentiments of other members who feared that expanding highways or other development would someday threaten the meetinghouse.

``Before we had a full East Greenwich we had a Mickleton,'' Stevenson said. ``I'm amazed people don't realize we still have a meeting. They go by and they think it's just a historical site.''

Worshipers insist the historic building is not merely a museum.

``When I go into that building, I can feel the spirit of the many, many people who have gone before us,'' said Mickleton Meeting member Virginia Lee Mintzer, 73.

Mintzer, of Swedesboro, said part of the meetinghouse's legacy is that people dealing with severe problems or seeking fulfillment often wander in and out of the congregation's ranks.

Perhaps soul searchers are drawn by the sanctuary's simple silhouette.

The meetinghouse is a monument to minimalism. Its inside balcony is strictly functional. Its unadorned white shutters and old-fashioned wooden benches are without pretension.

Meeting members call the oldest member, Emma P. Engle, their ``kindred spirit.'' Engle, a 90-year-old birthright member, said that her earliest childhood memories include having to sit still on uncushioned benches and being ``very grateful'' when the Quaker services ended.

Engle can remember when her congregation ranked among those in South Jersey that symbolized a Quaker stronghold. But membership has dwindled from 300 to less than 80 in recent years, and most members are in their retirement years.

``We'd like to get our message out to more people,'' said Philip G. Anthony, coordinator for the Salem Quarterly, which includes the Mickleton Monthly.

Declining numbers of Friends, however, is not a severe regional problem, he said. According to Anthony, the number of area Quakers has shrunk by only about 1 percent a year in the last two decades.

``Now the link to the future is another question,'' he said.

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