The Religious Society of Friends arose during the mid-1600’s in England amidst a time of social and political upheaval. George Fox and Margaret Fell, among others, were Seekers of Truth attempting to recover the spirit of early Christianity. They founded the Religious Society of Friends or Quakers.
Early Friends believed that the Inner Light in each person can provide direct access to God without intermediaries or literal readings of Scripture. Waiting in expectant silence, early Friends were inspired by that still, small voice of God to minister to each other and to work for justice, equality and peace. The movement spread to many other countries, including the United States, where Quaker William Penn founded the Pennsylvania colony. Even though Quaker membership is small compared to mainstream churches, Quaker influence has shaped and continues to shape the moral and spiritual landscape of the world around us.
Learn more at: Beginnings-1652-1689
Origins of the Religious Society of Friends
History of Exeter Meeting
It was 1718, just 36 years after William Penn arrived in Pennsylvania, when a group of Welsh Quakers settled in the Oley Valley. Germans and Swedes were already settled here, they had come in before the land had been properly purchased from the Native Peoples.
Soon Irish Quakers joined those in Oley and took up land along the Maiden Creek north of present-day Reading. Both groups of Friends built log meetinghouses and held meetings for worship on Sunday and in the middle of the week. These pioneers were under the care of Gwynedd Monthly Meeting near Norristown.
In 1725 the Meeting was granted preparatory status and by 1737 we were granted monthly meeting status (called Oley Monthly Meeting) and could take responsibility for decisions in regard to membership, marriages, property, etc. At our first monthly meeting for business held in June of that year, we sent a minister, Jane Ellis, traveling in the love of the Gospel to visit Friends' Meetings in Maryland and Virginia.
In 1742 with the establishment of Exeter Township, we changed our name to Exeter Monthly Meeting. By this time our minutes report the need to build a meetinghouse for Quakers settling in Robeson Township south of Reading. These Meetings, Exeter, Maiden Creek and Robeson met alternately at Exeter and Maiden Creek for monthly meeting for business and discipline.
With the start of the French and Indian War in 1755 Friends were required to assist “members of this Meeting (from northern Berks County), who have left their Habitations on account of the Indian Enemies.” In September of 1757, eight adults and 16 children were reported as needing assistance.
The meeting in Reading, first mentioned in 1756, was under care of Maiden Creek Friends. In December of that year Friends in Pottstown began meeting regularly in the home of Jacob Thomas; these Quakers were attached to Exeter Meeting.
The American Revolution was a difficult time for Friends. In the
minutes of our business meetings we refer to the war as “the current
unsettled state of public affairs.” Besides refusing to serve in the militia
or fight, Friends felt they should not pay taxes that would provide
money to prosecute the war. In lieu of unpaid fines and taxes the
sheriff would seize goods and livestock. One Friend reported the
sheriff had taken four sheep, a colt, a yoke of oxen and the yoke,
a heifer and a three-day clock.
After the victory at Yorktown, Friends meetings grew rapidly along the north branch of the Susquehanna at Catawissa, Roaring Creek, Muncy, and Fishing Creek. They developed under the care of Exeter Monthly Meeting until 1796 when Catawissa Monthly Meeting was formed and Exeter ceased to be a frontier Friends meeting.
Early in the 19th century, controversies developed among Friends over issues in theology and governance and in 1827 Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, of which Exeter is a part, divided into those called Hicksites and those called Orthodox. Most Exeter Friends stayed with the Orthodox and most Reading-Maiden Creek Friends chose the Hicksites. This division ended in 1955 when the two yearly meetings, both called Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, reunited.
In 1949, some Friends having moved into the neighborhood; the meetinghouse was reopened 50 years after being "laid down" in 1899. In 1956 Exeter Meeting was reestablished as a monthly meeting of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Friends. - Ken Cook -