Just like any other church, you can find a Quaker Meeting House potentially in any part of town, be it in a run down back street or in the most desirable city centre high street. Some meeting houses are quite small, with only three or four rooms, and some are quite extensive complexes containing a number of rooms which are used by Quakers for administrative or committee business or are hired out to other organizations for their use. Some meeting houses are swish modern buildings, some examples of 1960s concrete architecture, and some, particularly in the north of England and especially in Cumbria date from the late 17th and early 18th centuries – and of course there are buildings from the periods in between.
Whatever the age of the meeting house, they will tend to pretty much follow a similar layout in terms of what they contain – there’s an entrance lobby, probably with a big notice board covered in bits of paper, cloakrooms, a kitchen, probably a large room attached to the kitchen for drinking tea and coffee and eating in, and the main room in which meeting for worship takes place. Just as you would probably expect of any building, in fact. There will undoubtedly be a library of some sort, either in one corner of one of the rooms mentioned above if it is a smaller meeting house or a separate room in a bigger one, and if the local Quakers are lucky there’ll also be a children’s room with resources for the youngest members whilst the grown-ups are in their meeting.
Although of course we like to get attached to our buildings which have special memories for us, a meeting house is not a ‘special’ place in any spiritual or metaphysical sense – for Quakers there is no such thing as consecrated ground, nor is there any such concept as a sanctuary or inner sanctum. In Britain most meeting houses have rooms – including the main meeting room – available to rent at low cost for community groups and charitable organisations, partly as an income stream for the meeting to help pay the maintenance costs of the building, and partly because we want to share our resources with others.
It is not possible to desecrate a place of Quaker worship, because it is not an especially sacred place in the first place – in fact we only worship in meeting houses for convenience; Quaker worship can and does take place anywhere, be it the meeting house, out in a park, in a private home, or even using the World Wide Web, without any loss of the significance of the act. That said, the overwhelming majority of meetings for worship take place in a room within the meeting house called, not surprisingly enough, the meeting room.