Learning About Life and Oneself From A Stove

header ministry of the stove


Recently I came across the following very short film. It reminded me of my heritage and my everything about whom I am, and one of the major ways that I got there. It has to do with the ministry of the stove.

Video: Silent worship in a Quaker meeting house where only the fire in the stove is heard, five minutes

“Silent worship in a Quaker meeting house where only the fire in the stove is heard”
The Quakers have historically worshipped outdoors or in public buildings and meeting houses, believing that God is in all people and places. Their meeting houses, also known as friends houses – simple structures that sprung up across the eastern United States as Quakers grew in numbers during the 18th and 19th centuries – are granted no special religious significance, and no sacred rituals are performed within them. They simply provide a sanctuary where Quakers can meet and worship in silence, speaking only occasionally when they believe the Holy Spirit has moved them to do so. Bringing us into the South Starksboro Friends Meeting House in Vermont, which has been used for worship since it was built in 1828, The Ministry of the Stove immerses us in this experience of silence punctuated only by the sounds of a crackling fire. – Earth House Productions

I learned to respect and love all groups of peoples, all of the natural world and all of the ways that people try to intersect with goodness based on their own religious teachings. I learned tenderness for the ant and the flea, the frog and the tree, the microbe and the mountain, the homeless person forlorn in a street corner sitting on a sidewalk, the leper in a colony in a far-away land to whom one sends a care package as a child and the scared, lonely neighbor dying of cancer with whom one holds hands when she barely has the energy to stand. I learned it from the stove or a fireplace, or the raw silence of Meeting.

I learned to fight war, injustice, environmental degradation and harm of the “other” — the rejected outsider. I learned of restorative justice and am still working on inner peace and inner strength while knowing that the path forward is to preserve and serve life as best as I can, and help it thrive to go forward even if it means giving up my own life in the process. I learned it from the stove or a fireplace, or the raw silence of Meeting.

Quakers comprise the only religious group allowed an office in the NYC UN building out of which they do restorative justice and conflict resolution between nations and groups within nations. Quakers (conscientious objectors doing alternative service) comprise the only group that were allowed by Viet Cong and Americans on to fields to collect and tend the dead and dying. Nobody shot then during the collection process.

Ha-hah — they were put in beds next to each other — Viet Cong and Americans — after surgery at Quaker recovery centers. Many could not kill afterwords. They refused after seeing the humanity in “the enemy” as bedside buddies sharing photos of their families, helping each other eat (if loss of arm use were involved in an injury) and their communing in other ways. And this was a deliberate arrangement by the Quaker CO’s.

In northern Ireland, no Quaker homes, families, nor places of business were ever harmed during the Protestant-Catholic war. Once again, the Quakers collected everyone damaged and housed them together when they lost homes on both sides of the conflict. The Friends nestled them together in Quaker places of worship. Once again, people saw humanity in and learned to cooperate with “the enemy.”

So is it a surprise that Quakers with FOR held the first anti-Vietnam War march in the 1960’s down Broadway to UN? Is it a surprise that my Friends/friends put this together, people I knew of my parents’ age?

Alternatives to Violence Project: AVP-USA, Inc.

AVP in Prisons. AVP does much of its work with the incarcerated who deal with violence both in the “inside” and “outside” worlds. Read More >. In Communities. Communities are not immune to the effects of violence. Here much of the violence we encounter is NOT physical. Read More >. AVP with Youth. How better to …

Alternatives to Violence Project International, Inc. – Supporting people …

Welcome to the AVP International website! The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) is a training programme enabling participants to deal with potentially violent situations in new and creative ways. Workshops are delivered by our trained facilitators and are experiential (not based on lectures). Our workshops draw on the …

Alternatives to Violence Project – Wikipedia

The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) is a volunteer-run conflict transformation program. Teams of trained AVP facilitators conduct experiential workshops to develop participants’ abilities to resolve conflicts without resorting to manipulation, coercion, or violence.

Is it a surprise that they received this award and the slang word for milk in post-WWII Germany became the German word for Quaker because the Quakers got milk for starving German children? Why should the children be punished for the war or for anything of that magnitude?

Nobel Peace Prize | American Friends Service Committee

In 1947, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and British Friends Service Council accepted one of the most prestigious awards in the world—the Nobel Peace Prize—on behalf of Quakers worldwide. … As a Nobel laureate, AFSC is able to nominate a candidate for the peace

Is it a surprise that Quakers helped innocent, maimed, deeply disfigured Hiroshima Maidens for reconstructive surgery and hosted them in 1955? I discuss the event here:

Quakers, I’ll add, are atheists, agnostics, mixed religions in orientation and dyed in the wool of the Lamb fundamentalist (Jesus oriented) sorts. They also have a very strong affiliation with Catholic Workers, who basically share the same outlook on life from their own religious perspectives. The goals and the values are largely in common between the two groups.

Personally I do not care if someone is a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Christian, a Sikh, a Jew, a combination, an atheist, an agnostic or something else. As my now dead friend Jan, a Baptist deacon, said: “Walk the walk and don’t just talk the talk.”

In other words, follow as much as possible the core belief system that you have whether it is religious or not. She in fact believed that all life was sacred and belonged to God and the universe. She felt that hatred and denigration of others had no place in faith, especially when one looks at stories about Jesus relative to stoning of an adulteress and the the good Samaritan tale. She also felt that uplift of all life was necessary or else she was not a true Christian, but a pretend one professing to following Jesus, but a mock counterfeit instead. … Yup, that was Jan!

Would she have cared whether you laid almost prostrate on a rug in a Mosque, gotten on your knees in a traditional church, chanted in a Jewish temple, danced in glee-glory for Nirvana or any other method used to find the symbolic ministry of the stove according to the different form into which she had been trained as a Baptist? I think not since she was rightfully fixed in honorable, virtuous and moral selfhood and service to life. So she would not let herself be corrupted by the venom in the world around her, easy thoughts to bear regarding hatred of the “other” (i,e., people from certain different religions and of a different skin color) or her making a dollar by ripping apart the natural world.


One of my friends told me about a Quaker Meeting in a farmer’s barn. At that Meeting, a young woman with Down syndrome was always picked up at her home and brought to the Meeting since she wanted to go. She also always wanted to have a baby. So the Quakers bought her a very realistic looking baby doll, doll clothing, a fake doll baby bottle and a small bed blanket so that she could have her baby, which she carried and cuddled everywhere that she went.

Yes, it helped her overcome her fear and sorrow of being childless and gave her motherhood. So it gave her joy! … Is this help of her not the way that we should, as much as possible, treat all life — including non-humans?

Like the Quakers in the barn, I, too, find that my sorrows and fears lift from the silent communion with diverse other humans and life around me. And I do have fears — fears for the future of life on Earth that could bedevil me if I do not quell them and keep them tamped down into a reasonable perspective of simply going forward. In short, it grounds me to carry onward to commune.


The fact is that everyone can benefit from listening to the old 1800’s stove and/or simply meditating on their own condition, the human state of affairs, the social world around them and the natural Earth. It can be grounding and lead to new determinations, outlooks and visions.

However, those who profess to follow the tenets and dogmas of particular religions and do not especially, they think, need such an experience of “the stove” — it can still help them to be more true to whatever they profess to believe and get to that place rather than be divided in their outlooks socially and religiously or in a humanitarian bent. Such meditation can help them to be more true to their “inner selves.”

It can also remind of duties. For example, I apologized to my sister two days ago for being self-righteous and starting that bent when I was a toddler. Then we talked about accepting flaws and shortcomings in others, including other family members.


Do I think that Quakerism is the best religion in the world? Resoundingly no! It is certainly not for everyone!

My sister, married to a Jew, agrees with my views and all three of her children followed their own religious tacts that suited them. Therein they find fulfillment rather than be forced by her and propagandized into her perspective.

My trouble, then, is with the people who profess to follow their religious outlooks and castigate others as individuals or in groups. Often they tend to rip others apart based on whatever they deem make others awful like a religious or viewpoint difference. They also can rip the natural world apart and sanctimoniously claim that they are members of X, Y or Z religions or humanitarian belief systems when they forget the basic understandings of whomever they ought to be out of the best parts of themselves and their orientations. While we can all gain from sitting at the stove, they desperately need to do so in their own styles of coming to terms in my opinion. Especially these heavily divided people (who say that they believe one thing and act like the opposite) need to watch their inner mental processing so as to become more of their best selves in my view.

Personally I still have many lessons that I can learn from the stove. I still need fellowship with the stove as I have a tendency to hate and disdain certain government leaders, murders and rapists, war mongers, sociopaths and psychopaths, and a set of others. This outlook does not promote universal peace and certainly not for me a state of inner peace, inward strength and universal love. So I definitely need more time at the stove. I always do on a daily basis and suspect that others may do so, too.

Sally Dugman is a writer from MA, USA



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