On February 27, 2023, Newton was featured in the Cherry Hill Courier. In the article, written by Phaedra Trethan, Newton’s historical connection to Camden residents and relevancy is highlighted. Full article below:
Quakers are Quietly Adding to City Life
By Phaedra Trethan
Cherry Hill Courier-Post
USA TODAY NETWORK – NEW JERSEY
Newton Friends connecting with Camden residents for centuries
Polito Malave was outside the Newton Friends Meeting on an unseasonably warm February day, rak-ing compost and debris from one area of the green to another, talking to Cindi Kammer about how the trees would benefit from the natural fertilizer.
Malave isn’t a member of the meeting, but he’s at the Cooper Street site almost daily, walking over from his home at Northgate II. He’s one of the people who keeps a garden at the Newton Friends Meeting, which traces its roots in the Camden area to 1682.
Today, the two buildings on the site – one built for worship, the other as a schoolhouse – are easy to miss: Thousands of vehicles whiz by on Haddon Ave-nue or Cooper Street, headed toward the Admiral Wil-son Boulevard, I-676 or the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. It’s a quiet anachronism of the 17th, 18th and 19th cen-turies, moved decades ago to make way for a Haddon Avenue/7th Street expansion, progress literally pav-ing its way past.
So how can a small group of Quakers stay relevant in a city that’s looking more toward its future than its past?
How do Quakers stay relevant in South Jersey?
Quakers are most often associated with Philadel-phia, but the Christian sect also had a strong presence in Haddonfield, Moorestown and other South Jersey towns. The tenets of Quakerism include simplicity (hence the plain meetinghouse instead of an ornate church), peace (they’re famous as conscientious ob-jectors to war), integrity, community, equality (his-torically, they’ve fought for abolition and equal rights) and sustainability.
There are no formal leaders or cler-gy; decisions are made by consensus.
Kammer is the Newton Friends Meeting’s clerk. She explained that the Newton Friends Meeting-house, which dates to 1827 and is undergoing an ex-tensive renovation, is the oldest house of worship in the city still used for its original purpose. It’s on feder-al and state historic registers.
On a recent visit, studs shored up the structure, but Malave pointed out gaps between the roof and walls where squirrels were getting in.
“We have a preservation plan to restore the build-ing,” Kammer said. Stabilization is the top priority; a new roof will follow. So far, the project has cost$200,000; the whole project will probably cost at least twice that, paid for, Kammer said, with a combination of fundraising and matching historic preservation grants. After the structural work, they’ll
look to make improvements to heating, air conditioning and ventilation.
Gardeners like Malave donate their crops, mostly greens, vegetables and herbs, to community pantries and residents who may not have a car to drive to sub-urban supermarkets. They’ve started a seed library for aspiring gardeners as well. Newton Friends has worked with Cynthia Primas and the IDEA Center for the Arts, said Kammer, a 25-year member of the group, as well as with women at a local halfway house and have hosted social justice groups for decades.
Bringing in the books
Tom Martin isn’t a member of the Friends, either, though he’s attended the occasional meeting and found it to be enlightening and inspiring. Now his nonprofit, formerly the Camden County Pop Up Library, have a home at Newton Friends Meeting.
Now The Free Books Project, the former pop-up library was literally that: Martin and a team of volunteers would set up a table with free books at various locations around Camden to serve those in need: people experiencing poverty, homelessness, addiction or just a lack of access to bookstores and traditional libraries. They maintained Book Arks throughout Cam-den County as well, stocked with books for people of all ages to take (and leave) as they pleased.
The Free Books Project will open March 4 and each Saturday after that at the former schoolhouse (and current meetinghouse, as the old one undergoes renovations) from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Anyone can come and choose from the collection of books; donations and volunteers are also needed.
Martin, surveying the simple space with book-shelves, old photos and pews arranged in a square, mused about beanbag chairs and Read to a Dog pro-grams for kids. He’s hoping to host readings by local poets like Rocky Wilson (a frequent pop-up library volunteer) and other programs to draw people in.
“We’ll see what happens with this little experiment,” he said.
“I really hope this creates some good momentum for us,” Kammer replied.
“If you build it, maybe they will come,” added Mar-tin. “I think it’s a win-win for both of us.”
What to know
To learn more about Newton Friends Meeting, located at 808 Cooper Street in Camden, visit their website at https://newtonmeetingcamden.org/ or call 856-966-1376.
To learn more about The Free Books Project, or to donate or volunteer, visit
https://camdencountypopuplibrary.org/ or call 856-308 6992.
Phaedra Trethan has been a reporter and editor in South Jersey since 2007 and has covered Camden and surrounding areas since 2015, concentrating on issues relating to quality of life and social justice for the Courier-Post, Burlington County Times and The Daily Journal. She’s called South Jersey home since 1971. Contact her with feedback, news tips or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @wordsby-Phaedra, or by phone at 856.486-2417.