Earliest beginnings

Unami Friends Meeting arose out of an interest in the late 1960s and early 1970s among young U.S. Quakers to participate in a vital, transformative lifestyle that melded spirit-filled worship with social action. Individuals began reading the Bible and studying early Quaker writings, developing a clear testimony against the Vietnam War. Some began dressing in and restoring the radical simplicity of an earlier era. They called for using the clearness process for more than membership and marriage. 1

A movement solidified and named itself after a Quaker origin place: Swarthmoor Hall, England. Here George Fox, with the encouragement of householder Margaret Fell, preached in the early 1650s with great results, and the many who heard formed what became the Society of Friends. The name presaged both restoration and vital outreach.

New Swarthmoor was an intentional community established in 1969 in Clinton, NY. Not long after, “additional households were established in Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore, Ohio, Michigan and Sumneytown, Pennsylvania.” 2 The New Swarthmoor community in Sumneytown began with Geoffrey Kaiser, who purchased a summer cabin along Walters Road.


Activism against the Vietnam War took time, so how could people support themselves? What about apple picking? That seasonal work in 1972 paid well enough that with a frugal lifestyle, one could live all year on the income and have time to do peace work, recalls Bruce Grimes. 3 There were four apple picking crews: two in upstate New York, one in New Hampshire, and one in Barnesville, Ohio.

Orchards in the latter place were Quaker-owned, and the crew could attend mid-week or first-day meetings for worship at the Ridge and Stillwater Friends Meetings. Apple picking occurred six days a week, sunup to sundown until as late as November. The crew lived communally in migrant-worker housing. They used Sundays to launder, bake bread, and make applesauce. 4 In the tradition of other New Swarthmoor communities, the Sumneytown location was given a name: Three Flowers (for the faith, hope, and love of I Corinthians 13). Geoffrey invited others along the creek and nearby to join him in worship, and by May 1971, the following family units were gathering: Larry Butler and Dallas Beetle, Susan Miller, David and Marilyn Morrison, Dick and Mary Reichley, Sharon Derstine and David Erney, Millie and Willard Hetzel. They rotated the place of worship among themselves, often meeting outdoors and sharing a potluck meal after worship. 5

By March 1972 they were petitioning Abington Quarter to be recognized as Unami Monthly Friends Meeting. Their name comes from the local creek, whose name had been changed from Swamp to Unami by the Boy Scouts. They had a camp in the area and wanted to honor the indigenous Lenape peoples.

The minute of formation states: “A first meeting for business was held at the Hetzel home on First Day, being the 13th of Second Month, 1972, at 6:30 in the evening. On this occasion with twenty-six persons present, it was the sense of the meeting that a new meeting should be organized as promptly as possible.” 6 Seventeen of those present signed the document. Larry Butler was selected to become the first clerk.

Persons who signed the minute:

Name Address Previous Affiliation (Monthly Meeting)
Geoffrey Kaiser        Walters Road Schuylkill
Kim R. Palmer         Walters Road     Whittier First Friends (CA)
Larry Scott Butler     Walters Road     Central Philadelphia
Mary Ann Shaffer Walters Road Gwynedd
Stephen J. Kaufman East Greenville Lehigh Valley
Mary R. Reichley Telford Mennonite
Dallas W. Beedle Walters Road Central Philadelphia
Jack F. Savage Schwenksville Gwynedd
William Shaffer Walters Road Gwynedd
Lucinda Reichley Walters Road [blank]
Norman C. Hoffman Salford Station [blank]
Richard N. Reichley Telford Mennonite
Mildred P. Hetzel Perkiomenville Gwynedd
Willard Hetzel Perkiomenville Gwynedd
Paul Shaffer Walters Road Gwynedd
Richard C. Reichley Telford Mennonite
Mary Kay Shaffer Walters Road Gwynedd


A single place of worship
A crisis and opportunity presented itself in Fall 1973. Lawyer Willard Hetzel had learned of a property at 5th and Macoby Street, Pennsburg, which was for sale for $15,000. Should the group purchase it? How would a permanent location and building change their worship that often included the sound of birds and waterfall? With some trepidation, the group decided to move forward, and they secured a loan from the Friends Meetinghouse Fund of Friends General Conference.7

The building had been the site of a failed Nazarene mission, so changes had to be made. Three crosses on the outside and other internal features were removed. A tan cloth dividing the main room into male and female sections was torn down but saved to become seat covers later for benches.

73 meeting house copy

To bring the flavor of other meetinghouses and perhaps the spirits of those who worshipped there, meetings were solicited for unused benches. Thus, the present worship room at Unami contains a railed facing bench from Harrisburg Monthly Meeting, as well as benches from Westtown Friends School, Media and Upper Dublin meetings, along with benches from as far away as the conservative Stillwater meetinghouse in Barnesville, Ohio, which was established in 1878.

Worship outdoors behind the meetinghouse occurred next to a hickory tree, and potluck lunch continued as well in this new location.

Finding vitality in meeting for worship with a concern for business
A number of founding members of Unami were gay and interested in the meeting being a welcoming place for others. A number of these members were in committed relationships. Around 1984, Lucinda Reichley and her partner, Linda Quiring, asked to be married under Unami Meeting’s care.

The meeting processed the request for six months to a year in “threshing sessions,” with some members very opposed to anything other than marriage between a man and woman. These meetings were not attended by the pair requesting marriage under the meeting. Eventually, the meeting came to the sense that they could in good conscience host a “ceremony of commitment.”8 A clearness committee was formed; the commitment was celebrated on May 18, 1985.9 Unami Monthly meeting is probably the first meeting of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting to have crossed that threshold.

Meeting for worship with a concern for business has continued to be an important aspect of Unami’s spiritual life. Decisions around the nature of support for a rural community, Bimkothi in India that was without a source of clean water, and support to begin a Carbon Forest Project in 2021 were arrived at through this process.

1New Swarthmoor Community Records, Swarthmore College Peace Collection, DG-028. New Swarthmoor was laid down in 1974. It had close ties and an overlap of individuals in the Movement for a New Society, which began in Philadelphia in 1971 and had as its mission a nonviolent revolution (DG-154). It offered nonviolence resistance training and eventually established a publishing house. New Society Publishers operated from 1988-1996 with books and pamphlets on peace, ecology, and social justice.

2 DG-028.

3 Bruce Grimes, email communication 12.03.2022.

4 Grimes.

5Bruce Grimes and Geoffrey Kaiser “Unami Early Beginnings,” November 2022.

6 Grimes and Kaiser.

7 Grimes and Kaiser.

8 Lucinda Reichley, email communication 11.23.2022.

9 In the Milestones section of the next issue of Friends Journal (July), the union of Lucinda and Linda was listed under “Marriage.” Internet.