NEW YORK (FOX 5 NEWS) - The year is 1694, five years after the British passed the Toleration Act allowing some, but not all, religions that dissented from the Church of England to practice out in the open. That freedom was extended to include a small English colony in what is now Flushing, Queens. There, the Religious Society of Friends erected a meeting house.
Today, the Friends (Quaker) Meeting House, more than three centuries old, remains practically unchanged on Northern Boulevard.
"Quakers were here before New York was New York," said John Choe, a member of the meeting.
The Friends Meeting House is New York City's oldest house of worship in continuous use and the second oldest in the nation. Before 1694, services were held in the kitchen of John Bowe a few blocks away. He is buried in the graveyard behind the meeting house.
Times were much different back then, to say the least. Quakers preached equality of the sexes, though that was hard to bring to fruition in a patriarchal society.
"The women would go through what was once the women's entrance and then the men would come in on this side to the men's entrance," member Hugo Lane said.
Today, the congregation sits together, Choe said.
In 1717, the Quaker congregation grew so rapidly, it was time to add on. Those renovations stand today, too.
The Meeting House has served its original purpose for more than 300 years, interrupted only during the American Revolution when British troops occupied the building.
"Legend has it that they chopped up and burned the original pews, so these were pews that were replacing the original pews," Choe said. "They were built, actually, by individual Quaker families for their own seating."
The landmarked property still hosts a meeting for worship every Sunday. The space welcomes people of all faiths to practice and break bread together.