Monday, August 13, 2012

Michigan roots and routes

Raisin Valley (formerly Adrian) Friends Church. The oldest active Friends congregation 
in Michigan

Nineteenth century history

Whether they got there on by boat on the Erie Canal and Lake Erie or by train, by carriage or on foot, Friends who moved to Michigan in the nineteenth century were pioneer farmers, artisans, teachers and small business owners. Those whose work was connected to logging communities had to move frequently, so it was not unusual for some worship groups and meetings to be established and laid down a few years later. The landscape of the Lower Peninsula contains the ghosts of small meetings and worship groups. The meetings in farming and manufacturing areas to the southeast of the state had a more stable population.

To the outside world, the early Quaker settlers would have looked the same. All the early meetings were unprogrammed until the late-19th century evangelical revivals. The early Friends would have worn plain dress and used plain speech. Differences in theology and attitudes towards the world, and Friends' place in it, would, however, have been apparent by the vocal ministry and in some of the conflicts that arose. 

There were two main migration routes: The earliest was from Ohio or via upstate New York and the Erie Canal; the later route was through Indiana. Because of their different roots, the congregations had distinct cultural and theological histories. 

Most of the congregations began as worship groups or preparative meetings under the care of a monthly meeting. Those "home" monthly meetings belonged to one of the following yearly meetings.

NEW YORK YEARLY MEETING was the Orthodox yearly meeting that had continued after the Orthodox/Hicksite separation of the late 1820s. The earliest Friends congregations in Michigan were part of New York Yearly Meeting:

-Raisin Valley (formerly Adrian), Lenawee County (1831- ),

-Raisin Center (formerly Raisin), Lenawee County (1842- ),

-RollinLenawee County (1851- ), and

-Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County (1855- .)  

Together, they formed New York Yearly Meeting's Adrian Quarterly Meeting. There were early tensions over engagement in the Underground Railroad, and some activist members left to join other churches, but there was no schism.

GENESEE YEARLY MEETING Set up in 1834, it had its roots in New York Yearly Meeting's Hicksite branch. Three monthly meetings were established in Michigan:

-Livonia (formerly Plymouth, originally Nankin), Wayne County (1834-joined Michigan Yearly Meeting of Progressive Friends 1848; laid down 1849.)

-Battle Creek (formerly Milton), Calhoun County (1838-1899), and

-Adrian, Lenawee County (1840-49.)

In Michigan the yearly meeting was weakened by the Congregational/ Progressive schism four years later. One meeting split; its Genesee supporters joining another meeting, and that meeting survived until 1899, but none of the 19th century Hicksite meetings survived the 19th century. Hicksite Quakerism underwent a revival in Michigan in the 20th century, but not in the original Genesee meetings.

MICHIGAN YEARLY MEETING OF CONGREGATIONAL FRIENDS Linked to the movements in other states of Progressive and Reform Friends, and the Friends of Human Progress, two meetings in Genesee Yearly Meeting separated:

-Adrian, Lenawee County. The Progressives separated from the Hicksite Adrian Meeting in 1840. Its dates as a monthly meeting are 1848/9-1860.

-Livonia (formerly Plymouth, originally Nankin), Wayne County. This Hicksite meeting became a Progressive meeting in 1848. It was laid down in 1849.)

-Hickory Grove (formerly Parma Preparative Meeting), Jackson County. Became a Progressive meeting in 1848, and was also laid down in 1849.

Members of Progressive meetings supported anti-slavery activism, women's rights  and greater equality in meetings.  The movement faded because, with Emancipation, some of their work was accomplished. By the late 19th century many of their views on equality had become mainstream Hicksite thinking.

INDIANA YEARLY MEETING: Its first monthly meeting in Michigan was established in 1841, to be followed by twelve others and several preparative meetings and worship groups. It experienced a schism over anti-slavery activism, but only one meeting in Michigan separated. Although Indiana Yearly Meeting had also separated into Hicksite and Orthodox branches, the Hicksite yearly meeting had no congregations in Michigan. Of Indiana's original thirteen meetings, nine were laid down and one was transferred as a worship group to Ohio Yearly Meeting and subsequently laid down. They were:

-Birch Lake, Cass County (1841-1921, when it merged with Penn Monthly Meeting.)

-Vandalia, Cass County (1880-1915when it merged with Penn Monthly Meeting.)

-Long Lake, Grand Traverse County (1880-.)

-Maple City, Leelanau County (1886-1917.)

-Manton, Wexford County (1890-1929.)

-Traverse City, Grand Traverse County (1894-1975; 1978-1987.)

-Onaway, Presque Isle County (1895-1910.)

-Penn, Cass County (1896-2012, when it became an independent Evangelical church.)

-Chapel Hill, Cass County (1899-1924.)

-Tawas City, Iosco County (1905-transferred to Ohio Yearly Meeting and laid down in 1906.)

-Arthur Center, Clare County (1915-1920.)

-Detroit, Wayne County (1922-1984.)

-Friends of the Light, Grand Traverse County (1994-.)

INDIANA YEARLY MEETING OF ANTI-SLAVERY FRIENDS. While by the 19th century Friends were united on the evil of slavery, they were divided  on what actions they should take. A minority of Indiana Yearly Meeting Friends became committed to nonviolent direction action through hiding enslaved fugitives and engagement in the Underground Railroad movement. The majority believed that abstinence from slaveholding and non-engagement with "the world" was their calling. This led to a schism and the establishment of Indiana Yearly Meeting of Anti-Slavery Friends.

In 1843, two years after Birch Lake, Indiana's first monthly meeting in Michigan was established, an Anti-Slavery group separated from it, and Young's Prairie, part of Indiana Yearly Meeting of Anti-Slavery Friends, continued until 1857

After Emancipation, the two yearly meetings recombined, with the understanding that there need be no apology on either side. 

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A new yearly meeting came into Michigan 16 years after the third of the 19th century schisms was affecting Friends in the U.S. Inspired by Joseph John Gurney's revivals, there were movements of energetic evangelism, which were opposed vigorously by John Wilbur and his supporters. This lead to Gurneyite/ Wilburite (Evangelical/ Conservative) separations. Ohio Yearly Meeting of Friends split in 1854, with the Evangelical branch being identified with Damascus, Ohio and the Conservative branch identified with Barnesville, Ohio. 

New York Yearly Meeting transferred all its meetings in Adrian Quarter to the Gurneyite, Evangelical OHIO YEARLY MEETING OF FRIENDS in 1869. Ohio Yearly Meeting went on to establish nine more monthly meetings in Michigan:

-Hanover, Jackson County (1882-1924), 

-Lupton (formerly Lane), Ogemaw County (1893- ),

-Tecumseh (now Riverbend), Lenawee County (1893- ), 

-Adrian, Lenawee County (1904-1973), 

-Burt, Saginaw County (1907-1913), 

-Albee, Saginaw County (1908-1926), 
-Selkirk (formerly Rifle River), Ogemaw County (1912-1964),

-Battle Creek, Calhoun County (1946-), and

-Lansing, Ingham County (1964-1970.) 

This branch of Ohio Yearly Meeting changed its name to EVANGELICAL FRIENDS CHURCH EASTERN REGION, leaving the name 'Ohio Yearly Meeting' to be used by the Wilburite, Conservative branch, based in Barnesville Ohio. 

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Twentieth/twenty-first century developments

Nine new monthly meetings have been established in Michigan since 1937, mainly in college towns. They are affiliated to Friends General Conference, so have Hicksite roots, though not all members would be comfortable with that term. Seven monthly meetings and their associated worship groups on the Lower Peninsula belong to LAKE ERIE YEARLY MEETING. They are:

-Detroit, Wayne County, (1937-)

-Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, (1938-),

-Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, (1955-)

-Birmingham, Oakland County, (1968-) 

-Pine River, Isabella County, (1970-)

-Grand Rapids, Kent County, (1971-), and 

-Red Cedar, Ingham County, 1973-.)

There are also two meetings on Michigan's Upper Peninsula affiliated with Friends General Conference belonging to NORTHERN YEARLY MEETING:

-Lake Superior, Marquette County, (1979-), and 

-Keweenaw, Houghton County, (1991.)

The original four monthly meetings established by NEW YORK YEARLY MEETING and transferred to what is now EVANGELICAL FRIENDS CHURCH EASTERN REGION remain:

-Raisin Valley

-Raisin Center

-Rollin, and 


Of the nine other Evangelical churches, three survive: 


-River Bend (formerly Tecumseh), and

-Battle Creek.

Of the original 13 meetings founded by INDIANA YEARLY MEETINGnine were laid down and one was transferred as a worship group to Ohio Yearly Meeting and subsequently laid down. 

It appears that only Long Lake will survive as part of the yearly meeting. Historic Penn Friends Church (which, as Penn Monthly Meeting, had absorbed Birch Lake and Vandalia, Indiana's earliest meetings in Michigan) withdrew from Indiana Yearly Meeting in 2012, and is currently an independent Evangelical church. Indiana's youngest Michigan congregation, Friends of the Light, plans to leave the yearly meeting when the yearly meeting's reconfiguration is complete in 2013.  

The newest small monthly meeting in Michigan, Crossroads, a Conservative meeting in Genesee County, was established in 2009 under Stillwater Quarterly Meeting, OHIO YEARLY MEETING.


180 years of Quakers in Michigan

45 monthly meetings have existed in Michigan. (The figure is approximate because of separations and mergers.) Some bloomed briefly, either because of schism or implosion, or because communities moved to follow the work, especially that associated with the lumber industry. Others are still active more than 150 years later.

Over the years, Evangelical Friends Church Eastern Region and its predecessor Ohio Yearly Meeting laid down six of its 13 monthly meetings. 

11 of Indiana's 13 meetings have been laid down, transferred or withdrawn, with another due to leave in 2013.

None of the traditional Hicksite meetings or the activist splinter meetings survived.

All nine Friends General Conference meetings established in the 20th century have survived, and a new Conservative meeting has been established.


There are currently 20 monthly meetings in Michigan.

Nine of them are unprogrammed meetings affiliated to Friends General Conference, and somewhat Universalist in outlook.

Eight (including one independent) are Evangelical, with a particular understanding of what it means to be Christian. 

These two groups tend to pull away from each other. One group may look outwards towards building alliances with other Faiths. The other may look to other Christian evangelical denominations for alliances. Their focus is unlikely to be on each other, and towards Friends who are somewhat different from them.

The Conservative meeting is likely to look to other Conservative meetings in Ohio and elsewhere for its connections. 

The traditional Orthodox, Friends United Meeting "middle ground" has largely collapsed. What is left of it is fragile, with just two congregations that belong to Indiana Yearly Meeting, which is in the process of schism. One is evangelical, the other seeks stronger connections with the wider world of Friends and progressive Christians.

While the nineteenth century saw fractiousness, arguments and some schism, most Friends would have recognized in each other more that was common than was different. This was not just because Friends were still “peculiar” - more set apart from the World. It was also because they did share commonality: the identity of being a particular part of the Christian Family that was Quaker. They were also linked through educational, employment, and family ties and tradition.

Given the polarization of the present Quaker landscape, what if anything,can hold us together, and how can we nurture that fragile middle ground?

Friends of the Light, Traverse City. Newer congregation; historic building

Thanks to Thomas C. Hill, Monthly Meetings in North America: A Quaker Index 
for the names and dates.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Esther Mombo starts us off

Kabarak University campus
Every morning it is the responsibility of a different area of the Quaker world to offer a one and a half hour period of morning worship and the week began, appropriately, with East Africa.
Theologian Esther Mombo of Bware Yearly Meeting brought the message which set out the context and issues that face us during our time together. She grew up in a Quaker family in western Kenya, and credits her mother and grandmother in particular for nurturing her faith. She attended what is now Friends’ Theological College in Kaimosi and went on to postgraduate study in Europe, where she was able to attend the 1997 FWCC Triennial gathering in Birmingham.
She greeted us as people who speak many tongues, but who, this week, are speaking in one tongue.
Some of the highlights of her message for me were:
Salt and Light were, and still are, important metaphors.
The context of Jesus’ time was discrimination and marginalization, and that is still the context in which we live. We have divided ourselves by race and ethnicity, which can be used to exclude. In this situation, we Friends have to be Salt and Light.
A major challenge for Christians is how to live in peace with neighbors of other faiths, especially, at the current time, with Muslims. Christians are called to live at peace with their neighbors.
Another is denominational rivalries, and, among Friends, rivalry and tensions.
The social context in which we live includes:
  • disintegration of families and communities; 
  • the impact of some diseases to marginalize; 
  • human trafficking, which is modern slavery;
  • sex tourism
  • gender injustice which still exists even when there are laws prohibiting it;
  • medicine is unreachable for some people.
  • sexual minorities continue to live in fear of marginalization, in the name of religious community;
  • environmental degradation which is creating dustbowls.
There is extreme poverty in both rural and urban areas, and the gap is increasing. ‘Some can make ends overlap, while some cannot make ends meet
Conflict, violence and war are endemic in most of our communities, in homes and in the wider world. There are ethnic clashes, ‘ethnic cleansing’ and genocide.
In all this, we are called to be Salt and Light.
Quakers were a group who challenged the ills of their day.
Quakers were among the first who said that women were humans.
Early Friends were Salt and Light in their own context. In the 21st century, much of that zeal has died. Yet we read in scripture that if salt has lost its effectiveness, it is only good to be trampled underfoot.
Some Christians take pride in statistics. The issue is not numbers, but influence. There is a disconnect with what is preached. There is more pride in numbers than what we do.
It was said of the Christians in Antioch ‘See how they love each other.’ Not ‘See how they talk about loving each other.’ 
Some traditions give life; other traditions need to be done away with. 
The context of Salt and Light is brokenness, rottenness. 
You don’t see salt; you see its results. Society will be influenced by us. We influence by being.
But the salt has to be contaminated, to be mixed in, to be effective. We have to get involved.
Light is different. It is visible. We shine better when there is darkness, not light.
By avoiding issues, we are hiding our light under a bushel.
Don’t complain about the darkness: light a candle!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Preparing for a World Conference

Gibara, Cuba

Twenty-one years ago I was preparing for a world conference of Friends. I had been a Quaker for less than a decade and, despite being assistant clerk of my monthly meeting in Britain, I still felt newly hatched. I thought it was only “weighty” Friends who went to world conferences, but I benefited from FWCC’s request to yearly meetings to balance age, gender and participants’ experience among Friends. 
I had felt a strong tug to attend the conference, ever since I had seen a poster about it a couple of years earlier, and the logo, with its three intertwined globes, had glowed at me. The poster’s glow stayed with me, and I mentioned it, with some diffidence, to a member of my meeting. That set in motion a chain of events that changed my life’s direction.
The 1991 conference - the last before this week's - was on three sites: the Netherlands, Kenya and Honduras, with just over 300 people at each. I assumed I would go to the Netherlands as it was nearby. If not, Kenya was the logical next choice, with its ties to Britain. No. The same glowing, insistent feeling that had accompanied the poster kept telling me I should suggest I might be sent to Honduras.
Honduras was such a preposterous idea - never in my wildest dreams could I imagine going to Latin America. The only news I was aware of coming out of Central America was scary. You guessed. So I took Spanish evening classes and around Easter time in 1991 I took myself to Madrid for the weekend. I booked into a bed and breakfast knowing that I would have to use the language or go hungry.
I signed up for a study tour of Nicaragua on my way to Honduras and boldly booked flights to Managua and San Pedro Sula. The study tour was an important preparation for the world conference. The situation in Managua, eighteen years after the earthquake that had destroyed it, was shocking, with almost nothing rebuilt, yet people were getting on with their lives and community connections were impressive. We visited a number of faith groups that were working there. 
I was taken out of my own culture and comfort zone which made it possible to be broken open to experience things anew. I was vulnerable and open to new experiences, ideas and people. I experienced “Quaker culture shock” seeing, for the first time, the differences among Friends, within the container of geographical culture shock.  My world was turned upside down daily. I was broken apart, but I survived.
After the world conference I needed to meet with others who had been there, as if we were survivors of an event that others who had not been there would never fully understand. Like a survivor, I needed to tell my story, repeatedly. It was not a catastrophe, and yet for me it was a kind of death and rebirth. I, who had always regarded writing as a necessary chore, also found myself birthing articles in joy. My curiosity about the differences among Friends grew. 
The following year found me in the US, traveling to four yearly meeting sessions in three weeks, trying to discover the roots of the differences that had been exported around the Quaker globe. The year after, I was in seminary in Indiana, at Earlham School of Religion. I joined a pastoral meeting and I shortly after, I resigned my tenured position in Britain - work I had felt fortunate to have - to serve Friends in the US.
Since that conference I have traveled among Friends in Latin America, including Bolivia, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru. If I had know what a whirlwind I would be caught up in, would I have taken the first step? I think so, but sometimes it helps not to know what is round the corner. 

My greatest excitement about the upcoming world conference is to accompany some people who will be finding their own worlds turning upside down, and waiting to see what God has in store for them.