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"Introducing Chicago area Quakers"

Remarks to Friends World Committee for Consultation,
Section of the Americas Annual meeting,
Illinois Beach State Park
Zion, Illinois, 3/18/00

by David H. Finke

At the invitation of Chicago Metropolitan General Meeting -- of which I'm a member although I live in Missouri -- I've been asked to tell you something about us. In this time I cannot pretend to do a real "History" of Friends around here, and I call attention to a number of displays and books that may do that better. However, what I would like to do in the next 20-30 minutes is to share with you my own impressions of what I call "The Flavor" of Chicago-area Quakerism, by reference to its history and that expression through its Monthly Meetings. And in that, I think I have discerned a number of key themes which are very close to what is central in FWCC. Come on this survey with me through about a century and a half, and then learn more by visiting and worshipping with Friends from this area -- Don't just take my word for these conclusions.

Although we know there were scattered Quakers living in Chicago as early as 1852, our story as a Society of Friends begins in 1864, and by the initiative not of Chicagoans Mrs. Elizabeth Comstockbut rather of a traveling Friend... and a "foreigner" at that. Elizabeth Comstock (1815-91) -- sometimes called "The Elizabeth Fry of America" -- was a recorded minister from England, with a passion to ease the suffering of those caught up in America's Civil War. In her lifetime, she visited more prisons, hospitals, and poor-houses in the U.S. than any other person of her time -- numbering in the hundreds of thousands. With passes from both President Lincoln and the Secretary of War, she was authorized to have religious visits among at least three groups of suffering people: soldiers, prisoners of war, and "contrabands" -- escaped slaves who lacked any legal protection or most of the necessities of life.

Chicago had, on its rural lakefront, just south of today's McCormick Place, about 40 miles south of where we sit, a large and ill-equipped POW camp for captured rebels. "Camp Douglas," housed a total of 30,000 captured soldiers from the South, with as many as 12,000 crowded together at one time. The mortality rate was 15%. Exposed to disease and harsh weather, 4500 men died in Camp Douglas's 3-1/2 years of operation; they are buried in a mass grave on a 2-acre plot that we could point out.

In the Third Month of 1864, Elizabeth Comstock journeyed to Chicago accompanied by two from Richmond, Indiana -- Rhoda and Charles Coffin -- to investigate conditions at the prison-camp and bring spiritual and physical comfort to its miserable inhabitants. But their concern extended beyond the prisoners to the condition of Quakers as well. While there, these visitors advertised in the newspapers for a called Meeting for Worship, "among Friends of the several branches." Rooms were rented from the Methodists downtown, and soon 40 members were holding twice-weekly worship, plus a First-day School. Comstock stayed about a year, doing her charitable work and involving local Friends. Two years later, a committee from Richmond reported that 60 Friends in Chicago were planning to buy a lot on which to build a Meetinghouse.

In 1866, Chicago Friends petitioned to be recognized as a Monthly Meeting, and more visiting committees recommended that this be allowed, since there were Quakers "sufficient in numbers and of religious weight to hold a monthly Meeting to the honor of truth." The intervisitation continued, with a 3-day workshop in 1867 involving Comstock, to instruct elders and overseers on their duties. The new Monthly Meeting became part of Ash Grove Quarterly Meeting in Western Yearly Meeting in 1873.

As a lesson for us today, I find fascinating some of the observations that Elizabeth Comstock wrote back to England from America. She urged them to send their Epistle to "all calling themselves Friends or Quakers" rather than just to the Orthodox, and to "embrace in fraternal, Christian love and sympathy those we call Hicksites, Wilburites and Orthodox Friends." About the Hicksites, she notes they are more numerous in the East, "and what outsiders call more respectable and influential -- in other words, more wealthy than our branch." But after having attended many of their Meetings for Worship, she allows that "fully half of them are as orthodox as we are" and describes some of their practices and customs, with approval. "We look in their libraries and see all of our standard works." Comstock said that they "bear as faithful a testimony as we do" in their social witness -- against war, slavery, oaths, conformity to the world -- and in their spiritual insights -- "against sacraments, ceremonies, etc." Furthermore, "Many of their members are very desirous for a reunion of the two branches."

But Comstock's concern for unity extended in several directions, in terms of the separations in America: She describes the Wilburites -- what today we call Conservative Friends: "They consider that we are departing from our ancient testimonies and practices. We have given them some reasons for such opinions." She wished that they had stayed with the Orthodox: "Had they not left us, we might have carried more ballast and less sail, and have been less likely to blow over."

I quote her at some length because her report is so much like what we read after FWCC visitors have been with those of a different tradition of Friends -- there is a desire to more accurately interpret what "those other" Friends are really like, to overcome stereotypes and help resist demonization. I wish we could nominate her to our Visitation Committee!

Elizabeth Comstock went on to other work, promoting temperance and organizing relief for 50,000 freed slaves in Kansas. Meanwhile, Friends in Chicago were soon faced with other opportunities for service and witness.

In looking at Chicago Quakerism, I have found are six persistent themes permeating it, going back to the very origins. The key words are: Service, Unity, Good Order, Innovation, Mutual Learning, and Self-transcendence. See if you also perceive these in what I continue to sketch out.

It may be that disasters -- natural and man-made -- can bring out the best in Friends, resulting in responses beyond their own institutional preoccupation. The Civil War and the suffering prisoners helped the different varieties of Quakers worship together and, from the Divine Strength, to serve those in need. But Friends here had another such opportunity in 1871 with the Great Chicago Fire. A Meetinghouse already was built at 26th and Wentworth, and providentially was not burned. Although most of Friends' businesses were destroyed, they saw their losses as small compared to the mass of Chicagoans homeless and completely destitute. One Friend reportedly spent only one full day (Christmas) at home throughout that winter ; she was out in all kinds of weather helping, with other Friends, to bring relief -- operating out of their Meetinghouse as an aid station. Supplies, food, clothing, and cash poured in from all over the world, and some of it was entrusted to Quakers for fair administration. (One "Thomas C. Hill" was superintendent of one of five divisions for public relief, with 75 helpers under his direction.) Other Friends spent their time sewing garments and bedding, and in seeking out those who were too proud or shy to ask for public relief. And even though by this time non-Orthodox Friends had started a separate worship group, there was cooperation when it came to relieving distress.

I believe that these early experiences of working together to give direct volunteer service helped set a pattern from which we benefit to this day. Subsequent decades revealed many examples of learning to know and trust each other, despite different expressions of theology and worship practice. But even the presence of a generous-minded Friend from England could not, it itself, cancel out the separations of American Friends. Although initially meeting jointly for worship, in 1870 a smaller group "not finding ourselves free to believe as we liked" began meeting with Wilburites, Norwegians, Danes, and some from the Hicksite tradition. In 1877 they formed a Monthly Meeting in the Blue River Quarter of the Indiana Hicksite Yearly Meeting, and took the name "Central Executive Meeting." They rented quarters downtown, established a Sunday school, and attracted some energetic business people, including Jonathan Plummer, first clerk of Illinois Yearly Meeting and author of the blueprint that led to founding the Friends General Conference.

The next large opportunity for interacting with a broader public and Friends from near and far was the World's Fair of 1893. Chicago Friends hosted a national conference of the predecessor to the United Society of Friends Women, and they participated in a World Temperance Congress here. Jonathan Plummer gave a major address at the World Parliament of Religion, as the rebuilt city of Chicago took its place as an international crossroads.

The two Chicago Meetings developed their mature identities from this point until the First World War. Chicago Meeting enjoyed a new building at 44th and Indiana, dedicated in 1898, and "probably hoped to be permanently settled in a city that had already grown about as large as could be expected." They seemed ambivalent about the new pastoral system, while wanting better to serve both their own members and their new neighbors. Attempts at so-called "protracted" evangelistic meetings had disappointing results. A graduate student from the University (later to be president of Earlham College) was asked to speak in Meeting every other week, and receive whatever Friends cared to contribute. The Meeting already had five or more resident Ministers on the facing bench. But they really wanted an organizer, particularly for young people. In 1906 they hired a Friend for a month to visit homes in the neighborhood, and kept exploring the pastoral question until 1913. At that point, they settled on the approach that has mainly characterized Chicago Monthly Meeting from that date to the present: namely, hiring a Friend "not as a pastor but as a pastoral secretary." Here, as in the rest of my talk, I'm trying to resist naming the many distinguished Friends who have served in that position. However, one will find -- to name but a few -- Coffins, Hadleys, Coppocks, Stanleys, Hollingsworths, Heusels, Chandys, and Jacobsens. In the time-tested tradition of Friends, the local ministry was often supplemented by traveling Friends, particularly with the University of Chicago not far away.

Since 1913 there had been a concern within Chicago Monthly Meeting to have a worship group at that University. A committee, therefore, was appointed to help with a students' Friends society that had arisen. By 1921, after the arrival on campus of a number of Quaker faculty, gatherings were being held in the University neighborhood more or less regularly. The most interested students were those -- from both branches -- who had served in France in the relief and reconstruction work of the newly-formed American Friends Service Committee. The adults also were creating numerous get-togethers of Five-Years-Meeting Friends with General Conference Quakers. Joint sewing projects occurred, as well as other cooperative work on behalf of AFSC. A Hicksite recalled "many happy occasions with the Indiana Avenue Meeting," and an Orthodox Chicago Friend wrote of "develop[ing] mutual respect and liking for one another, which made increasingly attractive the thought of undertaking, in the [19] thirties, a united Monthly Meeting."

We've observed that disasters may provide new occasions for Friends' service, cooperation, and ultimately growth. That happened, in Chicago, with the tragedy of the First World War. In 1915 Chicago Meeting formed a peace committee and appropriated $3 to buy pamphlets. By the next year Friends from both branches held a meeting to protest both the persecution of conscientious objectors and the impending plans to require military training in schools. In 1916 a "Quaker war service for civilian relief" was formed -- again, drawing on both branches. This momentum led to the first conference among Friends of both groups to explore uniting their two Meetings.

That was 1919, but Chicago Friends decided to wait until they sold their Indiana Avenue Meetinghouse. Suburbanization had set in and they were living increasingly farther away. They even had "suburban days" with potlucks, when Friends would make the effort to travel back the lengthening distances. Very few Friends any more lived near their Meetinghouse in what was euphemistically called a "changing neighborhood" -- by succession going predominantly German then Jewish then African-American. Many Quaker families moved further south, and strengthened the informal University Group. Others moved to western and northern suburbs -- the seeds of subsequent Meetings in Oak Park, Evanston, and Lake Forest. And, for lack of a nearby Meeting, many were lost to the Society of Friends.

The decade of the '20s saw acceleration in the dynamics of unity, cooperation, outreach, and innovation. While some Chicago Meeting Friends went forth to Germany and Russia to organize child feeding and famine relief, other Friends (we're now up to 1925) from Central Executive Meeting accepted an offer from Jane Addams to hold their Meetings at Hull House, the world-renowned settlement house on the city's turbulent near-west side. Miss Addams, when she could, worshipped with them, and lent her bedroom as an infant-care nursery. On business-meeting Sundays, Friends dined at Jane Addams' table -- surely an incentive to move through business expeditiously!

Hull House was not only a place where Quakers could meet outstanding social reformers and pioneers in social justice from around the world; it also enabled Friends to use those resources in setting up lectures and service activities throughout Illinois and Indiana. In 1925 Friends from the two groups cooperated to observe the 300th anniversary of George Fox's birth, bringing together at least 200 people at Hull House to hear Rufus Jones.

At the University, Quakers of both varieties cooperated to sponsor visiting lectures by Friends, often from overseas. They held worship in various faculty homes, while continuing to support their Monthly Meetings, in attendance, committee service, and finances. Friends thought about whether to establish something like a Pendle Hill or Woodbrooke, or a reading room, or a residence for Quaker students, or perhaps a center for foreign students. Some of these visions would not be realized for another generation.

By the late 1920s, a third Chicago meeting was ready to be born, emerging from the first two. Another denomination was building a huge new structure near the University, and their pastor wanted to offer it to other churches as well. He also, not incidentally, admired the historic religious and social values of Friends. In 1929, after discussions with Sylvester Jones -- a Friends' missionary to Cuba -- that church offered Quakers the use of what they would call John Woolman Hall, on the 57th Street side of their emerging building. In fairly rapid succession, Friends from Chicago Meeting met with the Hyde Park worship group; achieved unity over the proposal for a separate Meeting with officers, committees, and a budget; and recommended to their Quarterly Meeting that a new Monthly Meeting be established. Chicago Meeting then transferred 30 of their adults and 8 children to what became know as Fifty-Seventh Street Meeting.

However, this new meeting was an unusual hybrid. At its very first business session the clerk was instructed to invite the Hull House group to join them in the new undertaking. The General Conference Friends immediately and heartily accepted. They minuted, "We welcome the opportunity of broader religious fellowship afforded by this joint adventure and pledge our earnest co-operation and financial support in its behalf." In May, 1931, Chicago Quarterly Meeting accepted this new entity.

The minutes from Western Yearly Meeting's 1931 annual sessions have the following quotes via the Quarter: "Chicago [Monthly Meeting] reports that the difference of opinion on important questions seemed impossible of harmonizing and resulted in a division of our membership and the establishment of a new meeting. ... [However,] the spirit of unity prevails, and with this unity has come increased spiritual power." The report closed by mentioning "the helpfulness of the Friends of the General Conference affiliation" "Their deep faith, their unfailing loyalty, their readiness to forego personal conveniences for the good of all," their character and their counsel were appreciated, with the conclusion that and concluded, "We are working and worshiping together in unity." Thus was formed the first "United Meeting" in the midwest, second oldest in the country only after Montclair, New Jersey, which in 1928 affiliated with both New York yearly meetings.

I'm focussing on Fifty-seventh St. Meeting's founding not because it's where I have my membership, or because it has been free of problems. But rather because its origins illustrate some of Chicago Quakerism's key themes besides those of service and a desire to overcome old divisions. It was "set off" in Good Order, with the permission and assistance of its parent bodies. It also shows the seemingly spontaneous arising of an independent body of religious seekers, aided by the ministry of seasoned Friends with memberships in established Meetings. The connections with experienced Quakers, both locally and from the larger bodies, were essential.

And it represents adaptations and innovations. For instance, for at least the first decade, the clerks from the two predecessor Meetings alternated every month recording and presiding. Individual Friends were listed in the directory as being members of either General Conference or Five Years' Meeting (Five Years being far more numerous among them). But after 30 years, each member was assumed to belong to both Western and Illinois Yearly Meeting, with half the numbers being reported to each.

From its origins, the form of worship was based in expectant silence, while being aware of the need for some regular spoken human input. This need was met by a highly-organized series of public "religious forums" following worship. In the first decade these drew many more attenders than the worship itself, but by 1945 the regular forums were gone. Friends realized the centrality of Worship.

Another innovation, which in my view has had mixed results, was the agreement with the Friends Fellowship Council to accept referrals -- along with united Meetings in Washington, DC, and Pasadena, CA -- from people who wanted to join with Friends but had no Meeting nearby. Many of these had been in the Wider Quaker Fellowship, but then wanted to formalize a membership. So, by the time Fifty-seventh St. was twenty-five years old, there were twice as many nonresident as resident members: 80 were "by convincement" rather than "birthright," and they came from at least 16 different denominations.

Let's turn now to how the next-oldest Meeting arose, from some of the same dynamics but with a somewhat different form. Since 1919 Chicago Monthly Meeting had talked about selling the old meetinghouse. By 1935, Milton Hadley headed an Extension Committee that looked into developing two new locations -- one in Evanston to the north, and one much further south in Morgan Park. When a Disciples of Christ church building in Evanston came on the market, Chicago Friends bought it. For a year, Chicago Monthly Meeting listed two locations, some 30 miles apart: Evanston, and Chicago's southside. At the new building's dedication in 1936 Quakers from across Chicagoland assembled to celebrate -- again, Rufus Jones was present. The next month 47 members, in the new preparative meeting, asked the monthly meeting to petition the quarterly meeting to set up "Evanston Monthly Meeting of Friends," which -- in the Good Order of Friends -- was allowed. For a year, Milton Hadley divided his time between the two Meetings.

Then, we see another example of innovation -- but in the name of "going back to the roots." Evanston adopted the older practice of unprogrammed worship. In 1986 Lewis Benson wrote back and remembered, from 1938, when formal sermons were relinquished, prepared music and the collection baskets disappeared, and the pulpit was removed. They said they didn't want to be what they called "just another Church in Evanston," and they saw that "worship was also more enriched as the burden and opportunity of the spoken ministry became more widely shared."

We cannot do justice in trying to name the many creative and dedicated Quakers that Evanston has given to the world. But we may note that FWCC specifically has benefited from the Evanston origins of Barry & Katherine Hollister, Gordon Browne, and Thomas Taylor.

In looking at its offspring, and their incubators of leadership, Friends in Chicago Monthly Meeting expressed that Quaker influence in Metropolitan Chicago "is much greater than the old Chicago meeting could have ever accomplished alone." Their official historian in 1986 poignantly observed that -- from giving up charter members to both 57th St. and Evanston -- "we never recovered, but we are proud of our children." This is part of what I meant by the phrase "self-transcendence." Another example was in a fund solicitation from Evanston in 1935: "We are anxious that our current expenses continue sufficiently low to permit us to contribute to worthwhile projects outside the meeting, rather than being compelled to devote our whole time and thought to the financing of our organization."

In looking at the development of this area's next Meeting to emerge, we see a different type of pattern -- although the one that has probably become predominant in this century. Near here, Lake Forest Friends Meeting started when a resourceful and enthusiastic Friend -- in this case the noted sculptor Sylvia Shaw Judson, who did the Mary Dyer statue -- helped gather together people who supported the social witness of AFSC and had an interest in Quaker spiritual approaches. She had met Anna Brinton at Pendle Hill, and (with some trepidation, it seems) sent invitations to fifty of her acquaintances to join with Brinton at her home for Sunday afternoon tea. Eight people came to a follow-up meeting which resulted in a year-long series of weekly meetings for worship. In the fall of 1952, 26 attenders gathered to organize a Meeting. They asked the eight of their number who had memberships in Meetings elsewhere to form what they termed an "Independent Meeting" with officers and a Committee of Overseers and Ministry, and be prepared to receive memberships. Guidance from and accountability to the American Friends Fellowship Council provided their connection to the wider Society of Friends. They arranged to be visited, and started a process of investigating the possibilities of affiliation with other Quaker groups. Within a year they were recognized by Illinois Yearly Meeting and its local "Fox Valley Quarterly Meeting."

However, recognition didn't seem to be the same as affiliation. In 1955, when the two Philadelphia Yearly Meetings united, their Book of Discipline was adopted by Lake Forest "as a guide," but the Monthly Meeting itself remained independent, and reported to Friends World Committee. A survey of their reports from that time until 1963 shows continuing labor over this question of affiliation with one, two, or neither of the Yearly Meetings in this area. Sometimes they minuted that they simply were "not clear as to what our connection with other Friends Meetings should be."

1963, however, seemed to be a turning point. Having pondered the question for ten years -- involving "intensive study, deliberation, and prayerful consideration in order to reach a sense of unity" -- they came to agreement to ask for membership in Illinois Yearly Meeting of the Friends General Conference. My own sense is that -- having finally realized the benefits of connection -- Lake Forest Friends have plunged in full-force with vigorous involvement in those wider groups, plus giving substantial leadership in AFSC and FWCC. (I'll note that our Section's treasurer is from the Meeting I'm describing. She also clerks my Yearly Meeting!)

A survey of those first ten years also shows repeated concern for sponsoring refugees, sending workers to Ramallah and Vienna, and witnessing against racial prejudice and violence in this affluent north-shore area. The decade of the '60s revealed Lake Forest Friends really leading the way in terms of Quakerly responses to the ravages of the war in Vietnam and the impact of the draft and militarism. I could personally fill another full evening with stories of the exemplary actions of persons from that Meeting who made it a joy for me to work for Quakers in peace education during those times of tragedy. The spiritual witness of the Society of Friends, as it relates to issues of conflict and God's empowerment to overcome violence, was clearly embodied in Lake Forest Friends of great stature. And their generosity in supporting Friends concerns, including travel to the upcoming Triennial, has been remarkable!

Well Friends, I have a dilemma. I've only given sketches of the first five Monthly Meetings in our Quarter, and yet we have ten Monthly Meetings with another half-dozen Meetings and worship groups in outlying areas. To be fair to the other Meetings that are hosting you through Metropolitan Chicago General Meeting would keep us here much longer than would be good for either you or me. I must ask forgiveness to my old neighbors around here for violating a principle of "equal time" and instead mention just some examples that illustrate key themes.

The pattern of a Meeting being started as a preparative meeting under the care of an established Monthly Meeting accounts for the origins of a number of those I haven't yet mentioned. To the west of here, in Rockford Illinois the Rock Valley Meeting began as preparative meeting to 57th Street. For a while in the '60s they were laid down. But they revived and joined Illinois Yearly Meeting in 1968 as a Monthly Meeting, and in the '70s acquired a meetinghouse which became a center for community involvement in an old and declining neighborhood. Rock Valley Friends have continued very active in Illinois Yearly Meeting, in turn giving and receiving mutual assistance and inspiration.

Fifty-seventh seemed quite willing to help nurture new meetings, during its period of greatest numerical strength. In 1943 it took under its care the Penn Valley Preparative Meeting in Kansas City, which sent regular monthly reports despite a distance of 400 miles, until it became a Monthly Meeting in 1950. 1943 was also the year a Friends Meeting was organized in Oak Park, which adjoins the city of Chicago on the west. Friends attended back and forth between there and 57th Street. Sometimes only one Friend was present. In 1951 they considered laying the Meeting down, but instead in 1953 became preparative under 57th Street for a while. Oak Park has had a strong history of assisting refugees -- from Hitler's Europe and from America's concentration camps -- and also of promoting peace education and interracial communication.

In 1952, further to the west in Downers Grove, a preparative meeting was established under the care of 57th Street, and was ready for Monthly Meeting status by 1955 -- significantly, affiliated with both Yearly Meetings. Among that early core of families were Mary Ruth and Louis Jones, who brought not only the United Meeting experience from their years at 57th Street, but also an active and ongoing connection with Western. (Louis's parents had been the missionaries in Cuba who helped to found 57th Street.) For decades the Downers Grove Joneses faithfully attended annual sessions, and often served on committees, of their two yearly meetings. However, by the 1990s after they had retired and moved away, that connection with Western had become very thin.

In the '90s, following frictions over some disciplinary matters within Western, Downers Grove Friends -- together with 57th Street and Evanston Friends -- gathered in a retreat to reexamine the question of "dual affiliation." We were helped by the presence of British Friend John Punshon, and in these recent years have all come to newly appreciate what it means to have loyalty on both sides of the historic divide in American Quakerism. We hope to use our experience to help broaden understanding within our Society of Friends.

To give a "flavor" of Downers Grove Friends, I must mention more than their affiliations: As a family-based Meeting, they have substantially outpaced their 57th Street parents in numbers, and have had vigorous First Day school and Young Friends activities. Their large core of young people have helped set the pace within Illinois Yearly Meeting, and have contributed experienced young adult Quakers to other parts of the country. During the Vietnam years I personally became aware of their intense commitment to peace witness and training for nonviolence, with strong social-justice involvements that continue to this day.

Another group that grew out of 57th St. was Northside Friends. As of the early 1960s there were Friends from that side of town who, in addition to full participation at 57th St.'s south-side location, began having occasional worship in their homes. They may have actually formalized a Preparative Meeting relation with 57th St. -- in any case, they were clearly under its care. By 1969, Northside began consultations with Illinois Yearly Meeting looking toward affiliation, and in 1970 it became a Monthly Meeting in Illinois. In its first 15 years or so, the character of Northside was predominantly that of younger, single adults -- meeting in a rotation of homes. Eventually, people with children have become involved... or, those involved have acquired children! The struggles about adequate meeting space in which to have some visibility and accessibility have never been fully resolved. (Some older Meetings, though, might counsel that having a building of one's own can become a burden even more than an opportunity.)

Northside Friends have excelled in the leadership they've given our Religious Society outside their own congregation. This has included Illinois Yearly Meeting, Friends General Conference, FWCC, and various Quaker special-issue groups. One that I've come to know best has been the Quaker Volunteer Service & Witness Network; Northside had three members participating with that national body's steering committee these last two years.

Now around the end of this lake, the Duneland Friends Meeting began around 1976 among people touched by the work of a conscientious objector with AFSC who started a "Prisoners and Community Together" project around the state penitentiary. Their community social concerns soon involved protest of a proposed nuclear generating plant and conservation of the irreplaceable dune ecology, and the Meeting has continued to give leadership on environmental issues within Illinois Yearly Meeting, of which they've officially been a part since 1980. Two other ministries which I associate with Duneland are a concern for advancing Religious Education for young Friends, and also promoting intervisitation and pastoral support among Friends in isolated areas throughout the Yearly Meeting. Since its earliest days, Duneland and 57th St. Friends have had a close and mutually-supportive relationship.

Fifty-seventh Street is not the only Meeting that has helped newer ones get started. Let me limit my recounting to two more examples. McHenry County is on the far periphery of Chicagoland, straight west, though its rural and small-town character is under much assault. A core of three families in 1970 started a worship group, which by 1974 had 22 attenders ready to incorporate as an independent Meeting. But they had a vital connection of regular worship and visitation from Friends in Evanston and Lake Forest Meetings, giving experience and stability. After formally joining Illinois Yearly Meeting in 1978, McHenry Friends have made substantial contributions in publications, outdoor education and retreat leadership, refugee support, and especially national initiatives in the Friends Committee on Unity with Nature.

The other example involves Chicagoland's newest Meeting, the "Fellowship of Friends" which I find to be most vibrant and exciting. Because it represents a somewhat different model, and constituency, from the other Meetings, I want to give it a bit more attention. This church started as a Mission, but under the Preparative Meeting care of our oldest Meeting, Chicago Monthly. In its earliest phase, in 1976, Steve and Marlene Pedigo came to begin a youth ministry among residents of a public housing project. Coming from the evangelical and pastoral tradition of Friends, they plunged into the teeming life of a city where people suffered the most. The origins of this Meeting are on a basketball court, where Steve -- who had been an inner-city kid himself -- organized teams, clubs, and Bible study. Marlene brought generations of contacts from a culture of Iowa rural Quakerism, which has been generous in support of this work.

Very soon an after-school program emerged, with children sometimes coming amidst gunfire, seeking a refuge from gang recruitment and violence. Fellowship of Friends quickly became known as a place of mercy, healing, and reconciliation, where lives became transformed. Quakers were affirming the humanity of struggling people for whom Christ lived and died.

After both Pedigos became recorded ministers in Iowa/FUM, they left working with the Young Life organization and "the way opened" for Friends United Meeting to bring national focus to the efforts developing in Chicago, in 1980. I do urge you to read their book, "New Church in the City."

Starting in 1985 the youth programs benefitted by young-adult Friends from around the country, and overseas, giving a year or more of full-time volunteer service. Right into the present moment this ministry has been assisted by hands-on, physical service from other Quakers, often from across our theological divides. In this very last Quarterly Meeting, the afternoon program consisted of helping with the remodelling of the building which Fellowship of Friends has acquired.

In two ways I see this group providing much leadership and renewal in Quakerism, and thus illustrating my principle of "self-transcendence":

First, a whole generation of Quakers from outside Chicago have gained skills in urban ministry, involving Earlham School of Religion, FUM, and Friends from Evangelical yearly meetings as well.

But secondly -- and probably more important -- a generation of Chicago Friends, mostly all African-American, have assumed faithful and skillful leadership in terms of the life of a Meeting, under the classic model of discipleship to the Living Christ and mutual accountability in a Beloved Community. The ripples just keep flowing out, whereby others of us keep learning from these newest Friends.

In studying this development, I have been moved to see an apparent blind-spot among Quakers who saw their natural constituency as Academia or the suburbs. It's true that States of Society reports occasional show a worry about the comfort and privilege which Friends around here were experiencing. But for at least a century Chicagoland Quakers were moving from "changing neighborhoods," seeking to relocate their meetinghouses accordingly. The Fellowship of Friends, I believe, enables us to repent of if not reverse that pattern, and catch again something of the spirit of the "Valiant 60," who preached in the marketplaces and prisons. In both eras we can see a deep commitment to the example of our Founder from Nazareth, who taught and recruited and healed from among the working and the poor and the hurting and the outcast of the people.

I'm now at the point you've probably been waiting for, where I say, "In conclusion..." ... and that conclusion is to remind you of these key themes:

  • A commitment to faith-based service in a suffering world;
  • Pioneering in overcoming division;
  • growing with attention to discipline, nurture, and the "Good Order of Friends";
  • Innovation in models of worship and organization;
  • Mutual Learning from those bringing different experiences;
  • and Self-transcendence in the spirit of the One who gave his all.

Metropolitan Chicago General Meeting is, perhaps, an experiment -- not fully understood by either Yearly Meeting to which it reports. The two quarterly meetings in this area started having joint sessions in 1938, and a merger was proposed in 1952. By 1961 there was a single set of officers, who facilitated some business peculiar to each tradition. The present form, of a single entity, has been with us since 1970. I haven't been on the scene recently enough to tell you whether it is thriving and pace-setting. But when I hear that they've established a web-site for common posting of schedules, and that they're working -- right now! -- on establishing a workshop on Eldering, I think those seeds of hope and renewal are still sprouting, as The Living Spirit of God gives growth. We invite you to help us learn from your experiences, as we offer some vision from ours. And in all, we express gratitude to our True Guide, who will never fail us.


Notes and Links

By way of credits, I'd like to thank Sabron Newton -- now in Whittier California, and previously librarian at 57th Street -- for mailing me very valuable material from her archives. There were also Friends from several Meetings who lent me booklets prepared for various anniversaries. Finally, there was a compilation of sketches of Meeting histories, now about 12 years old, edited by Ken Ives. Many of these are on display and some are for sale in the hallway. And, we have a single-sheet outline that Sabron prepared which you are welcome to take. Thank you for your generous attention. -DHF

P.S. I've been looking at and weeding some old electronic files, and found something I wrote in a rush of enthusiasm as we finished studying Woolman's Journal in a weekly thing at my old Meeting, 57th St. in Chicago. As I read it over now, I think it's still valid, and perhaps even useful. No copyright attaches... just a free sharing of whatever measure of Truth is given us.

Blessings, -DHF