The History Of Northern Yearly Meeting

Approved, under revision

Early Migration of Friends to the Upper Midwest:

Early movements of Friends away from the South and the Eastern Seaboard to the midwest in the mid-1800s established Quakerism in this region. Pioneer Friends moved into Illinois beginning in the 1830s, establishing rural meetings which had roots in Ohio and Indiana Yearly Meetings. Pioneer Friends also came to Wisconsin where several meetings and an academy were established. The first Friends in Minnesota arrived in 1851, settling in St. Anthony (pre-Minneapolis) and farming areas to the west.

Early movements of Friends away from the South and the Eastern Seaboard to the midwest in the mid-1800s established Quakerism in this region. Pioneer Friends moved into Illinois beginning in the 1830s, establishing rural meetings which had roots in Ohio and Indiana Yearly Meetings. Pioneer Friends also came to Wisconsin where several meetings and an academy were established. The first Friends in Minnesota arrived in 1851, settling in St. Anthony (pre-Minneapolis) and farming areas to the west.

Established in 1875, Illinois Yearly Meeting later grew to include meetings in Chicago as well as Madison, Milwaukee and Twin Cities. The early Wisconsin and Minnesota meetings affiliated with Iowa Yearly Meeting (1863). During the “Great Revival” movement (1870s-1880s) which swept across the United States, Iowa Yearly Meeting with other yearly meetings felt led to separate, many meetings adopting the pastoral form of organization. These meetings were generally called “Progressive,” and beginning in 1902 associated with Five Years Meeting, later (1967) renamed Friends United Meeting (FUM). Those meetings which retained the original form of organization and worship were often called “Conservative.” However, many associated with Friends General Conference (FGC) after 1900.

1930-1947: The Search for Peace Brings Friends Together:The contemporary Friends Meetings in Madison, Milwaukee and the Twin Cities (excluding the well established Minneapolis Friends Meeting, described later) have their antecedents in the peace movement just prior to and during World War II. In each community individuals came together to share their search for spiritual strength to resist the approaching war, the imminent military draft and to support one another in conscientious objection. The public popularity of the war brought pacifists closer together as they shared their spiritual search and helped one another face the choices: Civilian Public Service, prison or accepting non-combatant status in the military. All hoped for support from among those who stayed in the community.

The contemporary Friends Meetings in Madison, Milwaukee and the Twin Cities (excluding the well established Minneapolis Friends Meeting, described later) have their antecedents in the peace movement just prior to and during World War II. In each community individuals came together to share their search for spiritual strength to resist the approaching war, the imminent military draft and to support one another in conscientious objection. The public popularity of the war brought pacifists closer together as they shared their spiritual search and helped one another face the choices: Civilian Public Service, prison or accepting non-combatant status in the military. All hoped for support from among those who stayed in the community.

After 17 years of informal association and worship groups, Madison Monthly Meeting of Friends was formally organized as an independent monthly meeting in 1937 through the Friends Fellowship Council, no longer in existence. Through visits with Chicago Friends, Madison Meeting developed ties which led in 1945 to participation and membership in Fox Valley Quarter of Illinois Yearly Meeting (IYM). Until 1960 some Chicago area meetings belonged to the Fox Valley Quarter of IYM, others were affiliated with the Chicago Quarter of Western Yearly Meeting (a Five Years Meeting located in Indiana. “Western” refers to Indiana, not to the rest of the US. Chicago Friends were “united,” having dual membership in both Illinois (FGC) and Western (FUM) Yearly Meetings. Madison Meeting maintained membership in both until the establishment of Northern Yearly Meeting in 1975.

In Milwaukee informal Quaker worship was held during the 1930s. In 1941 a more regular worship group began meeting. In 1942 it became a preparative meeting under the care of Evanston Meeting and moved to independent monthly meeting status in 1950 with ties to both Western and Illinois Yearly Meetings. As Milwaukee Friends became more active with Friends in Wisconsin and Minnesota, the tie with Western Yearly Meeting was dissolved. Milwaukee Friends continue to be members of both Illinois and Northern Yearly Meetings.

Macalester College in St. Paul and the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis were sites of informal Quaker style spiritual search groups as the Second World War approached. Throughout the war years worship groups were held in the area around the University for mutual support and with volunteers participating in the nutrition and starvation experiments conducted there as Civilian Public Service projects. Some participants in these groups had opportunities to know some members of the well established Minneapolis Friends Meeting (Church), sharing common concerns for advancing peace, offering spiritual and material help to men in Civilian Public Service or prison and working together to improve the racial climate in the larger community.

These were concerns to seekers in Madison, Milwaukee and the Twin Cities. All related to the American Friends Service Committee, the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Friends Committee on National Legislation and were visited by outstanding Quaker leaders such as Kenneth Boulding, Douglas Steere, Teresina Rowell (Havens) and E. Raymond Wilson. There was participation and support within each of these meetings for many of the wartime undertakings of the national peace groups.1

1947-1960: Northern Half-Yearly Meeting is established:Greater mobility following WWII set the stage for the establishment of Northern Yearly Meeting. In 1947, the worship group meeting at the University of Minnesota began meeting formally as the University Friends Meeting, later changing its name to Church Street Meeting. A preparative meeting relationship existed with Minneapolis Friends Meeting from 1954-1955. However, the young meeting did not feel in harmony with Iowa Yearly Meeting (FUM) and chose to apply to Illinois Yearly Meeting (FGC) for membership and recognition as a monthly meeting. IYM accepted the application in 1956 and Church Street Monthly Meeting took its place within Fox Valley Quarter, then including 57th St. (Chicago), Rock Valley, Madison, Milwaukee, Downers Grove.2

Greater mobility following WWII set the stage for the establishment of Northern Yearly Meeting. In 1947, the worship group meeting at the University of Minnesota began meeting formally as the University Friends Meeting, later changing its name to Church Street Meeting. A preparative meeting relationship existed with Minneapolis Friends Meeting from 1954-1955. However, the young meeting did not feel in harmony with Iowa Yearly Meeting (FUM) and chose to apply to Illinois Yearly Meeting (FGC) for membership and recognition as a monthly meeting. IYM accepted the application in 1956 and Church Street Monthly Meeting took its place within Fox Valley Quarter, then including 57th St. (Chicago), Rock Valley, Madison, Milwaukee, Downers Grove.2

In July, 1960 the Fox Valley Quarter proposed to Illinois Yearly Meeting a change which would bring the growing Chicago area Friends into a newly formed Metropolitan Chicago General Meeting and would establish Northern Half-Yearly Meeting for the Wisconsin and Minnesota meetings which were developing. Illinois Yearly Meeting accepted this proposal in August, 1960. As new small meetings were formed, Friends in Northern Half-Yearly Meeting felt empowered to take more confident steps in the nurture of one another. Most people looked forward to the “Halfly” sessions as a time of spiritual renewal for all ages, sharing God’s love deeply. For many the Halfly helped compensate for the isolation from the values of the mainstream society which many felt. As Barbara Greenler from Milwaukee describes: “We didn’t get together and ‘found’ Quaker churches as missions. We found each other in our needs and concerns for peace, race relations and other social issues [as well as] our need to share parenting that emphasized these Quaker values.”3

Responsibility for the spring and fall all day Saturday meetings rotated among the three larger host cities. The average attendance was from 40-60 persons. Visitors stayed in the homes of Friends, sharing hospitality and broadening their experience of Friends. Groups in Eau Claire, North Central Wisconsin (Wausau area), and Duluth-Superior formed, participating with the longer established meetings.4

1965-1975: The Halfly Expands:
A big step forward came when some far-sighted Friends initiated the first weekend camp format in 1965 at Camp Waukaunda near Madison. The growth of Northern Half-Yearly Meeting accelerated, as the needs of families for greater fellowship, worship and education in Quakerism could be met in a group residential setting. More than 140 persons attended! The new meetings represented came from Beloit, Appleton/Green Bay/Fox Valley and Stevens Point, all in Wisconsin, and Northfield, Mankato and Rochester, in Minnesota. Members of Minneapolis Meeting also began attending informally at this time. A fair number of isolated friends came to share in the Halfly as well.

Friends from Eau Claire, Milwaukee, Madison and Oshkosh attended Illinois Yearly Meeting sessions each August, but, unfortunately distance prevented many Friends from other meetings to attend. Gradually, the Halfly began filling a place in the lives of many of the meetings as if it were a yearly meeting.5 During 1969, ’70, and ’71 informal discussions and several written proposals surfaced suggesting that the time was right to work toward becoming an independent association or yearly meeting. This movement gained some strength with the decision by Twin Cities Meeting in 1971 to resign its membership in Illinois Yearly Meeting. New meetings and attenders came from Ft. Atkinson,Wisconsin, and Decorah and Dubuque, Iowa.

In February, 1974 Madison Meeting approved and circulated a minute suggesting “we should seek the assistance of Illinois Yearly Meeting . . . . to explore the possibility of the establishment of a Northern Yearly Meeting. . . “6 Following careful deliberations during Halfly 1974 spring and fall sessions, a Structure Committee was appointed to develop such a proposal and to circulate it for discussion among the constituent meetings.7 Their report was presented to the Halfly Meeting for Business on September 13, 1975. On September 14th the Proposed Minute Establishing Northern Yearly Meeting was approved.8 The change from the old to the new status felt like an evolutionary process. Illinois Yearly Meeting released the new Yearly Meeting as it celebrated its own centennial!

1975-1999 Northern Yearly Meeting:The past twenty four years have witnessed vigorous growth in the size of the NYM Gathering. This was manifested by increases in attendance (325 in 1996), establishment of new meetings and regional gatherings, expansion of the budget and extension of age diversity as many of the early participants have become “senior Friends.” Increased complexity of organization came with increased responsibilities. There were new committees for planning youth and adult programs, advancement and outreach and the newsletter, as well as evolving responsibilities of the newly formed Executive Committee.

The past twenty four years have witnessed vigorous growth in the size of the NYM Gathering. This was manifested by increases in attendance (325 in 1996), establishment of new meetings and regional gatherings, expansion of the budget and extension of age diversity as many of the early participants have become “senior Friends.” Increased complexity of organization came with increased responsibilities. There were new committees for planning youth and adult programs, advancement and outreach and the newsletter, as well as evolving responsibilities of the newly formed Executive Committee.The development of the Nightingales, Friendly FolkDancers, Quaker Family Band, Young Friends, Friends for Gay and Lesbian Concerns and Friends in Unity with Nature demonstrate growth of significant sub-communities within the Yearly Meeting. Many new meetings and worship groups have emerged: Bismarck, ND, Red River Valley ND/MN, Brainerd, Cannon Valley, Grand Rapids, Northern Lights (Bemidji), Prospect Hill, St. Cloud, St. Croix Valley and Winona in MN, and Lake Superior and Keweenaw (Houghton), MI and Dodgeville, Kickapoo Valley, LaCrosse, Interlake (Manitwoc)and Sand Point (Black Earth), WI. Regional gatherings are developing to meet needs for decentralized groupings for spiritual nurture and fellowship.9

From 1937, and continuing through 1990, all meetings in NYM had been “new meetings.” The character of these meetings was shaped by the sense of empowerment which comes with the experience of discovering the Spirit alive within ourselves and our worshipping communities. Most individual members were convinced Friends, many quite new to the Society.

With a 1986 letter from Minneapolis Friends Meeting asking for help in affiliating with a wider body of Friends, came a prospective member meeting with a long history, large size, wide range of theological views, and mix of birthright and convinced members, many whose connection with Friends went back many years. Affiliating with Iowa Yearly Meeting in 1863, Minneapolis Friends were part of the 1877 separation in Iowa which led to a pastoral form of organization in 1886 and participation in the Five Years Meeting beginning in 1902 (later changed to Friends United Meeting).

Beginning in the ’60s currents of change manifested as Minneapolis Friends redefined the role of minister and meeting. The membership took on primary responsibility for worship. Social witness in the world had always been important, but it intensified with the Vietnam era. The increasing use of the name “Minneapolis Friends Meeting” (rather than “Church”) indicates an evolving identity. Minneapolis Friends began to feel less comfortable with their association with Iowa Yearly Meeting (FUM). After much searching, in 1982 Minneapolis Meeting resigned from Iowa Yearly Meeting. During the period of search for an alternative affiliation, Minneapolis Friends were accepted as an independent monthly meeting within Friends General Conference. Minneapolis Friends Meeting was welcomed as a full member into Northern Yearly Meeting in 1991.10

In 1991 the traditional NYM two session per year format was changed to a single yearly session. In order to be more available to the larger constituency, NYM maintains the practice of alternating between the eastern and the western sides of the area. After having outgrown many camps NYM now meets one year on a college campus and one year at a large camp. NYM was incorporated in Wisconsin in 1995. [A sentence or two will go here about the Menomonie Meetinghouse when that process has been completed.]

Northern Yearly Meeting has provided rich opportunities for worship, business,
education and fellowship for participants from youngest to oldest. We continue
listening to the voice of the Inner Guide. A vital, creative energy has been
characteristic of the experience of Northern Yearly Meeting during the last
35 years. We pray that we will continue to be led on this corporate
spiritual journey into the future.

Footnotes

1 Sources for information in this section come from: Madison Meeting:Francis Hole, A Preliminary Historical Record of
the Madison Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.
Unpublished
ms., 1960, pp 6-9 and 14-27

Milwaukee Meeting:Bill Brown, A Brief History of Milwaukee Friends
Meeting: Fifty Years of
Quaker Presence in Milwaukee. 1991

Minneapolis Meeting:Gordon Coffin, written, undated reminiscences (probably transcribed during the 1970’s)

Gordon Coffin, written, undated reminiscences (probably transcribed during the 1970’s)Thomas E. Drake, Quakers in Minnesota, September, 1937, MINNESOTA HISTORY

Alexina Gray, Memories of Early Days in Minneapolis, 1963, unpublished ms.

Edith H. Jones, History of Minneapolis Friends Meeting, 1863-1963, Unpublished ms.

John Parker, MINNEAPOLIS FRIENDS: A brief History, 1981, unpublished ms.

Twin Cities Friends Meeting:Raquel K. Wood, telephone interviews with
John and Mary Phillips, Alex Stach and Beverly White, 1996. Taped interview
with Howard Lutz in 1976. Informal discussions with others over the years.

2 As there is a great deal of variation in the status of meetings when they came into the community of NYM in its various stages, Appendix A has been developed. It lists the years and means by which the meetings formally became “Monthly Meetings” and joined NYM.

Barbara Greenler to Raquel K. Wood, personal correspondence, March 1996

4 Raquel K. Wood, Northern Yearly Meeting: A Tenth Anniversary Commemoration,
1985

5 At various times among some of the constituent meetings, and sometimes spilling over into the Halfly, Friends have felt it appropriate to act “as if” there were in fact a monthly meeting because of great distances or because there was sufficient experience within the meeting or because Friends felt they were a monthly meeting in all respects already. It is a confidence built on having to take responsibility when there seems to be no readily established way of accomplishing the goal.

6 The complete text of the minute reads:

It is the sense of this (M&C) Committee that we should seek the assistance of Illinois Yearly Meeting and of its constituent Monthly Meetings in Wisconsin to explore the possibility over the next two or three years of the establishment of a Northern Yearly Meeting: and that, to that end, the Northern Half-Yearly Meeting be considered as a “preparative meeting” through which the response of local Meetings to such a development could be weighed.

We express the hope that Illinois Yearly Meeting might regard this development as an appropriate outgrowth of its first century, and respond in the conviction that the formation of a Northern Yearly Meeting is fully consistent with the celebration of the centennial observance planned in the year ahead.

Madison Monthly Meeting, February 1974

See Wood, op cit

7 Members of the Structure Committee were: Lila and Elliot Cornell, clerks, Paul Bartoo, Phyllis Berentson, Betty Boardman, Nancy Breitsprecher, Jeff Haines, Ron Mattson, Rosalie Wahl and Stan White.

8 See Appendix B for complete text of the Establishing Minute

9 See appendix A which lists all the meetings and dates of their affiliation and brief information about the regional gatherings.

10 Elaine Carte, Our Meeting and Affiliation: A Short History, ca 1987

Elaine Carte, Minneapolis Meeting: A Quick Tour of the Past, 1996 (full text in Appendix F)

See also references in footnote2

Appendix C lists clerks who have served the Halfly and Yearly Meetings and all the locations at which sessions have met.

Appendix D is a map of the Northern Yearly Meeting area.

Appendix E is a copy of the 1995 Northern Yearly Meeting Epistle included because it describes the character of NYM so well.

Appendix F is the full text of Minneapolis Meeting: A Quick Tour of the
Past
, included because the history of Minneapolis Meeting is so unique within
Northern Yearly Meeting.

[Suggestions for changes are welcome and may be sent to:

Raquel K. Wood, 141 Bedford Street S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55414 or fwood@maroon.tc.umn.edU]
Rich and Committee: You may wish to alter this when you send out the copies to meetings.

Draft copy, June 30, 1999

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