Raisin Valley Friends Church. Oldest active Friends congregation in MichiganWhether 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 would have been unprogrammed until the mid-19th century evangelical revivals. All Friends would have worn plain dress and used plain speech. Differences in theology and attitudes towards the world, however, and Friends' place in it, would have been apparent by the vocal ministry offered and some of the conflicts that arose.
There were two main migration routes: From upstate New York via the Erie Canal, completed in 1825, and from Eastern and Central Indiana. Because of their different roots, the congregations had distinct cultural and theological histories.
(The dates are those in which monthly meetings were established. Most of the congregations had existed previously as worship groups or preparative meetings under the care of a monthly meeting in a different state
.)New York Yearly Meeting
’s Orthodox branch. Its earliest monthly meeting in Michigan was established in 1831. Its Michigan meetings were transferred in the mid-19th century to Ohio Yearly Meeting of Friends, Damascus, later known as Evangelical Friends Church-Eastern Region. Genesee Yearly Meeting
Set up in 1834, it had its roots in New York Yearly Meeting's Hicksite branch. Its earliest monthly meeting in Michigan was also established in 1834. The yearly meeting was weakened in Michigan by the "Progressive" schism.Michigan Yearly Meeting of Congregational Friends
, a separation from Genesee Yearly Meeting, starting in 1838, linked to the movements in other states of Progressive and Reform Friends, and the Friends of Human Progress. Among other things, members supported anti-slavery activism, women's rights and greater equality in meetings. The movement faded partly because of Emancipation and also because, by the late 19th century, many of the ideas had become mainstream Hicksite thinking.Indiana Yearly Meeting
’s Orthodox branch. Its first preparative meeting in Michigan was set up as a monthly meeting in 1841, to be followed by twelve others. It also experienced a schism over anti-slavery activism, but only one meeting in Michigan separated.Indiana Yearly Meeting of Anti-Slavery Friends
, a schism over activism and quietism. Two years after Indiana's earliest monthly meeting was established in southwest Michigan in 1841, an Anti-Slavery monthly meeting separated from it.
Ohio Yearly Meeting of Friends, Damascus (Orthodox Friends known as Gurneyites in the 1854 separation) now Evangelical Friends Church-Eastern Region
. It inherited the Orthodox New York meetings, and went on to establish the first of ten other monthly meetings in Michigan in 1855.
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
and two, on the Upper Peninsula, belong to Northern Yearly Meeting
There is also a monthly meeting affiliated to Ohio Yearly Meeting
. The yearly meeting has its origin in the Orthodox branch of Ohio Yearly Meeting of Friends, which took the Wilburite, or Conservative, position in the 1854 separation.Friends in Michigan today
Three meetings were established by New York Yearly Meeting (Orthodox)
1831, 1842 and 1851, and later transferred to Ohio Yearly Meeting of Friends, now Evangelical Friends Church-Eastern Region. There were early tensions over engagement in the Underground Railroad, and some activist members left to join other churches, but there were no schisms. All three survive
as churches belonging to Evangelical Friends Church - Eastern Region
.Genesee Yearly Meeting Four meetings
were established. Two left Genesee to form the Michigan Yearly Meeting of Congregational Friends
, the Progressive branch. One meeting split; its Genesee supporters joining another meeting, and that fourth meeting survived until 1899. -None
of the Congregational/Progressive meetings survived beyond 1860. -None
of the 19th century Hicksite meetings survived the 19th century.Indiana Yearly Meeting
set up thirteen
monthly meetings. Of those, nine were
one was transferred as a worship group to Ohio Yearly Meeting, Damascus and was subsequently laid down. Two survive
, and one
other left the yearly meeting this year, but survives
as an independent Evangelical church.
Nine years after the Indiana Yearly Meeting of Anti-Slavery Friends
was set up, it was agreed that Anti-Slavery Friends would be accepted back into the larger body with no requirement for apology on either side. It is possible that the only Michigan meeting that belonged to the Anti-Slavery Friends rejoined the meeting from which it had separated.
Ohio Yearly Meeting of Friends, Damascus, now known as Evangelical Friends Church-Eastern Region
, inherited three meetings from New York Yearly Meeting. It went on to establish ten
more of its own. Of those, four survive
unprogrammed monthly meetings and their associated worship groups on the Lower Peninsula that belong to Lake Erie Yearly Meeting
, Friends General Conference, all survive.
unprogrammed monthly meetings on the Upper Peninsula belonging to Northern Yearly Meeting
, Friends General Conference, both survive
The newest monthly meeting in Michigan, Crossroads, a Conservative Friends Meeting, was established in 2010 under Stillwater Quarterly Meeting, Ohio Yearly meeting.
Forty-five 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. Others, like Raisin Valley, Raisin Center, Rollin and Ypsilanti (all Evangelical Friends churches) are still active more than 150 years later.
Over the years, Evangelical Friends Church-Eastern Region and its predecessor had to lay down six of its thirteen monthly meetings.
Indiana Yearly Meeting had to lay down ten of its twelve monthly meetings (partly due to locations associated with logging and lumber transportation.) Another Indiana meeting in Michigan left in 2012.
None of the traditional Hicksite meetings or the activist splinter meetings survived.
All nine Friends General Conference meetings have survived, and a new Conservative meeting has been established.
There are currently twenty monthly meetings
of them are unprogrammed meetings affiliated to Friends General Conference, 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 denominations for alliances. Their focus may be outwards, rather than looking towards each other, and towards Friends who are somewhat different from them.
The traditional Orthodox "middle ground" has largely collapsed. What is left is fragile.
One is a new Conservative meeting.
There other two are congregations that belong to Indiana Yearly Meeting. One of them may look more towards Evangelical Friends and other churches for its connections. The other has among its members some who look to build greater links with nearly Friends General Conference meetings, and those who want stronger connections with the wider world of Friends, including progressive Christians.
While the nineteenth century saw fractiousness, turmoil 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 more “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 can hold us together? How can we nurture that fragile middle ground, and how can we be Light in the world?
Friends of the Light, Traverse City. Newer congregation; historic building