Reflections on Illinois Yearly Meeting
David and Nancy Finke, Columbia Friends Meeting
After the 2016 Annual Sessions, Among Friends had a telephone interview with David and Nancy Finke about the vitality of Illinois Yearly Meeting. What follows is an edited version of warm feelings that this couple holds for the yearly meeting. David and Nancy are moving to Oberlin, Ohio in August. We are sure they will bring their joy and depth of Spirit that we have known to the meeting there.
AF: What in particular draws you to attend ILYM Annual Sessions?
N: It is the fellowship and friends there as well as the philosophy of it. I love getting to know people throughout the yearly meeting as well as representatives from other places around the United States and the world. The more I come the more people I know.
I love business meeting. It is my favorite part. People are passionate, thoughtful, careful, and take time. I think we are never going to finish it all and then in the end it all gets done. I never skip a business meeting.
D: I have a longer span at Annual Sessions. I think I first attended 1967 to 1973 as an AFSC staff representative. It was my first exposure. Several years later I made the decision to join the Religious Society of Friends because I picked up a little yellow pamphlet at the back of the yearly meeting meetinghouse. It was from the Clear Creek Friends shelf and invited people to join. The message was simple, direct, unpretentious. It spoke to my condition and inspired to me to become a member.
Annual Sessions was my introduction to the broader world of Quakerism. This was the next step beyond quarterly meeting and a gateway to Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC). That has been a central part of my identity as a Friend. The experience came in two ways: visitors who have come to us from other yearly meetings and my experience as representative from ILYM.
There were visitors to us from other countries, particularly from different traditions, who caused my heart to be tendered. I remember an Evangelical Friend from Central America spoke about his pastoral work with the peace testimony that differed from the political approach of Liberal Friends. Being biblically based was an opening and it commanded my attention.
I also had a special relationship with ILYM through my printing press, Omega Graphics. I carefully proofread everything that went into print including Among Friends, the minute book, and the Plummer Lectures. I valued the special responsibility especially getting to work with authors and editors. I hope they continue to be printed and that there are always be words on paper and not just on a screen.
AF: What is the effect of the historic meetinghouse and grounds on the yearly meeting?
N: For those of us who have been here, it is wonderful. Everyone appreciates it. However, it is hard to explain to those who don’t go. We just need to get people here. I’ve been glad to introduce three or four women from Columbia to the yearly meeting through Women’s Weekend. My monthly meeting is small compared to ILYM Annual Sessions, but both meetings fill the space that they are given. Both places feel familiar and special.
D: In the decade before I started coming, the yearly meeting experimented with other places. But soon the dorm was built and then the campground. Now it isn’t possible to envision the yearly meeting without picturing the building and grounds. I’m glad we’re not wandering around. I like that it is centrally located and that it is a permanent location.
N: On the last day of Annual Sessions this year, as we were cleaning up, someone said if we rented a space we wouldn’t need to do all this work. But working together is part of building the community.
D: Working together is important. How many of us have gotten to know Alice Howenstine while doing the recycling? We pitch in, do everything ourselves, and that shared labor is one of our strengths. These are opportunities. Every session, I get to see my old pal the dishwashing machine. I remember writing on the instruction sheet for the dishwasher, "It’s a dance, enjoy."
AF: When you think of leadership at ILYM, what comes to mind?
D: I had such wonderful modeling with many presiding clerks at ILYM. Three people really stand out in my mind. I was recording clerk with Allie Walton clerking. She was “wise as serpents and gentle as doves.”
Then I think of Margaret Katranides. She set a steady, loving, humorous tone that prevailed over all the issues. I remember a specific proposal to start a new committee was going in different unplanned directions. Margaret just calmly said, “Why don’t we just call it Peace Resources?”
The third person was Tom Paxson who was the presiding clerk when I was assistant clerk. I watched every-thing Tom did. He was clearly a mentor to me as I was sitting right at his elbow. He is a brilliant person but didn’t need to wear it on his sleeve.
There are many other wonderful clerks but these three I remember best.
N: I remember the recording clerks. Some of them have really been good. It helps everything be clearer. I have especially appreciated the recording clerks.
D: There were also a number of elders who were seasoned, competent and sober. I first met them before I was a Quaker. Blanche and Daryl Frey were typical; also Kale Williams, Anne and Gilbert White, Mary and Chris Cadbury. Over the years, I have seen what classic Quakerism looks like in terms of integrity. I remember Lew Walton taught us, “It is Friends’ practice to speak once to a matter of business.” And then he modeled this for us. When Lew would speak, his message would bring together what was important in a concise summary. The few words were well-focused. He is one of some dozens who embody what it means to be a Quaker.
N: When I think of leadership, I think of women who are seldom seen leading discussion or making a presentation but who keep the place running. Their steady work can always be counted on. They follow up on what needs to be done at the most basic level.
D: We have also watched the Adult Young Friends find their own leadership, form their own group, and give guidance nationally and internationally.
N: I like the epistles. Both the ones that are read from around the world and the ones we write. Those from young Friends are clever and really neat.
AF: How has being part of the yearly meeting affected your sense of being a Friend?
N: I think it is important to visit other meetings to see what they are like and how they approach things. Blue River Quarterly has been good too. The program doesn’t matter too much—it is just the fact of spending the weekend together.
D: There’s more to being a Quaker than what you see on your local Sunday morning.
N: The monthly meeting is the most important worship experience, but it can become an isolated worship group. I believe that cooperation and accountability with other monthly meetings, quarterly, and yearly meetings are what make us Quakers—we are the Religious Society of Friends.
D: Janet Means Underhill came to Columbia Friends Meeting when we had a particular challenge. She met with us twice over a year and helped us to come to unity. That would not have happened without the yearly meeting connection.
N: Columbia has benefited from Field Secretaries as well as the Ministry and Advancement visitors.
AF: What have you learned about decision-making in ILYM at Annual Sessions and on committees?
N: I appreciate the work of the Faith and Practice Committee. I always look forward to their reading each year. They have included all of the monthly meetings in their work, and they are open to hearing comments from everyone. The document is amazing.
D: I can remember working on an ad hoc committee on sexuality. It had come up at Annual Sessions that we were not in unity concerning same sex marriages, and it was painful for some. We set up a group to meet other than on the floor of the business meeting. We learned how to labor patiently with each other over time. The Listening Project came out of that and later part of our Faith and Practice section on marriage. We are probably the oldest yearly meeting to record support for loving relationships regardless of the gender of people in it. That was in 1974.
I also remember a Nominating Committee report in which we did not approve someone nominated for a clerkship because of concerns from that person’s monthly meeting. It was painful but we didn’t break apart. It showed the integrity of the nominating process. Business meeting at Annual Sessions isn’t just a rubber stamp.
I witnessed a significant shift when Lew Walton looked at the relationship of the yearly meeting with the trustees. Up until that time the trustees just looked after things that needed fixing, giving a very brief report at Annual Sessions. Lew sketched out different possible uses of our property and his vision needed something more than the traditional trusteeship. From that developed the Maintenance & Planning Committee and later the Site Envisioning Committee. We give the responsibility to the entire yearly meeting.
Similarly, when we moved beyond the cookie jar system of finances and also toward incorporation, controversial points became opportunities for growth. Sometimes it takes some translating. Sometimes we just need listening. It is so different from the way “The World” does it. The yearly meeting can be a school for our best Quaker practice.
AF: In what ways has your time at Annual Sessions renewed your sense of spirituality?
N: Worshipping with Quakers from all over the place (yearly meeting and the wider Quaker world) in that historic setting is special. I look forward to it and appreciate it. I’m practical minded but I do feel it is really important.
D: When I am at Annual Sessions, I feel a deep connection to Ultimate Reality, and it is a corporate connection. That vivid sense of worship and living as Quakers transcends time and place. I feel our elders from the past are still with us. I feel connectedness to the vibrancy of our Quaker tradition in worship and business meeting but much more I feel it in the good earth, the other planets, and the stars. It isn’t the same as being in the city. I feel it in the long vistas and the two-hour bike rides I’ve taken in the mornings. I was out there with all kinds of critters. Yearly meeting extends beyond the 12 acres.
I’m reminded from the very beginning that yearly meeting is about the relationship with rural and urban values. Continuity with the rural life comes through Clear Creek Meeting. We are so close to Dick Ashdown, Grayce and Neil Mesner, Kay Drake, and everyone there. It is a special relationship filled with mutual trust. Sometimes there have been misunderstandings but always with a commitment to working things out. We have a generous stewardship from Clear Creek. I could go on and on. It is people but also the land and the sky. It wouldn’t be there on a college campus. If you look at our epistles, I dare you to find one that doesn’t mention soybeans, corn or a thunderstorm.