Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Native American Quakerism at Great Plains Yearly Meeting

By Micah Bales

Great Plains Yearly Meeting was founded as Nebraska Yearly Meeting in 1908, when it was set off (amicably separated from) Iowa Yearly Meeting. Nebraska Yearly Meeting was established as a member of the Warren Pratt, Jr in Hominy Meeting HouseFive Years Meeting (today Friends United Meeting). It was founded as a pastoral, Evangelical-leaning body of Friends on the great American prairie.

In 1957, twenty-one of Nebraska Yearly Meeting's twenty-seven local churches left NYM to form Rocky Mountain Yearly Meeting. Though officially RMYM was “set off” from Nebraska Yearly Meeting, this reorganization was essentially a schism. Rocky Mountain Yearly Meeting, with the vast majority of NYM's Monthly Meetings, would become a part of the emerging Evangelical Friends branch. Nebraska Yearly Meeting, with its six remaining churches, would remain loyal to FUM.

It is perhaps an indication of the character of the old Nebraska Yearly Meeting that one of the favorite hymns of Friends in Great Plains Yearly Meeting is "Trust and Obey." In many ways, Nebraska Yearly Meeting represented Warren Pratt, Jr Delivers Keynote at Great Plains Yearly Meetingthe "loyalist" faction of pastoral Friends in Nebraska and Kansas. The Yearly Meeting, renamed Great Plains Yearly Meeting in 2001, continues to embody this character.

Today, GPYM is a fellowship of five Monthly Meetings in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. Of the original Nebraska Yearly Meeting, only Central City (Nebraska) Monthly Meeting remains. There are two Meetings in Wichita, Kansas - one pastoral/Evangelical and another non-pastoral. The other two Meetings are Native American congregations in northern Oklahoma. With a total membership of around 600, GPYM is one of most diverse Yearly Meetings in the world. It represents cultures rural and urban, Anglo-American and Native American, theologically liberal and Evangelical.

This year, GPYM met in Hominy, Oklahoma, in the heart of the Osage Nation. We were reminded that a substantial portion of our Yearly Meeting is ethnically and culturally Native American, and we were invited to deepen our relationship with this part of our heritage as a Yearly Meeting. We played local games and learned Osage dances. WePawnee Woman Dances at Great Plains Yearly Meeting heard the stories of the Kiowa people and were blessed by a keynote address of a local Pawnee Baptist pastor, who is doing the work of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ within the Native American context, rather than as something separate and foreign.

Great Plains Yearly Meeting this year gave me much to think about, especially with regards to how our Quaker Christian faith plays out in different cultural contexts. What makes us Friends? Must we adhere to the British cultural heritage of most North American Quakers, or can the gospel as understood by Friends be adapted authentically to non-British, non-Western contexts and cultures?

Thanks to the brothers and sisters at Hominy Friends Church, we are learning what it can look like for a Quaker Meeting to live fully into its non-Western cultural identity, while at the same time remaining true to the gospel of Jesus Christ's living presence and teaching power in our midst. This can onlyFriends at Great Plains YM serve to strengthen Great Plains Yearly Meeting as a member of the wider Body of Christ. I pray that this might also provide an example for Friends beyond GPYM.

How are Friends called to emerge from our cultural heritage as a mostly British-originated religious movement? How can we open a space for women and men of all cultures and nations to receive and embody the good news that Jesus Christ has come to teach his people himself? What of our theological insights and traditions are essential, and what ideas and practices can be faithfully jettisoned or adapted in order to meet the challenges of new cultural contexts? I pray we will be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all that we do. I thank God for Friends in Great Plains Yearly Meeting, who provide us with a living example of how this important work is being carried out.

Micah BalesMicah Bales serves as Coordinator of Young Adult Engagement at ESR. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, Faith Kelley. He is active with Capitol Hill Friends and is a member of Rockingham Friends Meeting, Ohio Yearly Meeting.


  1. Thanks for this post Micah. Although I was not directly involved in the Native America "missions" in Oklahoma, my uncle and family were very much involved and I heard much about Hominy while I was growing up.

    One of the things that struck me, having grown up in Friends missions in Jamaica and Kenya, at the time both British colonies, is the reference to British linked culture. In both Jamaica and Kenya I observed a real reluctance on the part of some/many American missionaries to identify at all with the local culture. It seemed very evident that the intent was to "Americanize" (not make British) Friends. The African Friends seem to have adopted/adapted the American Evangelical pattern rather than the British Quaker pattern.

    Although I fully respect and honor those who adopt Plain clothing as a witness to their "Quakerism" (I understand that it is more of a calling from the Lord for many rather than a "Quaker thing," but am just sharing an observation) I wonder what message this sends to those of other cultures than those with a 19th century American Quaker (Pennsylvanian) awareness.

    I also wonder how we can deal with the diversity of Friends in an appropriate manner. I wonder how we can celebrate diversity without losing commonality. This issue is being "fought" in several YM "as we speak." Just a few "hyphenated" examples:
    Native American-Quaker

    I do not have answers, but I believe we must openly address some of these issues, such as those you raise, and I am grateful that you initiated some of that with your post.

  2. Yep, you can be a non-British flavour Quaker. Remember that the Friends of Aotearoa NZ YM were gifted the name "Te Haahi Tuuhauwiri" by the Maori language council a few years back - representing to me and other members our ongoing journey to be "the people moved by the winds of the Spirit" in the Southern Lands.

    Now that I live in the UK, I am often found comparing the different flavours of Quakerism.

  3. I should clarify: When I wrote about the British origins of Quakerism, I wasn't distinguishing Anglo-American, Anglo-Canadian, Anglo-New Zealander, Anglo-Australian, or Anglo-Irish Quakerism from English Quakerism. Most American Quakerism is just as "British" in its cultural origins as English Quakerism.