A View of Quakers from Monmouth, Oregon

Where’s the closest Quaker meeting to Western Oregon University? The answer to this seemingly simple question provides a glimpse into Quaker history and experience in the Willamette Valley and around the West.

The nearest unprogrammed Friends meeting is Salem Friends Meeting, 16 miles east of Monmouth in Oregon’s capital city. Salem Friends Meeting is part of North Pacific Yearly Meeting, which came into being in 1972 through an amicable division of Pacific Yearly Meeting. In the same city, however, is also South Salem Friends Church, which is part of Northwest Yearly Meeting and Evangelical Friends Church International. 

Unprogrammed Friends

Unprogrammed meetings in the western states trace their heritage to Joel and Hannah Bean, two prominent members of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Orthodox) who visited San José, California, in 1861 and helped establish a meeting there in 1873. The Beans created the College Park Friends Association in 1889 after falling out with Iowa YM. Five decades later, in 1931, Friends from unprogrammed meetings around the Pacific Rim formed the Pacific Coast Association of Friends, which in turn evolved into Pacific Yearly Meeting in 1946-47. 

In the 1970s, an amicable process unfolded within Pacific Yearly Meeting, which had a growing membership spanning a very large geographic area, stretching from Guatemala to British Columbia, and from Hawai’i to Texas. North Pacific Yearly Meeting came into being in 1972 and includes unprogrammed meetings in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Intermountain Yearly Meeting dates from 1975 and covers Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. Monthly meetings in California, Hawai’i, Nevada, and Mexico City continued as Pacific Yearly Meeting. Half a century after one yearly meeting transformed into three, the three unprogrammed yearly meetings continue to share an official publication, Western Friend, and collaborate in other ways. 

Intermountain Yearly Meeting affiliated with FGC in 2012. Pacific Yearly Meeting, which affiliated with FGC in 2019, is the host of the 2023 FGC Gathering. North Pacific Yearly Meeting is not affiliated with FGC but several of its monthly meetings are directly affiliated. 

Pastoral Friends

Few unprogrammed Friends meetings in the western states are more than two or three generations old. The more deeply rooted tradition is that of Friends churches, which followed the “midwestern” trajectory from unprogrammed to pastoral congregations. Whittier, California, and Newberg, Oregon, became centers of Quaker life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Herbert Hoover, undoubtedly the best-known American Quaker in the first half of the last century, grew up not far from Monmouth in Newberg, which is also home to George Fox University and a number of Friends churches. 

For more than a century, virtually all pastoral/programmed/semi-programmed Friends meetings and churches in the area belonged to Oregon Yearly Meeting, which became Northwest Yearly Meeting, which describes itself as “a Christ-centered, discerning, inter-generational community of Friends, committed to discipleship and outreach to impact society locally and globally.” 

A Third Yearly Meeting Emerges

The Pacific Northwest is now home to a third yearly meeting. In 2015, the Elders Committee of Northwest Yearly Meeting expelled a local meeting for writing a minute in support of same-sex relationships. There followed a period in which six monthly meetings appealed the decision and four wrote minutes affirming same-sex relationships. By January 2017, the leadership of NWYM decided that it would no longer be fruitful to address different leadings around welcoming LGBTQ people as full participants in the life of local meetings and churches. At this juncture, some meetings left NWYM voluntarily. NWYM encouraged former constituent meetings and churches to form a new yearly meeting.

Friends from the expelled meetings and those drawn to the possibility of a new yearly meeting gathered in July 2017 to discern next steps. The group’s first minute was to recognize the full participation of LGBTQ+ people in all aspects of the life of the new organization. At these sessions, the group chose the name “Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends.” Sierra-Cascades has committed itself to the safety of children, the need for reparations, and the nurture of ministry. The Sierra-Cascades meetings or churches closest to Monmouth are in Silverton (30 miles east), downtown Hillsboro (55 miles north), Portland’s West Hills (60 miles north), and Eugene (60 miles south).

Innovation and Bridge-Building

If you had been in Monmouth or Salem a decade ago and asked “Where are the Quakers,” you would have also heard about Freedom Friends Church, an independent meeting, affiliated with no larger Quaker body. FFC defined itself as “Passionately Christ-centered. Passionately Quaker. Passionately inclusive.” Its rented meetinghouse was located south of Salem Friends Meeting and north of South Salem Friends Church. Today, Friends living across the country keep the Freedom Friends spirit alive in their hearts and through informal online fellowship. The Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference, founded in 1995 and still going strong, is another example of Quaker innovation in this region.

Learn Experientially at Gathering!

This summary is a very brief glimpse of the history of Friends in the western states and especially Oregon. As you talk with Friends you will hear different stories, especially from other parts of the West such as the Rocky Mountain states, Alaska, and California. Monmouth, Oregon, is not home to a year-round Quaker presence, but for the week of July 2-8, 2023, it will be a remarkable place to connect with Friends from many different places, theological perspectives, and personal experiences. 

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