Hello my name is Joshua Ponter. I am a member of Haddonfield Monthly Meeting in South Jersey’s Philadelphia area. I have embarked on a year-long mission to travel around the country collecting stories about the founding of different meetings and looking at the way we practice Quakerism today. I will be blogging about my travels on the PYM website. Find my latest entry below. Please email me at JPonter1@gmail.com if there is anyone from your meeting who would like to sit down with me and speak to some of your history — or if you would like more information on me or my project . Thank you!
Greenleaf Friends Church – Boise, Idaho
So, after almost 7 months on the road and more than ten thousand miles, I have completed 3/4 of my trip around the country. I had considered driving up to Seattle, but the thought of dealing with the traffic and the weather up there seemed less appealing than you might think. So, from Portland, I decided to start making my way east. I did, however, want to stop and visit a Quaker Church that was still part of Northwest Yearly Meeting in the hopes to hear the story from the other side of the schism that resulted in many of the churches leaving the Yearly Meeting. I am really trying to be objective with these writings and I feel like every story has two sides and unless we hear them both I don’t know how it is possible to get a whole picture. Thus, my next stop became Boise, Idaho.
It is rare that I have more than a few meetings to choose from in any general area. There have been a few places where I could choose between different categories such as Evangelical, Conservative, or any number of combinations of the two. Boise, however, has about eight different Evangelical Churches in its immediate area. Not knowing which one to pick, with no distinguishing difference obvious in their online presence, I decided to email them all! …one wrote back. Sometimes life makes the decision for you.
It turns out there is some interesting history in regards to Boise and Quakers. The Meeting I ended up visiting was Greenleaf Friends Church, so named because, when the first European settlers came to the area, the entire land was covered as far as the eye could see with sagebrush. The area has since been cultivated into rich, dense farmland that grows more than a dozen different crops. Ironically, I’m told potatoes are in the minority.
Friends settled the area and the first Friends Meetings in Greenleaf were in the home of William Brown in 1906. There were about 35 members. Membership quickly grew as Friends attached by the cheap farmland and rich agricultural opportunities swarmed into the area from states like Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio. A Friends Church was constructed quickly to accommodate the needs and Greenleaf Friends Meeting was started under the care of Oregon Yearly Meetings. This was followed by the founding of the school: Greenleaf Friends Academy. The first classes were held in the church building in 1908 with what looks like 13 students in a very old picture. A schoolhouse was constructed in 1911 as the student body grew and more and more migrants arrived; so many in fact, that they had to double the size of the building by 1917 to accommodate their numbers. I mention this because it is not the first time I have heard of the draw of a Friends Education being of a significant impact on the development of an area. This growth continued until 1962 at which time there was a mass exodus of young families. The person I talked to said this had more to do with the downsizing of regional economies rather than their relation with the church.
The modern church was built somewhat recently along with the modern rendition of the Greenleaf Friends Academy, which is no longer a public school due to some redistricting. It is also no longer under the care of Greenleaf Friends Meeting, though a couple of its members sit on the School Board.
As for worship, the service was what I’ve come to expect from an Evangelical Service. They had no waiting or open worship time. Though the pastor feels like this is an important part of Friends practice, he likes it to happen on days when it will be more impactful. They had the customary Praise Music, along with some reading from a bible. The pastor asked people to share about ways Jesus had helped them in their everyday life and they responded with messages of more general “thanks” than I would have liked. The Pastor’s daughter came up to share in a general way about her recent 2-week experience meeting with different Quakers in a conference in Europe. A woman who had been asked during the week to tell her story also came up to the podium to speak about how the Pastor had anointed her with oil to cure her urinary tract infection.
The next day I was able to meet with the pastor from both Greenleaf and Caldwell Monthly Meetings over lunch. I was really looking forward to this because I expected to hear two different perspectives on the recent happenings in the Yearly Meeting. I really wanted to learn what made them decide to stay with the Yearly Meeting when the ultimatum to leave was handed down, what that decision-making process was like, and how they resolved any differences in opinion regarding the decision to stay or go. It turns out, they knew nothing about it. Apparently, they didn’t even know that a schism had occurred until after that deadline came and went. In fact, there is hardly any interaction at all with the Yearly Meeting. They consider things that go on over there to be “on the other side of the mountain,” and it doesn’t really concern them.
So now, of course, I’m kicking myself for not heading further north to try to find some other members of North West with which to speak to, but I am already more than 400 miles away so that feels like a non-starter. We did have an interesting conversation about some of the things they felt drew people to the Friends Society since most of the members and attenders come from other-than-Quaker backgrounds. The chief attraction I am told is because people enjoy the idea of a personal relationship with God or in this case “Jesus Christ.” I’m not quite sure I’m using that language correctly so bear with me. Some of the detractors I’m told were the non-use of ordnances as well as the peace testimony. This has apparently driven off more than a few would-be members. The Pastor has gone so far as to stop using this testimony in his sermons, but he apparently continues to emphasize it with receptive members when meeting face to face.
I am trying to think of a way of closing this entry but I’m not sure how. I’m left feeling unsatisfied in the same way one does when snacking on ice chips. I don’t really have any regrets so far in this trip but in hindsight, I do wish I had taken the time to explore other meetings in the North West area. That being said I honestly believe God takes me where I’m supposed to be.