Friends General Conference

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Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)

A Short History of Our Meeting

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Bloomington Friends Meeting was started by a small group of Friends who began meeting for worship in the late 1940s, before formally establishing themselves formally under the aegis of the Western Yearly Meeting on February 19th, 1950. In addition to the weekly unprogrammed meeting for worship, the early Bloomington Friends scheduled guest speakers once a month and invited IU student to attend these special meetings.

The meeting grew steadily, attaining 30 members by 1960. Ten years later, the rolls recorded 89 members and average weekly attendance was around 60. In 1980, members numbered 115, although weekly attendance decreased to 45 people.

Although the Friends had started meeting in member’s homes, the numbers soon outgrew these venues. The Meeting initially made arrangements to use the Bryan Room of the Indiana Memorial Union, before moving to the Indiana School of Religion from 1957 to 1965. After the ISR sold its building to IU, the Meeting rented the Seventh Day Adventist church building for a year, during which time attendance plummeted. To address this, the Meeting decided finally to buy its own property.

After some search, Hazel Smith found a house for sale on Moores Pike, and the members raised money to purchase it. After months of work to rehabilitate the property, the Bloomington Friends held their first meeting there on July 31st, 1966. Attendance surged, and to accommodate the larger numbers, the Meeting built an addition in July-October 1968. The Meeting established a graveyard there in 1978.

In 1996, the Meeting spun off the Mt. Gilead Friends Retreat, located northeast of Bloomington, to host events and retreats. Although closely affiliated, the retreat center is financially and legally independent. 

During the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the Bloomington Friends were active locally in anti-Vietnam War activities. Many students were attracted to the church for its strong pacifist stand, and many members counseled young people on the draft and conscientious objection. Throughout its history, the Bloomington Meeting has served as temporary home for members of other Meetings or even other peace churches as they attended IU.

Throughout its history, the Meeting has maintained a First Day School to provide religious education to children. For the first few years, children attended Sunday School the First Presbyterian church before walking to rejoin the Meeting at the IMU. In the mid-sixties, Fred Coons started and led a group for teens, which lasted until his death. The special library of children's books is called the 'Carlton Fischer Library' after Ann Fischer’s son, killed in an accident in 1965. The Meeting also holds an annual Christmas party, headlined by a play produced and presented by the children.

The Bloomington Meeting has a long history of community involvement. Early on, members worked with the Monroe County United Ministries by helping to organize Opportunity House, which sold donated clothes at a nominal price to low-income families, and the Food Pantry. Since 1976, members have paid weekly visits to people incarcerated at the Monroe County Jail, and at times have held art lessons. Since 1992, members donate a few hours a month working in the Community Kitchen. Long-time member Haines Turner was also instrumental in founding the Harmony School, and was a vocal stand-by in the letters to the Herald-Times.

Compiled by WZS
April 2000