Welcome to Our Journey
A History of Bellingham Friends Meeting
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
What is Bellingham Friends Meeting? Who are we? What have we been up to, these past 40+ years?
From our earliest days, Bellingham Friends Meeting has included convinced and birthright Friends, members and attenders, visitors from other faiths – seekers of many stripes. As diverse as we are, one characteristic has remained salient: the way our group is rooted in worship. The quiet worship we share is the heart and soul of the group. At its beginning, the community was infused with a sense of inspiration. Today, as in those early years, we return continually to that wellspring of renewal: communion with that of God or Spirit in ourselves and each other.
Our history goes back to the 1950s, when several seasoned Friends, living in scattered places throughout Skagit and Whatcom counties, decided to meet in each other’s homes on a periodic basis. By the mid-1960s, the group shifted geographically to Bellingham. In the late 1960s, we sought a meeting place near the campus of Western Washington University so we could be more accessible to students. For a short while, meetings were held at a Seventh-Day Adventist Church, but when Friends’ anti-Vietnam War stance became public, we were asked to leave. We then met for several years at the Rufus Jones School near the campus.
In 1971, some attenders began gathering in homes while others continued to meet at the school. In 1972, those meeting in homes arranged for space at the old Campus Christian Ministry house and, in 1973, moved with CCM to their new building, later renamed Shalom Center. By 1975, student interest had diminished in the group that met at Rufus Jones School and the two groups of Friends rejoined. Over the next decade, the group fluctuated in size from two or three to as many as thirty-five, as attenders, mostly students, moved into and out of the area. In the late 1980s, more permanent residents began attending, which led to the need for more adequate space for a children’s program.
We met at the Whatcom Hills Waldorf School for two years until the school needed their facilities on Sundays. That led to a move to Lairmont Manor in the Fairhaven District in 1995. In 1997, seeking a more child-friendly location, we moved to the Ferndale Senior Center. In early 1999, space opened up at the Bellingham Senior Center, where we currently meet.* Our meeting has a powerful dream to one day have a meetinghouse of our own.
We have undergone changes in our name and status over the years. When our group began, we were called the Skagit Allowed Meeting. In 1968, we changed our name to the Bellingham Worship Group, an Allowed Meeting under the care of University Meeting in Seattle. In 1970 and again in 1980 we were granted preparative meeting status but, each time within two years, due to dwindling attendance, we reverted to a worship group. In January 1995, with an increased number of Friends participating, we again became a preparative meeting and, in April 1997, were officially recognized by Pacific Northwest Quarterly Meeting as Bellingham Friends Meeting, a monthly meeting within North Pacific Yearly Meeting.
Community has always been of vital importance to us. In the early 1970s, we began to have second-hour activities following worship, to host Bible study groups, and to get together for potlucks. Today, we not only host potlucks and “second hours,” with occasional intergenerational worship and activities, we hold monthly small-group suppers and periodic spirituality groups. Other major events that foster community have included a summer campout, fall retreat, and Christmas Eve candlelight worship and singing. We have taken four marriages under our care and assisted Friends with health problems and terminal illnesses.
Although individual Friends have had periods of intense social activism, Bellingham Friends as a group tended to put spirituality and community before social action until recent years. Conviction and the increased strength of the group now serves to carry us into faith-based activism in many areas of social concern. A few examples: In the late 1980s, many Friends were involved in CARA, the Central American Refugee Association, helping refugees find their way to safety in Canada. In the early 1990s, we helped refurbish a downtown apartment for low-income families, then helped build a Habitat for Humanity house. At the outset of the Persian Gulf War, meeting members went on a local radio station to present the Friends’ position. Recently, Friends have been presenting alternatives to military service at career days for local high school students, witnessing for negotiated settlements in international conflicts, and caring for the Peace Pole and nearby park at Padden Creek Lagoon. We are involved with legislative concerns at both the state and national level and are building a network of like-minded people within the religious communities of Bellingham.
The struggle over the years to provide a children‘s program appropriate to the varied ages and sporadic attendance of children led to the development of a consistent weekly format and the review and selection of different curricula. During the first half of the 1990s, childcare was partly provided by a paid worker from outside the meeting. In the latter part of the decade, several Friends have taken on a continuing commitment to be with the children while other Friends volunteer on a quarterly schedule.
Bellingham Friends have long kept in touch with the wider world of Friends. Several of us worked for Quaker organizations in past years, including American Friends Service Committee, Friends General Conference, Pendle Hill, Friends Committee for National Legislation, and Woodbrooke. Since the late 1970s, Bellingham Friends have been active in our region and in Quarterly and Yearly meeting, both as individuals and as a meeting. We take our turn in planning the program for Quarterly Meeting and host traveling Friends as opportunity arises.
The meeting at times has struggled with conflict. In the 1980s and 1990s, dissatisfaction arose in the meeting due to disturbing spoken messages during worship. Despite many efforts to resolve the situation, some core attenders stopped coming. At the same time, others left because our community then lacked an adequate children’s program. Also in the early 1990s, the meeting was torn by divided and strongly held beliefs of a few Friends about fluoridation of city water. Their passionate dispute overwhelmed the group, as we did not have a tested system in place for handling conflict. Several of the principals withdrew from the meeting. It was a time of grief and learning for us.
Since then, the meeting has developed and practiced new ways of handling conflict. Our committee structure offers avenues for discussion and the opportunity to develop clearness through the use of clearness committees. We also have successfully used threshing sessions to air grievances and address major issues. Through all this, we have learned that we are strong and that we can depend on our love for one another and our community.
We now worship together, rejoicing and giving thanks for the living silence that renews us. Our meeting cherishes and plans for our young people, providing opportunities for learning and growing each First Day. We work together for causes we share and support one another in pursuing those we do not. We know that no one or two of us carries the whole responsibility for keeping our group functioning or connected to the wider world of Friends. We welcome new attenders with a sense of excitement and expectancy and nurture our trusting relationships with the old. We look around the room at times of worship and discussion and feel a sense of awe and love, realizing that all these Friends are sharing the burdens and delights of keeping our community vital.
Over the years, our meeting has found significance in the images of quilt squares. Each one is unique, yet together they form a beautiful and unifying pattern. So, too, with individual Friends. Each is treasured for his or her own individual character and gifts, yet we experience the full truth and beauty of our spiritual community when we meet together. We know that Bellingham Friends Meeting is, and will continue to be, an essential part of our lives.
-Written by Virginia Herrick and Marty Walton,
with contributions from Dusty Andersen, Howard Harris,
Annelise Pysanky, and Susan Richardson. Sept., 1999
* In 2006 we moved from the Bellingham Senior Center to Explorations Academy, and then when the COVID pandemic started in early 2020, we moved to meeting on Zoom. We are currently having hybrid meeting on Zoom and in-person at The Majestic, 1027 N Forest Street.