by David O. Williams, D.Min.
Lead Superintendent, EFC-MAYM
Interim Director, EFC-International
The very first session of Kansas Yearly Meeting was held in Lawrence in October of 1872, and what a scene it must have been. According to a reporter from the Western Home Journal, “The throng on Massachusetts Street on Friday morning, as 10 o’clock, the time set for assembling at the Meeting House approached, seemed larger than the crowd seen at Topeka any day during the State Fair.”
For several days Quakers from around the country had been arriving by ox wagon, buggy, train, and on foot. An estimated crowd of 3,000 Friends gathered for Sunday services, representing every Yearly Meeting in America. They gathered in a newly constructed meeting house made of native limestone, a “magnificent” structure built on an elevated site at the eastern edge of Lawrence.” The men met on the first floor and the women on the second, with messengers chosen to convey information from one meeting to the other. There were overflow services for those outside the building who could not get in.
Based on the accounts provided by Sheldon Jackson in “A Short History of Kansas Yearly Meeting of Friends,” the agenda for this very first gathering of what is now known as Evangelical Friends Church-Mid America Yearly Meeting was strikingly similar to what we currently experience at our annual Ministry Conference. Guests were welcomed, speakers were heard, reports were presented, prayers were offered, officers and committees were appointed, and a book of discipline was approved.
And yet it was anything but “business as usual” during that inaugural Yearly Meeting in Lawrence. As noted in the October 18, 1872, edition of the Lawrence Tribune: “The presence in this city of two thousand or more of these good and worthy people was an event which will long be remembered by our citizens … in everything they did they seemed to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit … all the proceedings of a business nature were sandwiched as it were with many fervent prayers and earnest exhortations … our reporter is truly thankful that the Friends captured and held Lawrence for a week.”
As the first great yearly meeting of Friends in Kansas came to an end, newly appointed clerk William Nicholson closed the gathering with the following minute:
“In conclusion of this, our first Annual Assembly, we humbly but joyfully acknowledge that our Heavenly Father has been pleased to answer the desires of our hearts, in enabling us to transact the business that has come before us, with a regard for His will, and in love and condescension one to another; and in dispensing largely of spiritual blessings to many of us. To Him be glory through Christ Jesus. The Meeting now solemnly concludes to meet at the appointed time and place next year, if the Lord wills.”
For nearly 150 years now, the Lord has graciously willed that Friends from across Mid America continue to “meet at the appointed time and place.” Over time, our community has grown to encompass Friends not only from Kansas, but Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Nebraska, and Minnesota. As we enter into our sesquicentennial year as an extended family of Friends in Mid America, it’s time to celebrate!
The 2021 EFCMAYM Ministry Conference which will serve as the kick-off event for the year-long sesquicentennial celebration. More details can be found on the yearly meeting website: https://efcmaym.org/events-1/2021-ministry-conference/. Registration will be opening soon.