A Church For the Community
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Bill Clendineng, pastor of Plainfield Friends Meeting since 2005, says that there’s a story that’s been passed down through the generations as to how the church originated. Sugar Grove Friends Meeting was on the south side of town.
“To get to Sugar Grove Meeting, folks had to cross White Lick Creek, which was a pain to do,” Clendineng says. “When the water was high, you couldn’t ford the creek but rather had to cross on the toll bridge. Some of the friends got tired of paying the toll, so they started meeting in town in 1851. That’s where Plainfield Friends began.”
For seven years, meetings took place upstairs in a store in downtown Plainfield until Friends Yearly Meeting (a Quaker Church) was built in 1858. In 1913, the Yearly Meeting building was gutted by a fire caused by the coal furnace. There was a speech contest going on next door when spectators spotted smoke. Bystanders jumped into action and helped haul all the furnishings out to the front lawn, thus sparing the pews and the pulpit. When the church was rebuilt, they included a basement, and in 1950 Plainfield Friends added classroom space onto the west end of the building. In 2000, they also added a new entrance.
Ever since its inception, Plainfield Friends Meeting has been a place for people to meet Jesus, find peace and share hope. It’s also been community-focused. In fact, it’s the Friends Church that puts on the Quaker Festival each year, a tradition that started in the early 1970s with a rummage sale in the church basement (called a “mouse sale”). Due to its success, they chose to expand it into a craft sale out on the lawn.
“People of the church served meals. It was a good way to raise money,” Clendineng says. In the early 1980s, they added a parade, which local resident Don Robey organized. The church was in charge of the parade until 2010 when Plainfield’s Chamber of Commerce and Plainfield Kiwanis Club took it over (now it’s just the Chamber of Commerce).
“They’ve done a great job of helping it grow and expand and become much more than it was,” Clendineng says. In addition, four years ago a car show was added to the festival.
“It’s unique because it’s held beneath the trees instead of out in a parking lot. It makes for a very nice car show,” says Clendineng, noting that any community member can participate. “It’s a fun opportunity to invite people to have fun out on the lawn.
“I’ve started calling our front lawn a place where people can gather because that’s what it is,” says Clendineng, noting that the church has a long history of being involved in community events. For instance, the food pantry and the support center that operates today out of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church began with the vision of several members at Plainfield Friends Meeting.
“It started kind of small but 15 years ago began to really grow,” Clendineng says. “St. Mark’s provided a place for it, and we’re thankful we had a hand in it.”
Friends Church started doing the National Road Yard Sale as a fundraiser to support missions work both locally and globally. For instance, Friends Church supports a school in Belize City.
“We have an educational system in place where if a student fails the entrance exam they don’t get to go to high school,” Clendineng says. “Young people in Belize get shut out of education, which is a terrible thing for the country. The primary purpose of this school is to help these students pass the exam.”
Clendineng also mentions a woman at Friends Church who decades ago was instrumental in getting Meals on Wheels underway in the area.
“Now the Meals on Wheels operates out of a senior center in Danville, but it had its beginnings here because someone in this community saw a need for it,” says Clendineng, noting that this church and the Plainfield Federation of Churches has been involved in meeting the needs of the community.
“Once or twice a year, a woman in our church runs a 10-week course called “Survivor Skills for Women,” which teaches basic life skills to those who are struggling,” Clendineng says. “She teaches things like managing a budget, filling out employment applications, organizing the home and improving self-esteem.
Forging relationships is key to human health — physically, psychologically and emotionally. Clendineng maintains that one of the things that’s really hurting our culture these days is the fact that there’s a lack of connection with other people.
“We have access to this technology that, in theory, connects us with the whole world, but it’s not the kind of connection we need,” Clendineng says. “We need a back-and-forth with other people to get support and encouragement. Sociologists are telling us that humans are growing increasingly lonely these days, and technology is a big part of the problem.”
As a church, Plainfield Friends Meeting works to provide opportunities to gather folks together to build those meaningful, soul-stirring connections.
“We’re looking for ways to get outside of ourselves so we can meet those needs because when we don’t, pain and hurt ensue,” Clendineng says. “That’s why we’re seeing increasing numbers of suicides. Churches need to do their part to address those needs, but it’s a challenge.”
If you’re wondering if you need to be a Quaker in order to attend Plainfield Friends Meeting, the answer is no. Everyone is welcome.
“We are a Christian church, though it operates in the Quaker tradition so our worship reflects Friends values and practices,” Clendineng says.
“It’s a place of peace, which is one of our values,” Clendineng says. Other values include simplicity and integrity.
“We don’t do anything fancy. We keep worship simple and direct,” Clendineng adds. As for integrity, which involves being open, honest and direct with people, Clendineng shares the story of Quaker Oats.
“It actually has nothing to do with Quakers,” Clendineng says. “An expert marketer with the Quaker Oats company was looking for a way to communicate honesty and integrity so he called them Quaker Oats so that consumers would know they’re getting an honest pound in their Quaker Oats. Food aside, Plainfield Friend Meeting has been a community staple for decades, and we are so grateful.’
Plainfield Friends is located at East Street at Highway 40 in the Town Center of Plainfield. For more information, call 317-839-6490 or visit plainfieldfriends.com.