Friends Lake Cooperative: a Welcomed Respite from Post-Pandemic Stress
By Doug Marrin
Three miles north of Chelsea on the shore of Long Lake sits a serene retreat that offers its members a welcome respite from the heightened cultural stress coming out of the pandemic.
Friends Lake Cooperative Community is 90 acres of lakefront property founded in 1961 by a group of families to establish a “friendly community” in the Quaker tradition.
“A group of spirit-based, social and political action people felt that they needed two things—a space just to be out in nature together to relax from the pressure cooker of life in the 60s and a place to raise their families in nature, getting all of the skills that go with it,” explains Richard Tucker, a Quaker and longtime member of Friends Lake Cooperative Community.
Even though Quaker families first established the co-op, Richard says that “From the beginning, it was also apparent that this is for anyone from the wider community that shares these values.” It is an invitation that remains open to anyone today.
The mindset Richard refers to is not faith-based or politically-based. He points to the Friends Lake website to succinctly describe the group’s common optics: “The historical and present-day focus of the work of Friends (Quakers) centers on building community, fostering peace and social justice, and protecting the environment.” It is for people with a desire to pursue nonviolent ways of living and working with each other and a heart for environmental sustainability.
The property itself was farmland first settled in the 1800s around the time Michigan went from being a territory to a state. By the 1950s, the farmland was mainly played out, and the property was slowly returning to woodland. The Friends cooperative purchased the land and let nature continuing reclaiming it. They envisioned a community center, a building to host events and gatherings to help engage the public in the serenity of the place. However, a clause in their purchase prevented them from developing the property until the mortgage was paid off. And they would then have to pay cash for any further improvements.
That time came in the early nineties, and Friend’s Lake built its community center, the Michigan Friends Center.
Richard explains the co-op’s thinking at the time. “If we were going to have a building center, it really ought to be an outreach building into the wider community,” explains Richard. “It ought to be bigger, more ambitious, and more public as the outreach branch of the Friend’s Lake Community.”
They built the Michigan Friends Center in 1994, and programs begin a year later. The center co-sponsors many programs with groups out of Chelsea. Events have included films, readings, mindfulness practices, and regular presentations on a wide variety of subjects. The center has set its sights on engaging the Chelsea and Dexter Senior centers to use the facility to extend their programming in a unique setting.
The center can also be rented. Friends Lake Center has been the location for weddings, retreats, classes, and concerts. It is not just the availability of the building that draws people. The serene setting among the tall trees positively impacts any event.
“Up until about three years ago, the biggest rental we had was from the Zen Buddhist Temple in Ann Arbor,” says Richard. “They came here for a week of regional meetings for many years for their summer peace camp.”
“To a large extent, it was families,” adds John Langmore, also a member of the Friends Lake co-op. “The kids are excited, running around and dancing to the music. They used our kitchen and cooked their own meals. It was just an amazing operation. They kept growing and growing every year because it was so nice here that they eventually outgrew this property.”
John is a Zen Buddhist but feels a kinship to the Quaker mindset because of the values shared by the two faiths. While community members share similar interests and values, they don’t necessarily share the same views. However, both Richard and John emphasize how refreshing it is to converse amicably and intelligently without fear of the harsh backlash experienced in social media.
Richard describes the Friends Lake Community as a “social sanctuary.” He maintains that such a retreat is vital, especially in today’s stressful cultural setting that has intensified over the past year.
“Every weekend, people are having informal picnics together,” he says. “You meet your friends or are introduced to new friends, and your network expands. You know you can speak with each other about a wide range of interests, but you’re not going to have to worry about offending somebody with the way you say something.
“A lot of the culture here has a foundation in the Quaker way of doing things,” adds John. “Not interrupting people, respecting what they say, a tolerance of others’ point of view, there is a lot of tradition in our interactions.”
“The words that come up, again and again, are ‘tolerance’ and ‘trust,’” adds Richard. “Yes, we have our disagreements on some public policy issue, and they’re often very interesting.”
“We have a lot of political concern and commitment, but we’re not a political community,” says Richard. “And we’re not a religious community.”
Richard admits that it is sometimes a challenge when you have a vast collection of beliefs. Friends Lake co-op employs a system for possible membership to avoid potential conflict. It begins with a conversation with representatives of the cooperative. The group uses the Quaker concept of a “clearness committee,” making sure the applicant is understood as well as clarifying the cooperative's values.
“It’s a two-way conversation,” explains Richard. “Who are you? What interests and values do you bring to this situation? Do you want to know who we are?”
People who wish to join usually already have a good idea of what Friends Lake is all about. However, Richard recalls times over the years when it was decided some folks and their interests would not be a good fit.
“Some were looking for a private alternative to a public park,” says Richard. “And that’s just not what we’re about.”
On the one hand, it is a sad verdict that such cordiality and courtesy is an anachronism for today’s culture. But on the other hand, it is refreshing to know such places still exist in our stressful post-pandemic world, where everyone seems on edge, online anyway.
“You need some way to socialize with people who are friendly,” says John. “The more that you allow different people to interact peacefully, the more they come together and find some common things.”
You can find more information on the Friends Lake Cooperative Community on its website at https://www.friendslake.org/
More information on the Michigan Friends Center can be found at http://www.mfcenter.org/
Photos by Doug Marrin