Laying Down Central Finger Lakes Meeting
An Interview with Astuti Bijlefeld
by Callie Janoff
Callie: Can you tell me how you're feeling about laying down Central Finger Lakes at this point?
Astuti: I've been working on organizing CFL meeting records, 35 years’ worth. That has brought up a lot of memories. It's been a whole range of feelings. At this point, I can really say with a sense of relief that we finally got to this point, made this decision, that this is final, that we could share it with others. I was thinking earlier today that the term we use, “laying down the meeting,” feels very apt.
Callie: Not everybody knows the history of CFL, so I'm hoping you can share just a brief history of the meeting.
Astuti: CFL started as a small meeting in 1986 meeting at Friends' homes. I think as early as '87, we became a monthly meeting. We've continued meeting until the early 2020s, until about the beginning of the pandemic. This meeting has met in so many different locations. With not having our own meeting house, we have met in a number of school buildings and quite a number of churches.
We had a long history of meeting at homes which has always been a positive. When the meeting began, we often had at least as many children as adults, an incredible amount of energy and life. Lots of people have come and joined us for a time: people traveling, people here for school or for work. There's been a lot of changes in those 35 or so years. I think that the last few years as our numbers were declining, it got to be more difficult, more challenging to find a way forward to keep going.
Callie: Can you talk about what led up to the decision to lay down the meeting?
Astuti: Yes. There were many conversations with the few members who were still involved. It was a very difficult, painful decision and it took a lot of conversation over many months. Then earlier this year, we were really clear that it was time just to say publicly what had been evident for some years already: that this meeting is done. It's time to lay this meeting down.
Through the years, there had been several times that there were major shifts in the meeting; some long-term members left and we were really wondering what that would mean for us. We were able to regroup and new members or attenders joined and brought new energy, but it was very clear the last few years that that was not going to happen this time. It took a long time to get to that point, but by then it really was a relief.
Callie: You mentioned that there has been some conflict in the meeting. Can you say more about that?
Astuti: Sometimes I still wonder, could I, should I have done anything differently? In hindsight, the answer of course is yes. But at times of conflicts there was a sense of being caught off guard, feeling almost paralyzed, not knowing how to respond. I now realize that with all the effort and all the work that Friends in this meeting put into working for peace and witnessing for peace out in the world, I didn't give much thought to peacebuilding and reconciliation within the meeting where it was needed at least as much as out in the world.
The CFL Meeting, and all the Friends in it did really an enormous amount of witnessing for peace through the years. It is a very different challenge to practice it close to home. My feeling was: I don't know how, I don't know where to start.
Callie: Do you think that CFL has a legacy? If so, what is it, or how would you describe that legacy?
Astuti: Through the years, in all the different locations we met, a lot of seekers found a temporary home with us. It really has been wonderful to reflect back on that. I'm looking through all the minutes and records, all these names, all these people from all over, who sometimes for a few months, or years, were a regular part of the meeting and then moved on or found another faith community. Being welcoming of visitors and seekers was really a very important part of CFL's legacy.
For a number of years CFL was involved with the Geneva Memorial Day committee. Friends in the Meeting initiated the Faith Communities for Peace segment of the Memorial Day parade. For several years, some other churches and faith communities joined us. That was a wonderful group of people who came together. To see both the organizers of the Memorial Day and most of the people lining the parade route being very receptive to that peace witness. I think that's a very good part of the legacy.
Callie: Is there anything else you would want to share about this experience?
Astuti: I appreciate you introducing the idea that meetings have a life cycle. I'm going through about 35 years of paperwork. We started out with a lot of kids and a lot of babies. We went through some enormous changes but also for the meeting itself, going from anything is possible, lots and lots of energy, lots of people to work on it, to just really running out of energy and saying, "We're just done." It gives permission to say, "Yes, it reached the end of that cycle."
And, it still is a loss. There are certainly still unanswered questions, should I have? Could I have? Why didn't I? All of those questions. Also that sense of, that's in the past.
Callie: I feel like you've been very faithful to this meeting and to this process. I'm really moved by that.
Astuti: Thank you. These are things that we can talk about. It's not the first time that any of these questions have come up in meetings. It does help to hear from other Friends.