My Mentor, Sherry Hutchison

Sherry Hutchison would have been 99 years old on January 13th this year.  She died peacefully last Sunday, December 31st, in Des Moines, Iowa.  Sherry was a member of Des Moines Valley Friends Meeting, Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative).

Sherry embodied many Quaker values, in particular living according to her beliefs and what God lead her to do, regardless of the consequences. Following is a minute approved by the yearly meeting this past year:

 The death of Don Laughlin, and absence of Sherry Hutchison, are keenly felt at these annual sessions of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). We have appreciated their life long examples of spiritual integrity and tireless work for peace, social justice and care for our environment and for all those who have been fortunate to have worked with them.  Minute approved by Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) 2017

As the minute indicates, there are Quakers whose lives are an inspiration to us, and that was certainly true of Sherry. As one example, in 2002 she was arrested as an act of civil disobedience during an anti-war demonstration at the National Guard base in Des Moines.  This is a link to the story she wrote about that experience, that she titled Diary of a Jailbird.

While I had always been aware of Sherry and her work, having lived most of my adult life in Indianapolis, I didn’t get to know her very well until five or six years ago.

Despite living in Indiana, there were a number of ways I worked to maintain close ties with Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and my home meeting, Bear Creek, in the countryside a couple of miles north of the small town of Earlham, Iowa.  There are a number of committees that do the work of the yearly meeting (none of the positions are paid).  One of the ways I remained connected to the yearly meeting was by serving on some of those committees, something made possible with modern technologies like email. For over a decade I was clerk of the Publication Committee, which is responsible for printing the Minutes of the business proceedings of the yearly meeting.  For example, this is a link to the 2009 Minutes.

One of the other yearly meeting committees is the Peace and Social Concerns Committee which, as the name implies, meets to consider matters related to peace and social justice. During the annual gatherings of the yearly meeting, this committee hears about the peace and social justice work being done in each of the local Quaker meetings, and sometimes letters to our Congressional representatives about these matters are written.  Statements on these topics, called Minutes, may also be written.  Sherry had served for many, many years as a co-clerk of this committee, along with some else who was the other co-clerk.

Six or seven years ago, the yearly meeting needed someone to be the co-clerk of the Peace and Social Concerns Committee with Sherry.  I really can’t adequately express how shocked I was when I was asked to do that. I was glad this was done via a phone call, so that AM Fink couldn’t see my face, though my stammering gave him an idea, I’m sure. After I recovered, I asked if I could have some time to think about it, and he agreed.

You see, the people who are members of this committee are Friends with deep convictions, who have done all kinds of work related to peace and social justice during their lives.  We sometimes call these “weighty” Friends, Quakers who have provided wonderful examples to us with the work they have done, i.e. people like Sherry. I didn’t think I measured up.

The other thing was, I was familiar with the wonderful letters and minutes that had come from this committee over the years.  As well as the detailed reports from this committee each year. I wasn’t sure I could do those things.

I thought and thought about this. The one thing I kept coming back to, though, was the chance to learn from Sherry.  I have been concerned about peace and social justice issues all my life, and intended to for the rest of my life.  So I thought, how else to learn how to do more, than to learn from someone like Sherry? I also knew from other such situations, that the way to grow is to take risks like this. Scary as these choices often are, the results are always so much better than expected, if it is something you are really being lead to do.  So I prayed a lot.

After two week, AM called to see how I was doing in considering this. By that time I had decided to say yes, mainly for the opportunity to learn from Sherry.  I remember also saying, “thank you for the opportunity”.

The first meeting of the Peace and Social Concerns Committee after that was actually at Midyear Meeting.  Sherry and I had corresponded a good deal prior to this, so I was as prepared as I could be, thanks to her.  We talked a little at Midyear Meeting prior to the committee meeting, too.  She was very kind and understanding.

I clearly remember how nervous I was. I had planned to take notes, but my hands were shaking so badly, I simply could not write. I faked it by making scribbles on the page! I kept looking at Sherry, and getting visual encouragement.  And asked her a couple of things during the meeting. But we got through it, and things have gotten better since then.

I’ll always be indebted to Sherry for her friendship, and what she taught me. And for giving me the courage to take the chance.

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