Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A leading to go to Africa and the FWCC Triennial

This week I went to my first annual meeting of the Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC), Section of the Americas. Founded in the 1930s, with help from Rufus Jones, FWCC is a Quaker service organization that brings together Friends from the different branches of Quakerism world-wide. It encourages intervisitation and organizes local and global events, including Triennials that draw as many as a 1,000 Friends from every continent and theological persuasion.
I went to the FWCC annual meeting in Philadelphia as a representative of Pacific Yearly Meeting.

I felt drawn to FWCC because I have been doing interfaith work for over twenty years and it seemed like a good time to undertake intra-faith work within my own denomination. Since the 1820s, American Quakers have been splitting up until various branches and twigs. Today there are five main branches---FGC (liberal, unprogrammed), FUM (mainstream Christian, pastor), Conservative (unprogrammed, Christian), EFI (Evangelical Christian), and Independent or Unaffiliated. The branch that I represent—Pacific Yearly Meeting—is unaffiliated and very independent.

When one feels a leading of the Spirit, one is never sure what Spirit has in mind. All I knew was that I was supposed to take part in FWCC, and my Yearly Meeting agreed and sent me as their rep. I didn’t expect to go to the Triennial in Kenya next year because two members of my meeting are going as official delegates.

But when I attended the FWCC annual session and came to understand more clearly what FWCC is about, I realized that going to a Triennial is essential if one is to be an effective spokesperson for FWCC. Like the Parliament of the World's Religion, the FWCC Triennial is a deeply transformative experience that must be experienced to be fully understood and appreciated. If I miss this Triennial, I will miss the chance to connect with African Friends and there will probably not be another opportunity like this in my lifetime.

This Triennial is also a unique opportunity to visit Africa not as a tourist, but as a Friend. Santa Monica Meeting has had deep ties with Burundi Friends thanks to Rachel Fretz and Friends Peace Teams. We have supported the Women's Center in Burundi and hosted African Friends when they have come to California. I serve on Rachel's clearness committee and have a deep appreciation of her work. I hope that in addition to attending the Triennial, I can go to Burundi and connect with Friends there. If not, I hope to encounter some of the African Friends who have come to my Meeting.

The other draw I felt during this session was its focus on interfaith work. After our business meeting, there was a “Salt and Light” event, focusing on a particular international ministry that has received FWCC support. On Friday's “Salt and Light” event, the speakers were David and Linda Wolfe, a pastoral Quaker couple who took part in a Mennonite “Ministry of Reconciliation” in Qom, Iran. Hearing their message, I knew that I had definitely come to the right place. I had been drawn to FWCC in part because of my interfaith work, and the Wolfs epitomized what I have been sharing among Friends for the past ten years. After spending a year and a half in Qom, the holiest city of Iran, a country demonized by conservatives, they came back to the USA full of fascinating stories, insights, and perhaps most importantly, questions that help humanize Muslims and illuminate Islam, which James Michener called “the world's most misunderstood religion.”

As I listened to their presentation, I realize that I have something unique to offer to Friends in Kenya. My training in interfaith work and compassionate listening could be of some use in a country where Muslims comprise 10% of the population, and where blood has been shed and houses of worship destroyed because of interreligious conflict. I would like to go to Kenya to learn what kind of work Friends are doing to alleviate such conflict, and to share with Friends what I have learned from my interfaith ministry of reconciliation.

Interfaith ministry has become central to my work as a Quaker. I have a letter of support for my interfaith ministry from my monthly, quarterly and yearly meeting. I also have a support/accountability committee that I will be consulting regarding my leading to go to Kenya to take part in the Triennial.

This is probably a good place to close this blog entry. Tomorrow I will describe the amazing journey of faith that took Linda and her husband David to Iran.