The FWCC (Section of the Americas) annual meeting this year was held in Indiana, at the Waycross Episcopal Camp and Conference Center. Waycross is a lovely cluster of buildings out in the country, complete with winding paths and a creek and a bridge…. And, just in case you have ever doubted that the Episcopalians have a special “in” with God… there is No cell phone service available at their retreat center. How’s that for enforcing a retreat-like atmosphere? The place was perfect.
Several things go on at an FWCC annual meeting… gatherings for worship, committee meetings, business meeting, workshops, small worship groups, various evening plenary sessions, and lots and lots of wonderful conversation, punctuated by food.
The business meetings were… bad… for me. I tried to sit through them a couple times, without success. Once, I was able to escape by becoming an unofficial “aunty” to a toddler, and taking her out of meeting for a snack. A few other times, I just plain escaped. I went and practiced my belly-dancing in my cabin, while everyone else was seriously considering budget items etc. This was Much better for me! Someone once told me that business meetings are not my forte, anyway. They seem to have muddled through without me, ok.
The workshops and the plenary sessions were excellent. There was a particularly lively evening presenting a history of Ohio and Indiana Friends, in which the people representing meetings that had been laid down… had to lie down. By the end of the history, “bodies” were scattered about the floor. And Rachel Stacy of Baltimore YM, gave a keynote address about the challenges of living out her faith… excellent and inspiring.
My favorite part of the weekend, besides the many opportunities for informal conversation, was my small worship group. When folks arrive, each person is assigned a number for a small worship group (about 10 people in each group). Everyday, we gathered to explore queries together. This year, we explored the ways which lead to peace, within ourselves, within our community, and in the wider world. I love these groups, because we get to have extended conversations together with the same few people, and really get to know something about each other.
The other truly wonderful part about an FWCC weekend, is the many opportunities for worship together. Everyday, we gathered for worship before the business meeting. And on Sunday, we got two worship sessions! Friends have different styles of worship, and each worship session tended to have the flavor of the group of Friends whose turn it was to lead worship that day. There were songs, and sermons, and silent worship, and Bible reading, and prayers… Some of it in English, some in Spanish (translated vicey-versy). It felt just plain good to be worshipping among Friends (and friends). My own branch of Quakerism does waiting worship in the name of Jesus Christ. But it was nice to gather together with other Quakers to share the worship styles we each find meaningful.
On the last day, a preacher got up and at the beginning of his message, said, “The FWCC saved my Quakerism.” He didn’t specifically elaborate on that statement, but the rest of his message was about stumbling blocks… assumptions we make that prevent us from allowing the Holy Spirit full range in our lives. And I have been thinking about what he said… “The FWCC saved my Quakerism.” And I wonder if maybe the FWCC will save my Quakerism, too. Not in the sense that I might have left the Religious Society of Friends if I had never attended the FWCC. Because I have never been in danger of leaving… I love Quakerism… its beliefs about the nature of God and Christ… its beliefs about our relationship to God……
But I think that it is very easy to begin to think inside a box, when one associates only with those Friends that one sees every week, or even when one associates only with Friends from one’s own branch. It would be very easy for me to get a sort of philosophical hardening of the arteries. With the FWCC, I have the opportunity to explore for myself what is essential to my faith, and what is only useful within context, and what is actually a stumbling block to my faith. The FWCC keeps me thinking outside the box. Good stuff. It will keep my Quakerism more lively, I think, and more likely to listen to the Holy Spirit when it blows.
Next year, the Americas annual meeting will be in the Portland area. In 2010, it will be in Honduras. In 2012, the world plenary meeting will be in Nairobi, Kenya. Please come! Maybe the FWCC will save your Quakerism, too!