¡Ven y Ve! Come and See! (John 1:46) was the theme for the Americas meeting of Friends World Committee for Consultation, held in March 2019. Eleven New England Friends came to Excelsior Springs, Missouri, to see and to so-briefly dwell together with Friends from across the Americas and the many branches of the Quaker family tree. We gathered in worship (semi-programmed and unprogrammed), Bible study, home groups, business, blessing of the Traveling Ministry Corps, workshops and interest groups, meals, and walks around beautiful Lake Doniphen. Following are reflections shared by several New England Friends.
Dwelling deeply together, and at times living with unsettling questions, New England Friends taking part were deeply rewarded. Greg Woods and Minga Claggett-Borne (Friends Meeting at Cambridge, MA), members of FWCC’s Traveling Ministry Corps, came early for a three-day training held immediately before the meeting. For Greg, “the time with the traveling ministers from both North and South Americas was a time of rich renewal and a confirmation of gifts among us ministers.” Dorothy Grannell (Portland, ME, Friends Meeting) shares, “I feel that the Section of the Americas is 'home.' In our home groups (small groups which meet daily), when we settle into silence after a brief check-in with individuals from across the spectrum of Friends and turn to our query, it is as if we are melded into one being. No words are needed. There is unity and comfort. When words come they are received and held in love. There is no place where I feel more at home, safe, cared for or complete. I feel I am one with God.”
It was a joy that more Friends from Central and South America and the Caribbean were able to travel to a meeting in North America this year. Several Latin American members of the Traveling Ministry Corps, however, were denied visas, and their absence, and the privilege of North American Friends, were painfully felt. The office for the Section of the Americas is located in North America, as are most of the Section meetings. Thus challenged, we are still living ever more deeply into being a co-equal organization, with fuller participation by Latin American Friends. We took time in business session to recognize the steadfast ministry of our interpreters. Interpretation is truly a ministry, requiring faithfulness to the word and the Seed that the word springs from, that blesses the speaker and hearer, and the ministering Friend alike.
The Section Meeting gives Friends the opportunity to listen to one another across culture as well as language. Christel Jorgenson (Friends Meeting at Cambridge) reflects, “The business and plenaries seemed to be long, but related to being a family-of-Friends gathering: recognizing people, hearing their voices, discerning what is important, reflecting on our differences and our similarities.” Judy Goldberger (Beacon Hill, MA, Friends Meeting) reflects, “I grew up experiencing multiple cultural perspectives on everyday life, around people who challenged themselves to dismantle privilege. So FWCC feels like home. The meeting communities I’ve been a part of have been largely (though not completely) more homogeneous. While I need to be grounded in my own spiritual path, I miss out on the fullest perspective on our Creator when viewing the Creation through only one lens.”
While we live to be grounded in God, temporally we are enmeshed in a web of unequal colonial and neocolonial relationships grounded in racist assumptions. Mary Hopkins (Fresh Pond, MA, Friends Meeting), in reflecting on the opportunity to listen deeply to a painful story shared in conversation, notes “We're working across big chasms, and one of them is that our friends in other countries are often in situations where life and death questions are settled differently than they are here.” Listening for the story behind the story, she reflects, we may find ourselves confronting structural injustice. How do we react? Are we seduced by a First-World savior complex that would further enmesh us in hierarchical relationships and self-understanding of helper and victim? These questions are crucial ones to engage in, and in FWCC we find a laboratory in community. New England Friends took part in interest groups on sharing our message and community, sustainability, and colonialism, among others, with the takeaway that we need to make changes.
We also have the opportunity to listen to one another across the branches of the Quaker family tree and take part in forms of worship that may seem unfamiliar. We experience deep joy, open up to new insights, and sometimes confront unsettling questions. What is Spirit? What is culture? For example, what are our assumptions about silence? Mary experienced an instance of a friend stumbling across rules that are not stated explicitly. What privileging of our own understandings and rules are we called to let go of?
New England Friends attending were: Benigno Sanchez-Eppler (Northampton, MA, Friends Meeting), Betsy Cazden (Providence, RI, FM), Christel Jorgenson, Debbie Humphries (Hartford, CT, FM), Dorothy Grannell, Greg Woods, Jonathan Vogel-Borne (Cambridge), Judy Goldberger, Mary Hopkins, Minga Claggett-Borne, and Noah Merrill (Putney, VT, FM). For more information on Friends World Committee for Consultation, contact Greg Woods, clerk of NEYM’s FWCC committee. He notes: “At age 34, I noticed that a lot of the representatives from the US and Canada are older; many are retired. I highly encourage young adults to contact me if you have any interest in serving as a FWCC Section of the Americas representative in the future. We have open spots for representatives from New England Yearly Meeting.” The Section holds meetings every other year in different locations in the Americas.