Friends called to seek, gathered to listen, sent forth to seek.
Two hundred sixty Friends from 40 countries gathered at Geneva Point on Lake Winnipesaukee the last week in July for the twentieth Triennial of Friends World Committee for Consultation. Friends from many traditions--Evangelicals, Conservative, FUM, FGC--and from many cultures came together, open to seeking our common spiritual ground, sharing our faith, and rejoicing in our diversities. Not that this was always easy. Not that it didn't occasionally fall short. But an overwhelming sense of being a part of a world wide community of faith where God's word was realized, God's work undertaken took hold during the week. Of the many impressions with which I left Triennial, the overriding ones were an awareness of God's presence among us, a sense of the potential strength of our diversity, and the certain knowledge that we can be, as the Epistle says, "transformed into the hands and feet of God."
It was appropriate to be on Lake Winnipesaukee, the lake whose name means "Lake of the Great Spirit" and the former home of New England Yearly Meeting. Friends spoke from the heart. Friends spoke of God's work in their lives in profound and deeply spiritual ways. At meals, in worship, during plenary sessions, there was by-and-large, a full sense of Friends at their best. There were heated discussions. There were loving exchanges. There was vocal prayer and silent prayer. Friends shared the work of Jesus in their lives. Friends read the Bible together. Friends shared their fears and concerns. Friends shared the grace they have experienced in their lives.
Simon Lamb an eloquent Irish Quaker was the keynote speaker. He reminded us, "Prayer is vital for our spiritual well being. Not only is it our way of communicating with our God but it is a discipline which requires us to wait, to listen and be obedient to the Light of Christ within. However, despite my belief in prayer I find it a continuous struggle. And yet if I cannot find the time to wait before my Creator, what is the point of having time for anything else. Like many Quakers I justify this by saying that this is understandable, as I am on so many committees which are doing so many good things. But Friends the world over must continuously remind themselves that our influence in the world does not come from our committee work...or from all the wonderful parts of our history that we call our heritage. No, our authority comes from the reality that the living God dwells in our very midst." (If you'd like to read his full text -- and I highly recommend it -- it can be found at:
The reminder was timely. The days were full: early morning worship, plenary sessions, business, interest and working groups. Business and most other activities took place in all three languages of the Triennial: Spanish, French, and English. Minutes centered around recommendations that were both brought from the world community of Friends as well as continuing issues the world faces: children solders, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and the need for world wide spiritual nature.
Part of each day was spent in Worship and Sharing groups. These smaller groups were a chance to hear more clearly from Friends, to build a community of prayer and support. My group, although specifically English speaking, was fairly typical. There were three Kenyans, one Friend from Hong Kong, one from the Netherlands, one from England, a conservative Friend from Ohio, one ultra-Liberal Friend from Long Island, a effervescent Friend from Alaska, a Friend from North Carolina (FUM), one from New Zealand, a fellow New Englander, and me. All of the world sections were represented, as were all of the major traditions of Friends. There indeed grew a sense of connection and understanding among the participants, not through the efforts of the assigned leaders, but through the desire of each member. That sense of community, I think, was replicated on the larger scale of the gathering.
Much of the internal history of Friends, especially in this country, has been a story of division and fragmentation. Who was right in the Hickiste- Orthodox split? Where did Truth lie in the Wilburite-Gurneyite division? And don't be too comfortable thinking that was in the olden days. Only a few years ago there was a move among some to "realign" the Quaker faith. For a people who seek to deal with the world in loving outreach we can be particularly rough on ourselves.
So this twentieth triennial was a chance for real assurance, a place where almost three hundred Friends were willing to stretch themselves to find the places where our heritage is indeed common and from which we can move forward to realize the kingdom of God among ourselves and in the larger world. What an opportunity to celebrate both our commonalities and our uniqueness.
All contents of this page -- © Copyright 2000 Carl Williams, All Rights Reserved