Attending a Friends World Committee for Consultation Triennial can be an occasion, or a season of grace, where we can come to know Friends from our varied wider whanau or family at a deeper level in the things of the spirit. Attending a Triennial can be somewhat like visiting another country. To fully appreciate the cultural and spiritual offering of Friends of diverse spiritual and cultural backgrounds, we need to "let go and let God" and leave our psychological and intellectual baggage behind.
The ten days of the Triennial were full of community. For me the meeting for worship both upheld our spiritual unity and expressed our diverse traditions. Every morning began with meeting for worship at 7:15 a.m., we often had meeting for worship again after breakfast, and the business sessions always started with worship. A fair portion of our meetings for worship were led by Friends from the programmed worship tradition. We learned to appreciate the experience of God’s spirit through prepared vocal ministry, prayer, and joyful song. At the same time these programmed meetings had the experience of substantial open worship time with silence and unprogrammed ministry.
The worship-sharing groups were set up to try to combine diversity while at the same time putting people together who shared a language, even if it was their second language. The worship-sharing groups seemed to work well for most people.
There were two unhappy FWCC developments that influenced the Triennial: visas denied or delayed for African and Indian Friends, and FWCC’s critical financial crisis. Despite the sterling efforts of Linley Gregory and the Local Arrangements Committee, African Friends had visas delayed, and 20 African Friends faced delayed entry to New Zealand until halfway through the Triennial. Indian Friends, after delays in obtaining New Zealand visas, were refused transit visas over Australia and could not come. The sad absence of Indian Friends was especially felt by Friends from the Asia/West Pacific Section.
The other immediate dilemma confronting the Triennial was the very serious financial crises facing the FWCC. For the last three years, FWCC, just to keep going, has had to spend 30 percent more than its income, with £150,000 in expenditures from a £120,000 income. FWCC has had, for the last three years, to utilize its permanent savings and endowments. In fact, FWCC has used a large portion of its saving and cannot continue much further down that road. We rearranged the schedule to provide time for small Strategic Needs Analysis Process (SNAP) group discussions set up by Robert Howell on FWCC’s future. We came back with positive visions and a real commitment to rescue FWCC for the future of the Religious Society of Friends.
We agreed to a further deficit budget but also committed ourselves to do our part in raising funds for FWCC. Two or three who had spoken against the budget said that their concerns had not been met, but that they would not stand in the way of the minute. A Friend noted the seeming split between those who caution prudence and those who believe the money will come. Both groups, she said, are faithful in their own way, and this needed to be recognized. Friends agreed on the budget, with the condition that it be kept under regular review and that corrective action be taken as soon as it was needed.
Instead of getting a room to myself or with one other person, I was fortunate enough to stay in the men’s dorm with about 20 other men. I got to know Friends from North and South America, Africa, Hong Kong, Japan, and Seoul, South Korea. I found the ideas of some South American Friends enlightening and profound. Orthodox faith can be a strong support for social and economic concern and commitment to economic independence. From another geographic direction I came to know a man whose long years in prison for his labor commitment matured him into one of the kindest, most caring people I have known. It was good to get to know South Korean Friends, with whom I was most impressed, and to become reacquainted with Japanese and Hong Kong Friends.
Jean Zaru’s inspired message moved us all as she recounted her life as a Christian member of the displaced, oppressed Palestinian people. Among other things she told of how, while a few Christians used narrow, limited understandings of the Bible to oppress Palestinians, her own understanding of the Bible and personal experience of Christianity fuelled her fire for justice and supported and reinforced her struggle for a just, compassionate world, with "true justice to all—to the Palestinians, but not at the expense of the Israelis; to women, but not at the expense of men; to humanity, but not at the expense of nature and mother Earth. Rather, justice for all creatures and all creation." Jean Zaru exemplifies faithful Christian witness for a compassionate, just world!
Indigenous people’s concerns and numerous working groups and interest groups were of importance.
I attended an interest group led by Radh Cxhuthan from India but living in New York and of New York Yearly Meeting. He brought, with backing of New York Yearly Meeting, a real concern for meeting the minimum needs of all with a minimum standard of living as a human obligation.
For Aotearoa/New Zealand Friends, the Asia/West Pacific Section Meeting was of prime importance. One of our first actions was to express our gratitude to Linley Gregory for her unfaltering labor as Executive Secretary of the Asia/West Pacific Section; a labor that has brought enduring results. It was at a series of Section meetings that the absence of Indians was felt most intensely.
The next Asia/West Pacific Section Meeting is to be held in Seoul, Korea. Seoul Monthly Meeting is a small but very enthusiastic and energetic meeting with a goodly number of young people participating. I believe that Asia/West Pacific Section is in a healthy condition and is looking toward a hopeful future.
A further impression of the Triennial included being pleasantly surprised at the enthusiasm of Young Friends for Quakerism. They are energetically working towards the upcoming Young Friends Gathering to be held in November 2005 in Great Britain.
The most meaningful experiences for me at the Triennial were meetings for worship. Elizabeth Duke asked Dunedin Friends to sit with her at meeting for worship and help her close. As Christina was away early for family reasons, I was the only other Dunedinite left. We both came early and neither of us were moved to give vocal ministry but held the meeting in our heart and in the light. It was a powerfully gathered meeting for worship. This experience increased my concern that it is very important to make the effort to come to meeting promptly and to hold the meeting in our heart and in the light.
FWCC is the heart of Quakerism where we come together to allow the spirit to work on us to make us whole. FWCC is essential to the very future of Quakerism. I am hopeful that we who had the very great privilege of attending or in some way taking part in the Triennial will, upon returning to our local meetings, actively take the initiative in organizing committees to meet the needs, especially the critical financial needs, of FWCC.