Taking the Pulse of FWCC

Ask a scuba diver, what’s it like? You’ll hear about thrill, but miss the feel. Ask an FWCC rep, what do you do? You’ll hear about talking, but miss the pulse.

The FWCC experience requires immersion, being surrounded by variety, and being present for the unexpected.

At my first annual meeting in 2002, I arrived in Philadelphia with two other first-timers, full of newcomer curiosity. Eager to report on this mystery group’s work, we split up to cover all the committee meetings.

I drew Wider Quaker Fellowship. The meeting’s business quickly turned from money and mailing lists to a concern carried by three Latin American pastors.

Their urgency was clear without Jonathan Hibbs’ translation: Please, more literature in Spanish. The books that explain Quakerism’s core aren’t available to nourish new Hispanic Friends.

They faced an immediate challenge—Pentecostal evangelists told families that their Quaker loved ones risked hell for refusing water baptism. The pastors needed reinforcement.

A bustle swept the table. Jonathan Hibbs tickled his Palm Pilot’s bilingual Bible. A plain-dressed pastor whiffled pages in his Spanish-English parallel Gospel. Vicki Poorman shuffled a box of pamphlets.

They retrieved:

Lucas 3:16: Juan respondió a todos, diciendo: —Yo, a la verdad, os bautizo en agua. Pero viene el que es màs poderoso que yo, de quien no soy digno de desatar la correa de su calzado. Él os bautizarà en el Espíritu Santo y fuego.

Luke 3:16: John answered them all, "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire."

In Spanish and then English, the pastor described the cultural context of the Greek baptizo, the stem meaning "to submerge in dye" and the suffix meaning "to change."

In John’s day, baptism was akin to bleaching cloth, an everyday task set upon the soul. Fire purified even more and reshaped even metals.

Yes, but why did George Fox and early Friends hold this belief, asked the Latino pastors, and how can we hand that to people frightened by missionaries?

This question struck at my own convincement: Even in English, could I explain Fox’s teaching? I knew the belief, but not the basis. For 20 years, I learned from Quaker books, my Friendly models, and awakenings in worship. I skipped Scripture because Bible lessons in my childhood were conflicting, sometimes hateful. How could God create beloved children and then doom most to eternal suffering? How was Jesus’ teaching to "love thy neighbor" compatible with preachings to shun unbelievers? I blanked catechism and embraced God the Source. Expectant waiting fed me—seeking Truth beyond the Book.

Then this WQF exchange opened my ears.

At lunch tables and on bus trips, Friends joyfully sprinkled verses in their stories. In private conversations, reps offered historical analysis and current examples. I heard identical ideas in phrases shaped by different traditions. Some Friends trusted each other enough to say, "I don’t understand the language you’re using," which invited dialogue. I heard the inspiration of the Scripture, not condemnation.

Once home from Philadelphia, I pursued the Quaker gospel and faced my prejudices. A handful of Conservative Friends met for Bible reading and worship sharing. I joined the Friends United Meeting church’s Bible study, grounded in Greek translation. Later FWCC meetings brought more openings.
Our Friend Jesus speaks more clearly to me now.

Can I tell you what FWCC does?

Well, there was this FWCC committee meeting, a request in Spanish, and a Bible verse—but maybe you had to be there.