In 1937, when I was nine years old, my father attended the Friends World Conference in Pennsylvania, which is when FWCC was conceived and subsequently born. I confess I was not as much impressed with news of the conference as I was with the fact that all the British delegates traveled on the Queen Mary. Dad brought back a group photograph of all the delegates at the conference—and a lovely cardboard model of the ship with plans of all the decks that could be fanned out from a rivet at the stern. At that time any references there might have been to the beginnings of the Friends World Committee for Consultation completely passed me by, but I do remember playing with the model of the Queen Mary!
In 1952, the Friends Meeting in Ipswich (UK) asked me to represent them at the Third World Conference of Friends in Oxford. I was thrilled, but, as sometimes happens with British Friends, my parochial view of worldwide Quakerism led me to think that this conference was a function of Friends House in London, and the significance of it being a function of the Friends World Committee for Consultation escaped me. However, meeting Friends from Africa, America, Asia, and Europe was an eye-opening and life-changing experience, and more importantly, seeing how the Quaker business method could work even in a large and very diverse kind of group was an immensely valuable education.
I recall two vignettes from 1952. One was of the dazed-looking Kenyan I met at breakfast the first morning at Somerville College where we were lodged, who confided he could find no bathroom for men. I went with him to the college hostess, who apologized and said she had no idea from the name that Hezekiah was a man. So much for Oxford scholarship! The second memory is of a very difficult business meeting where no unity seemed to be developing until elderly Barrow Cadbury rose with his hands in prayer mode, and after a significant pause said, "Dear Lord, we are in a fix. Please help us." We came to a united resolution, and that has always helped me to know that unity can be found if we persevere prayerfully—even though I no longer recall what was the difficulty under which we were laboring!
About the same time my parents, Jack and Ruth Catchpool, undertook a period of service at the Quaker Centre in New Delhi, India. They wrote of the readiness of their friends in India to experience Quaker worship and their eagerness to know more, but their discouragement upon finding that joining still had to be accomplished through London Yearly Meeting, an anathema for newly independent Indians! My parents were grateful to find the literature of Wider Quaker Fellowship and pass it on to Indian attenders at Delhi Meeting, and also back to me in England. Once again I was indebted to a function of FWCC without realizing the connection!
In 1956 I came to the U.S. to teach at Westtown School. In order to visit among U.S. Friends meetings, I was able to obtain a most valuable directory of meetings, produced by FWCC in Philadelphia. After my marriage to John Moir in 1957 we moved to Florida, and using my directory I made contact with Friends there and became a member of Miami Meeting for the next 30 years. At that time the scattered Friends meetings were part of the Southeastern Friends Conference, not yet a yearly meeting, and we were visited quite regularly by concerned and well informed Friends, some of whom came under the auspices of the FWCC visitation committee. I began to learn more of the role of Friends World Committee for Consultation in linking isolated Friends and Friends meetings and to appreciate, as members of highly organized and self-sufficient Friends yearly meetings never quite do, the importance of FWCC in the lives of far-flung Friends! After the formation of Southeastern Yearly Meeting I became more active, and when asked to
become a representative to FWCC I readily accepted. I was at last understanding what a slow learner I had been about the reach and benefits of FWCC and how Friends everywhere are influenced and served by this organization, often without their being aware of it, just as I had been.
My active service with FWCC began in 1978, and I attended my first Annual Meeting in Wilmington, Ohio, in November of that year, and sat next to Canby Jones who kept nudging me and making telling remarks about whoever we were listening to at that moment! Then I attended a Triennial in Switzerland the following year. What a wonderful experience that was! Soon after I was appointed to the Section of the Americas Executive Committee, then an immensely large group with appointees from every yearly meeting in the Section. Few of them could attend every meeting, so it was an ever-changing struggle to coordinate the actions of the Section, and plans were under way to reduce the size of the committee and improve its effectiveness. I remained on the much smaller and very hard working committee, under the able clerkship of Barry Hollister. This time was the period of development of the regional gatherings of FWCC in an attempt to involve more people in its concerns and raise its visibility in North America. In 1984, I succeeded Barry as clerk of the Section and became much more intimately concerned with the inner workings of the organization. Attending the "interim" committee meetings of the World Committee, and later clerking them and the Triennials of 1994 and 1997, confronted me with a much wider array of Friends concerns.
I feel strongly that Friends World Committee for Consultation is vital in keeping Friends around the world linked, in acknowledging their common ancestry and their shared testimonies and concerns. Too often we see only differences in practice, but when we are brought together to attend to business in Quaker fashion, to worship together, or to meet one another face to face and share our concerns, we understand that there is more that unites than divides us. Isaac Penington wrote in 1660, "It is not the different practice from one another that breaks the peace and unity, but the judging of it!" We are often judgmental before we truly share experiences, and afterward the differences seem to melt away in the bonds of united purpose and friendship.
I wonder if others have been assisted and empowered by FWCC without always knowing the source of that help. Looking back, I know how much I am indebted to this organization, and I hope that others will be aware of its impact on them and the opportunity it offers them to participate in a true gathering of Quaker minds and strengths in service and faith, both locally and worldwide. As a former biology teacher, I have been struck by the speciation of the flora and fauna of the isolated Galapagos Islands as an apt metaphor for Friends: that if we develop in isolation too long we may lose the ability to cross-fertilize, to share our insights, and to adapt to changing circumstances. I pray this never happens to Friends around the world, and I know that Friends World Committee for Consultation exists to ensure that we meet, worship together, learn from one another, appreciate our diversity, and discover our unity together.