Jo Jordan, South Australia and Northern Territory Regional Meeting
In the fertile valley at Pisac in Peru, nestled between enormous Andes mountains, 320 Friends met from 19 to 27 January 2016 for the FWCC world plenary, held for the first time in Latin America.
Friends were there from 39 countries and 77 Yearly Meetings, from many cultures and speaking different languages. Throughout the conference a number of very talented Friends provided continuous interpretation in English, Spanish and French. I was surprised how many Friends were fluent in both English and Spanish, and how many had personal experience living and working in Latin America.
On the first day we were welcomed to the large plenary room by local Friends and a lively, six-piece Peruvian band. We joined in singing a hymn composed for the conference, “Vivir la Transformacion” by Noé Alanguaia Canaza, clerk of the local arrangements committee.
The theme of the conference was “Living the Transformation”, with reference to Romans 8:19 “Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God”. Throughout the conference there was frequent spoken and sung ministry on the theme of transformation. A recurring hope was that we may eventually inhabit a world worthy of “the Children of God”.
It was disappointing that 39 Kenyan Friends arrived three days late because of difficulties with visas. This was particularly upsetting because most of us did not need visas at all. When the Kenyans arrived they were cheered and welcomed with loud applause.
Some significant highlights for me were the friendships formed during the conference, at home-group, during workshops, study groups, worship or while waiting in the dinner queue. Faith traditions ranged from evangelical, in the style of a church revival meeting, to our familiar silent meeting and everything in between. Many of us found some traditions surprising and challenging, and the organisers warned us that this would be the case. Most of us found common ground in our shared Quaker testimonies and in open-hearted acceptance of each other’s experience.
We were allocated a home group comprising about 20 Friends from different backgrounds, age and experience. My home group, Grupo 7, struggled with differing expectations and language. Gradually, with time, discussion and good will, the difficulties gradually fell away.
Before the conference I had been asked by the Secretary of FWCC, Gretchen Castle, to help by coordinating epilogues for six of the seven evenings of the plenary. Although I only knew a few Friends from Australia and New Zealand who would be there, the Secretary forwarded a list of people from different sections who might be happy to contribute. I sent off five emails in English and one in Spanish but, by the beginning of the conference, I had received only three replies. After I met each of those Friends in person, all were willing to accept the challenge. It was a great pleasure to present the first epilogue with David Hobson, a pianist and pastor from North Carolina, and to support each presenter on the following evenings.
A central part of the program was a time of worship lasting one and a half hours, organised by each section of FWCC in turn. There was an additional worship session for Latin America. Friends from throughout Peru and Bolivia were invited to join us on that day. It was a surprise for me to discover that most Friends in Peru and Bolivia are indigenous people from the high Andes and that their first language is Aymara, not Spanish. The Latin America worship was led by a Guatemalan pastor who spoke with great emotion in his native language, Aymara, and his ministry was warmly welcomed by local Friends.
It was a surprise, and an honour, to be asked to be one of nine elders during the conference. The elders were asked to sit together, to hold the clerks and office bearers in the light, to step in to help where necessary and to organise grace at meal times. It also meant wearing a distinctive red sash, while the pastoral carers wore a green one. After the first day I realised it also meant that it was not possible to take an “early minute”. However, it was a privilege to get to know the other elders and to be able to seek their guidance when I needed it.
Another honour was being asked to speak during the time of worship for the Asia West Pacific Section. We were asked to offer something typical of our style of meeting. Ministry in the form of song was offered by New Zealand, India and the Philippines Yearly Meetings, and Hong Kong YM offered readings and a moving poem. Trying to reflect on the personal experience and silent worship of our meeting, I told a brief, personal story about how I came to Friends 40 years ago, read para 1.18 by Max Raupach from This we can say, then introduced a time of silent worship.
There were few opportunities for silent worship during the FWCC plenary, and this was a challenge for many Friends from our region. Friends from programmed traditions seemed uncomfortable with lengthy times of silence, and quickly filled them with sermons, reflections, hymns and songs.
An important part of the FWCC program were the “Consultations” on four specific topics: “Ministry and Leadership”, “Living Ministry Communities”, “Sustaining Life on Earth” and “Equipping FWCC”. The Consultations met four times during the week, and everyone was asked to commit to just one topic. I chose the topic “Sustaining Life on Earth” and I was most impressed by the large number of Friends who attended and also by the facilitation team of three Friends, Jonathan Woolley and Rachel Madenyika from QUNO and Charlotte Gordon a Young Friend from New Zealand. A number of small, focused brainstorming sessions led to wide-ranging discussion and finally a central statement. This statement, together with recommendations for action, was accepted by the final FWCC business meeting. I look forward to seeing this excellent statement widely discussed among all yearly meetings.
During the conference there were FWCC meetings for business which approved the appointment of office bearers, amended the FWCC constitution and considered the frequency of future world gatherings. After much discussion, the final decision was that world gatherings be held less frequently but no more than ten years apart.
A highlight for me was the daily, early-morning Bible Study conducted by Janet Scott. I found these sessions enlightening and uplifting. It was reassuring to find that the passage chosen as the theme for the conference has puzzled Biblical scholars for centuries. With an extensive knowledge of Biblical scholarship and history, Janet cast new light on central words in this passage, The Lord’s Prayer and the creation stories of Genesis.
A number of workshops were offered during the conference. I attended the workshop on “Faith and Play” which Jenny Turton demonstrated to us during the SANTRM residential weekend in October last year. I met Melinda Wenner-Bradley who writes new Faith and Play stories for publication. She demonstrated a story on the theme of Meeting for Worship using the poetic narrative style and simple props of this storytelling technique. I was grateful for the references that she provided and I hope to explore this method further for our children’s meetings.
This was the first world gathering of Friends that I have attended. A number of other people I met had attended one or more earlier conferences. Many said that the smaller size of this gathering created a friendly atmosphere, less overwhelming than a bigger conference. To me the atmosphere felt very similar to that of an Australia Yearly Meeting, and I felt very much at home.
There were a number of physical challenges posed by the site of the conference. Some Friends had difficulties with the high altitude of 10,000 ft. I had no problem with the altitude but found that I kept running out of breath when trying to sing. Others struggled with stomach bugs, sometimes lasting several days. There was a constant stream of Friends visiting the doctors, who kindly set aside time each day to attend to the sick.
I now have a better grasp of the work that FWCC does, and a better understanding of the place of AWPS within FWCC. It was wonderful to be able to meet some of the 30 representatives from the AWPS section and to feel a connection with them. The worship session of the AWPS section drew special attention from all Friends and we were bombarded afterwards with requests for photographs. I think our cultural diversity and the large number of young people in our section created much interest.
I am most grateful to Australia Yearly Meeting and to the Thanksgiving Fund for the opportunity to attend this amazing gathering of Friends, at a very beautiful location. I will never forget the many inspiring people I met, Friends who are leaders in their fields, courageous in their commitment and friends to all. This has been an experience I will treasure always.