Pamela Leach, Tasmania Regional Meeting
AF: What attracted you to the role of Secretary of the Asia West Pacific Section of Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC)?
I am excited about the potential of Quakers to work together around the world. The capacity of FWCC is in my view to play an important connecting role.
I am impressed with why and how it was set up. We don’t have an international organisation with “power over” the way other churches do. The notion of “consultation” seems really to capture a special vision. FWCC was set up after WWI. North American and British Friends wanted to find ways to work together, especially on peace issues. This cause is still really important today but now has spread to a global mandate.
My first conference was the 5th World Conference in Kenya in 1991. Lots of things happened personally for me there. I made friends from many countries with whom I am still in touch. On the way to the conference some Friends went to Baghdad, and arrived with first hand accounts of what they experienced there. Out of that Friends around the world were able to look at sanctions, and there was a small collaborative outcome. That would not have happened had not the conference occurred. The internet was just beginning, but we saw the potential of Quakers working together.
From the Australian perspective I understood that while Friends will always be a small portion of our population, we can be part of something larger through FWCC. Since then, if we are doing something nationally or at my local Meeting I look out for what is happening around world with which we can connect.
When this position came up, I was interested to see how this organisation was working at a global level. It seems a bit invisible, and is not at the forefront of many people’s minds. I took on the role of Secretary of the Asia West Pacific Region knowing it would be a challenge, but not realising how much.
I had been to one section meeting at our level; our section is so vast, with so many cultures, languages, and brands of Quakerism. Trying to find a reason to come together is pretty big. However, the issue of friendship runs through it all. Being a Quaker has given me the opportunity to be friends with people from many different cultures. For example in this section I am developing relations with people from Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and the Philippines. This is not only spiritually enriching but also personally. As well, it provides a springboard for action. This happens in our local meetings in same way. At the international level we want to speak out together where we can. When we talk about what FWCC does; it doesn’t pretend to run programs. However, there is a magic that happens so people can build friendships and take action together.
FWCC has achieved many things, but many of these have been informal, without any rubber stamp, through consultation and collaboration. I have my story but so does everyone in FWCC. One of our challenges is to recognise FWCC as an organisation that is well worth sustaining over the long run.
AF: What do you see as your biggest challenges?
Our biggest challenge is our small budget, which is mostly spent on travel, and that isn’t popular with all Friends. No matter how good electronic communication is, there is value in coming together. We are confronted with the question of how we shape FWCC into something that works for us in the 21st century.
Representative meeting in Peru next year will be addressing that question. Each affiliated Yearly Meeting, Monthly or Regional Meeting or Worshipping Group is invited. We expect about 300 participants. Some Yearly Meetings fund the entire cost of their representative(s), while some provide partial funding. The cost is shared between first world countries whose representatives pay more to help cover attendance of those from countries with fewer resources.
AF: To what extent do theological differences represent a problem versus a wealth?
I like to see it as a wealth; we have to see it as part of the diversity. In my early days I struggled with this . . . why do they want to be Quakers? But now I accept that they want to be part of the family, this is the family and why don’t we get on with different ways of being and worshipping and seeing the world?
AF: Has your involvement with FWCC affected your own faith journey?
I am more accepting of differences. If I want to get to know you and I can embrace your theological perspective then that is a pretty big start to building a relationship. For example I am now involved with “Love Makes A Way”, a movement of people who are concerned about the current government policy around child detention. It taps into people from really different theological perspective to look at this particular issue. I was arrested during a protest sitting in senators’ offices in December 2014. We went there with a request to ask for the release of all children in immigration detention in Australia.
AF: Do you approach conflict in a new way since your involvement in FWCC?
I can think of a couple of examples at my local meeting level and I have tried to take a more loving approach. A couple of weeks ago I was feeling cranky and I went round the room, internally extending loving energy to each person. What does it mean to surround you with love? What is the connecting point between you and me? This is the vital thing that has emerged for me in dealing with personal conflict.
Building on the friendship theme, that is a way of making FWCC more tangible to all of us in Australia. My hope is that each Meeting would develop a link with some Friends in another part of the world. In particular I would hope to focus on our Section (Asia West Pacific) to the degree that this is where interest lies. One challenging thing about this initiative is finding words that are mutually meaningful. For example ‘twinning’ and ‘sister city’ do not work for some languages….’companion Meeting’ is the term I am tossing around at the moment.
AF: Thank you, Ronis. I’m sure many of us will be holding you in the Light as you carry this fascinating, important but daunting challenge forward.