Triennial Thoughts – Carole Spencer, Reedwood
“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.” These words of the Apostle Paul taken from 1 Cor. 14:1 provided the basis for the theme of the 22nd FWCC Triennial in Dublin, Ireland, Finding the Prophetic Voice for our Time.
This scripture read at every session became a spiritual challenge to all of the participants, whether programmed, unprogrammed, liberal or evangelical, during the 9 days of meetings. Representing NWYM after 2 years of debate about our affiliation with FWCC, I felt deeply affirmed that we had made the right decision. Participating in the FWCC Triennial was both a heart-warming and faith-building experience for me.
At our opening session we were warmly welcomed by Irish Friends with celtic harp music and Irish dancing. Because I love anything celtic I was immediately drawn in to the atmosphere of this Triennial. The joyful and mystical spirituality of Irish Friends set the tone for our sojourn in Dublin.
Although Ireland is divided as a country into Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, they have one unified Yearly Meeting. All of the monthly meetings in Ireland are unprogrammed, and they are diverse theologically, but there are many evangelical Friends among the Irish.
Our first worship Sunday morning was led by Irish Friends. We began with hymn singing, which became a significant feature of all of our worship sessions. Another significant feature was the reading of scripture, always read in 3 languages. The first speaker in worship Sunday was a woman, Doreen O’Dowd, from Ireland YM.
She spoke passionately about the Old Testament prophets, and how their ancient message continues to be applicable today. She described the diversity of Ireland YM and how they had struggled for the past 9 years to revise their Faith & Practice, and managed to do so without splitting the YM.
She herself said very candidly: “Personally, I claim Jesus as my savior, my guide, my enabler; and that is not a creed, it is an experience.” Her testimony set a strong evangelical tone which I felt was carried through all of the sessions.
Another speaker, Bill Medlin, a pastor from Indiana YM called himself a “tolerant evangelical.” I felt that all of the speakers were Christ-centered and wove both scripture and historic Quaker principles throughout their messages.
One element I found remarkable was that every session, both for worship and business, felt bathed in prayer. A “pastoral care team” had been formed to be available to anyone who desired personal prayer or who just needed to process their feelings or struggles. Three persons from this pastoral care team would sit on the platform throughout every worship and business session to uphold the meetings in prayer.
The highlight of the Triennial for me was my Worship & Sharing group which met for an hour and a half each day. Everyone at the Triennial was assigned to a group, each one consisting of about 12 – 17 people. The purpose of the group was to build friendship, create community, and forge a spiritual bond across the cultural, ethnic, and theological diversity of the members. I had been asked to be one of the many worship & sharing group leaders.
After the first day my group met together, I felt a sense of hopelessness that this wide-ranging group of Quakers, made up of African, Irish, British, Indian, Hungarian, Danish, and American Friends, could ever connect more than politely with each other.
Over the time we all shared how we became Quakers, and/or Christians, how our lives changed because of it, what gifts we felt we brought to the group, what gifts we had received from the group, and what we would take back with us from the Triennial, Towards the end of our time together I suggested an activity that revolved around each of us sharing what the Bible meant to us and what Jesus meant to us. Several objected to this exercise, insisting that it would divide and fragment the group and certainly disturb the tentative community we had been building. We discussed this at length and finally all agreed to try it, and much to everyone’s surprise, sharing about such central core Christian beliefs, and listening to how some spoke honestly of their struggles with such beliefs, actually deepened care and understanding among the group. It was remarkable to watch the dynamics of the group, and experience community developing over a brief but intense period of time across cultures and theological perspectives. To watch this extremely diverse group of Quakers sing together the hymn, requested by a Kenyan Friend, “What a Friend we have in Jesus,” became a truly moving experience for me.
We also learned a Taize prayer song “Ubi Charitas” which means “Where love is there is God,” and discovered how true those words were.
I left the Triennial amazed and awed, and deeply blessed by the sense of the Spirit of Christ that pervaded not only our small group, but also the gathered worship and the business meetings of those 9 unforgettable days in Dublin. I thanked God that the five of us from NWYM could be a small part of such a caring and compassionate gathering of 308 Quakers from 41 different countries.
Carole Spencer, Reedwood Friends Church