FWCC World Plenary trip by Steve Fick and Christine Tellez

Sacred Mountains, Sacred Work: Beyond the World Plenary

Post from Christina, February 4, 2016:

My experience at the FWCC World Plenary is one that will have lasting impacts on my life. In the past week since leaving Pisac, I have been going through a transition period in which I have just begun to process what I learnt and experienced at the plenary. This processing will continue for a long time, perhaps even popping up in contexts not seemingly directly related to the Quaker world. I look forward to this.

The last night and day of the plenary were intense with emotion and movement. This type of gathering encourages deep bonds to be formed quickly. Connections are formed that can last over continents and time; a light is ignited.

There are two last scenes from my experience of the plenary that I want to share….


It was Tuesday, the last full day of the plenary, and I was restless. I had been part of a beautiful small worship group in the early morning, over breakfast I had a wonderful conversation with a Kenyan Friend who works as a nurse in a rural health clinic, there had been a light-filled worship led by Friends from West African countries, a productive FWCC Business Meeting, and a Section of the Americas meeting. I had been soaking it all in all week, and this day was especially full of new information and rich learning.

I took a moment to myself to let the events of the week and this day sink in. Wandering up the mountain road behind the Royal Inca Hotel, I passed houses, steep little paths between eucalyptus trees, dogs that curiously pointed their noses in my direction.

I happened upon a grassy hill overlooking the valley where we had been meeting. I was struck by the sensation that we had been in a cradle all week. These cathedral-like mountains towered above us, at once heralds and protective shepherds. I snuggled myself into one of the nooks in the hill and lay back, letting myself sink into these sacred mountains. I felt a deep sensation of being held.

While the World Plenary had to do a lot with learning about new information, and meeting beautiful new people, it also confirmed things I already knew. It brought me closer to myself. It was an opportunity to expand outward and inward.

This sensation of being held continued…..



Young Friends gathered on the last night of the plenary to carry on our discernment of our current needs and how to address these. Out of worship came a sense that we should form a committee (yes, a chuckle might be in order here) that would be composed of Young Friends from all of the FWCC Sections. This world committee would find out more about the challenges and needs faced by Young Friends in each Section and work to strengthen intra- and inter-Section bonds so as to address these. This committee would work for the present and future of Quakerism.

We separated into the four FWCC Sections (The America, Europe and the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Pacific) and out of worship, named people we thought would serve well on this committee.

I was honoured to be one of the sixteen Young Friends from across the Section to be named and feel called to this work. The sixteen of us sat in a smaller circle enclosed within the larger one of more than 60 other Young Friends. We held hands and prayed. Prayed for the work we are going to do together, for all of the Young Friends who were not there with us, for the present and future of Quakerism. Friends from the enclosing circle slowly came and lay their hands on us, sharing their light, energy, hopes. I felt a deep upwelling of joy and light. I felt that same sensation of being held that I had up on that sacred mountain.

Thank you to those who were holding us in the light, to those who supported us in ways immeasurable, and those who will continue to support us in this work. I look forward to what is to come. To living the transformation. To living adventurously.


Looking back at the FWCC World Plenary, Pisac, Peru, January 19-27, 2016

Posting from Steve, February 2

Leading up to the conference, my thoughts were occupied with how I might best bring the experience of the conference back to Friends in Canada. As I settled into the conference, however, I realized the equal importance of what Christina and I were bringing to the conference–our unique perspectives as Canadians, nurtured in our own monthly and yearly meetings. Through no malice or intentional neglect, it can be easy for Canadian Quakers to sometimes be lumped together with overshadowed by the large number of American Quakers. Our presence, nonetheless, was obviously valued and constantly appreciated.

The theme of the open heart carried forward from the beginning to the end of the conference. In the spoken and sung ministry, in the silence, in the dinner conversations and the greetings on the sidewalks, love was palpable as a powerful wind blowing through us all. I left with many dear friends–old and new–from all around the globe.

bolivianI grew in my appreciation of our Quaker traditions and what it means to be a Friend, in all the various forms in which it manifests itself. As I said in a previous blog post, my own theology, which tends to be Universalist rather than Christocentric, did not move closer towards that of my Evangelical Friends, for example. In fact, many of my existing beliefs were confirmed and deepened. At the same time, I have always considered myself a devout disciple of Jesus, and I loved hearing the Biblical accounts of his revolutionary message. I am was reminded of CYM’s Consultation and Renewal recommendation about acknowledging our Christian roots and the important of making sure Christocentric Friends feel welcome, loved and heard.

My sense of God’s presence was heightened through physical grandeur of the Sacred Valley and the geniality of its people. In spite of the widespread poverty, compared to other places I have visited the indigenous Peruvians and Bolivians carry themselves with a sense of pride and beauty in manner and dress. At the same time, I was constantly reminded of the unthinkable violence and brutality of the Spanish conquest and its relentless quest to enrich the invaders and destroy any traces of the pre-existing civilizations.

The conference worked with a local outfitter to provide the opportunity to visit nearby Machu Picchu, and I am sure that trip will remain a highlight of my life. (See the images below.) wajda

If I were to single out one personal take-away from the conference, it might be the idea of developing a more vital practice of expectant listening. I had some deep conversations with Michael Wajda (see picture left) on the topic (who is now reviewing FWCC’s fundraising strategies). I would strongly recommend his short work (PH pamphlet #388) called, Expectant Listening: Finding God’s Thread of Guidance

Thank you again, Friends, for supporting Christina and me to attend the conference.








Spiritual smorgasbord

Posting by Steve, January 26, 2016

I have been out of Internet contact for a while. Rather than go deep in this post, I am going to go broad and give a taste of the many things I have experienced here.

Each morning we have a plenary worship, led by a different part of the world. The sermon given by Churchill, from Kenya, was especially moving. He spoke about creating connection by overcoming individualism and opening up space in our hearts, our homes, our churches, our communities and our countries. He brought to life passages in the Bible, and told contemporary stories. One of the most moving for me was about a bus of Christians and Muslims that was hijacked by Boca Haram, the Islamist terror group responsible for so many massacres of non-Muslims. When the gunmen tried to separate the Christians from the Muslims, the Muslims refused, saying the gunmen could either murder everyone on the bus, or none at all. And the gunmen retreated.

flowered_gate_fwccI attended a variety of workshops and consultations. The consultation I chose, which continued for four sessions, was about how we create active, vital Quaker communities. I only attended the first, because I needed time to work on this blog. But it was much richer than I expected.

A Quaker historian living in Germany outlined a research project she is undertaking about the untold story of the remarkably large number of Jews who were saved and then assisted by Quakers, in spite of Quakers’ relatively small numbers.

Another workshop outlined the sometimes-violent modern history of Kenya and the work of Quakers to build the structures necessary to foster a peaceful civil society. It again struck me that our pantheon of Quaker “saints” does not include those who are doing work in Africa and other places that is as courageous, spirit-filled, and inspiring as John Woolman or anyone else. We really need to learn about and acknowledge this broader Quaker history, for these are our brothers and sisters, acting out the peace testimony and circumstances that are more challenging than we can imagine.

I have heard great things about the Bible study, led by Janet Ross from Britain, who was my co-leader of our home group in Kenya. But I have chosen to attend the early-morning silent worship, which has been very rich. One man spoke about a recent report by Oxfam that 1% of the world’s people now own 50% of the wealth. He compared the story of Nicodemus, one of the 1%, who came to Jesus secretly to be taught, and the story of the unclean woman who touched Jesus’ robe, one of the 99%. He compared this to people in the gathering including people like himself, who might be part of the 1%, with the others from poorer parts of the world, who are part of the 99%. And referring back to the comment of Simon Lamb in our opening session, he said that the poor and disadvantaged, coming from chaotic and sometimes desperate circumstances, often embrace the Truth with a revolutionary gusto. Whereas for those in comfortable and advantages circumstances, the Truth can come over a longer period of time as a gentle, transformative rain. But the end product in both cases is inner peace.

breakfast_clubThe conversation I had with three others at the first breakfast was so wonderful that we agreed to form a “breakfast club,” and we have been meeting to eat together and talk every morning. It’s my second “home group.” (We have offered “open spaces” to several others, especially if they bring us mangoes.)

As it turns out, three of us have some sort of geology background, and a discussion with a dear Nepalese Friend of the recent earthquake that wreaked such havoc on the lives of him and his people, got us started talking about the plate tectonics, the origin of the universe, natural catastrophes and apocalyptic beliefs. It was a very animated discussion. I referred back to my exchange about the origin of mountains with the Peruvian pastor. (See previous post.) I picked up my coffee cup and said that when I see with my own eyes that it is purple, part of my faithfulness is honouring that truth. When I see the evidence about plate tectonics, I simply cannot ignore it. If it conflicts with my religious beliefs, then I need to figure out how to integrate those two systems of thought.

Our Nepalese Friend responded to this discussion by saying that Jesus exhorted us to become like children again, and that to him this meant maintaining a simple, strong faith in the words of God as revealed in the Bible. To get confused by all these other ideas would only distract him from the central purpose of his life to be loving and peaceful in the name of Jesus. We all walked away to the rest of our day not having changed each other’s beliefs, but certainly understanding each other a bit better. In other words, being in unity not in our heads, but in our hearts.

Regarding business, FWCC, like so many service-related organizations, is struggling financially. It is the Europe and Middle East Section that contributes about half the funds, and funds from the US are projected to decline. We considered the frequency of the plenary gathering, which are hugely expensive, and made changes to the constitution that are related to this frequency (every ten years minimum, hopefully between six and eight years), and how to govern the organization in a way that is appropriate to its shrinking resources of time, money and staff. We have hired Michael Wajda to review our fundraising practices and make recommendations.

A lot of time was spent drafting recommendations on how individuals and Meetings can help combat climate changes. I will pass these on to Meetings as soon as I receive them.cornelius_and_friends



Young Friends at the Gathering: Sharing, Questioning, Visioning

Post from Christina, January 27:

One of the most enriching parts of this gathering has been connecting with other young friends. We are all going through similar processes of finding our place in the world and in Quakerism, however are doing so in very different contexts and from a diversity of backgrounds.

Last night we had our second gathering of young friends. We came together to share laughter, questions, stories, inspirations, and concerns. It was lifting to feel a community of young friends beginning to form. We divided into small groups of young friends from different yearly meetings and shared stories about our experiences as young friends. My small group was composed of five other young women from Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, Norway, and the Netherlands.

I heard stories that felt similar to my experience, and others that stretched me to consider other aspects of my identity as a young Quaker. In our small group there were Friends who felt isolated in their Meetings, and others that were upheld by a strong community of young Friends. We touched on the role of women in our Meetings, the dynamic between older friends and younger friends, the types of gatherings we have and the large range of numbers that we have attending our youth gatherings. We reflected on the transition between being a young friend and a ‘full’ adult in the Meeting. I was exposed to joys and challenges experiences by young Friends from around the world.

After this rich discussion we transitioned into simultaneous music making, games, discussions, and a precarious game of indoor frisbee. We spent hours into the night getting to know each other and sharing parts of ourselves, continuing to build a community of young friends that will continue beyond just this gathering.

Throughout the gathering I have been engaging with a consultation group. These groups are formed around issues around which FWCC is hoping to conduct consultation. I have been attending the group addressing ‘Leadership and Ministry.’

The work being done by this consultation group is significant as it will have an impact on the future of youth programming at the FWCC level. As a group we encouraged each other to dream. Out of this dreaming came ideas of youth exchanges between yearly meetings, internal national youth pilgrimages, mentorship programs, section wide youth gatherings, and online spaces that could keep us connected.

Three main ideas that came out of this group are 1) to explore the idea of holding another World Gathering of Young Friends, 2) to create more connections globally through a stronger online presence, and 3) to design a type of QYP 2.0 to carry on the work of QYP in a way that fits today’s context and concerns. The report will also include a request that FWCC begin a conversation on international membership for young Friends.

Last night young Friends gathered to reflect on the recommendations that will be reported back from this consultation group to today’s FWCC Meeting for Business, specifically the recommendation of a World Gathering of Young Friends. We were called to ask ourselves ‘what is our current need?’ The worship was deep and went late into the night, with rich sharing from many Friends. One Friend reflected that if we are to take action on a global level, we must start with ourselves asking:

What do I get from Quakers?

What can I offer Quakers?

What do I need from Quakers?

We will continue to meet tonight to hold these questions and the future of young Friends in the light. I look forward to sharing the work that has been done with and by young Friends in gatherings at the plenary and the consultation group.

Thank you to all who have been holding me and Steve in the light. I have felt very held. Thank you for opening the space for me to participate in this gathering, which has brought me great learning and sharing.

I hope to write again soon.

The Great Flood

Steve’s post, January 26, 2016

I have had conversation after conversation here that have touched me deeply and will leave me changed in various ways when I leave. But I would like to relate a personal incident that happened that maybe characterizes the challenges that can be part of the FWCC experience.

Yesterday morning, I was in our home group, which is composed of a dozen people or so from all around the world, and from a broad spectrum of traditions. I mentioned about how deeply I had been affected growing up near the incredible beauty of the Rocky Mountains. I still felt stunned the day before by the magnificence of the landscapes we had passed through on our tour of the Sacred Valley.

trio_fwccI spoke about reflecting why these mountains are here. I described a vast mass of heavier rock stretching out below the Pacific, being pushed under the lighter rock of the South American continent, causing it to crumple up and then be carved into valleys by the rivers born from the precipitation that is forced to fall over the higher land as the air passes over. And what fuels the movement of this vast mass of rock? Residual radiation from elements cooked up the oven of an exploding star billions of years ago, heating the earth’s core, causing the molten rock to circulate up towards the surface. I said that this is utterly remarkable, and that if this was not a revelation of the creativity of the Divine, what is?

Immediately, a Bolivian pastor talked about how these mountains are here because of the Biblical Flood, and the talked about false teachers doing the work of the devil by leading the people away from the Bible which is the source of truth.

At first, I did not take it personally, knowing he was just speaking his own truth. But as the minutes passed, my heart grew heavier, and I had to speak. I said that I understood our intent in coming together was to create a safe home base by listening to each other, not telling each other how we are wrong or sinful. I told him I knew that he was speaking from a place of love, and from a sense of devotion to something that was very dear to him. I said that I did not know what his intent was, but that his words gave me the message that I was doing the work of the devil and that this gave me a very heavy heart

manuela_and_thuliTo close the session, I asked him to lead us in a prayer, which he did, and afterwards I thanked him for listening to my difficult words. I checked with others afterwards, and they assured me that what I said came across in a loving and non-accusatory way.

I was afterwards gently eldered by someone who talked about learning to just accept the Evangelical Latin American Friends where they are at—in other words, to not respond. But I wondered whether we lose an opportunity to build connection when we hide our own truth by assuming someone else is incapable of hearing it? I felt no anger towards him. I had no stake in making him feel bad. I was feeling hurt, and rather than pretending to be okay, and perhaps then feeling separated from him because of that hurt, I wanted to let him know what was really going on with me.

I saw him a little later near the lunch line, and we talked in a very friendly tone about how nice the pool was. And every time we have crossed paths, it’s been with a sincerely warm greeting.

I don’t know exactly what was in his head and heart when he spoke those words. I was not paying attention to how my response was translated to him and I don’t know how he understood it. And I cannot underestimate the vast gulf between our backgrounds. For him to be part of this kind of circle, and for me to speak to him the way I did, may have been very foreign to his experience.

I have included pictures of people of the conference (none of whom are in my home group).