Sunday, May 6, 2012

FWCC World Conference Report

Report on the FWCC World Conference of Friends
April 17-25, 2012, Kabarak University, Kenya
Being Salt and Light: Friends living the Kingdom of God in a broken world

“You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.”  Matthew 5:14.
Pastor Judith bringing the message
 I arrived in Kenya on April 12 and spent my first five days there on a pre-conference tour of Nairobi with Friends from several countries.  As part of the tour, we visited a number of Friends churches in Nairobi Yearly Meeting.  The Kenyan Friends we met were overwhelmingly kind, welcoming, and hospitable.  A highlight for me was meeting Pastor Judith and visiting her meeting, Nairobi West Friends Church.  After their energetic, programmed worship, Pastor Judith invited me into her home, and the Friends there would not let us leave until after we had enjoyed soda and peanuts.  Another highlight was seeing the animals (and getting stuck in the mud) in Nairobi National Park.  The members of my tour bonded by singing songs about salt and light in English and Swahili as we waited for the park ranger to come pull us out of the mud with his tractor.  I am grateful for the patience and grace of George O (Nairobi YM), our tour guide, and our driver, Joseph.  On the last night before we left for the conference, most of the people on my tour met for worship, which ended up being some of the sweetest worship I experienced while I was traveling.

The FWCC World Conference took place April 17-25, with nearly 850 Friends who gathered from meetings and churches in 51 countries.  I did quite a bit of ministry while I was at the World Conference, which fell loosely into three categories: leading the convergent Friends thread group, eldering, and giving messages in meeting for worsh

Convergent Friends thread group, day 3
The thread groups took place for an hour and a half during the afternoon of the first three full days of the conference.  There were about 30-40 people who attended my convergent Friends thread group each day.  On the first day, we spent most of the time on introductions, then had a short semi-programmed worship in the style of Freedom Friends.  On the second day, we had more conversation, listing dozens of words we use to describe the divine on the board and talking as a group and in partners about the language we use for God and our experiences of different kinds of Friends.  We closed with worship sharing about how we had seen God at work that day.  On the third day, we focused on prayer, including Wess D’s stations of the Lord’s Prayer activity, which was quite popular.  My hope for the thread group was that we would feel the presence of the living God among us, and I think that we did. 

For much of the conference, I felt clear about why I was there and what I was supposed to do.  As a result, I felt released from doing anything on the schedule that I did not feel directly led to do.  I have a tendency to do too much at this type of gathering, and that feeling of being released served me well and helped me to avoid some of the drama that others encountered at the conference.  For example, many of the Young Adult Friends (YAF) felt hurt by the fact that they could not reach unity on an epistle.  Although I did not feel led to attend the YAF meetings, I was later able to serve as an elder at a meeting for healing that some of the YAFs organized.  Similarly, I did not feel led to go to my home group after the first day, and instead took that time for rest and prayer.  Later in the conference, there was some controversy about the epistle by Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns being taken down, but it was primarily addressed in the home groups, so I did not have much to do with that.

Overall, I was surprised by the amount of eldering I did at the conference.  I did not go intending to elder, but opportunities arose while I was there, both formally―sitting on the facing bench during the worship organized by the Section of the Americas (English speaking), being invited to hold the meeting of the Section of the Americas in prayer, and in the YAF meeting for healing―and informally, in sitting with Friends in worship and in conversation.  As I have said in the past, I feel like I am about 75% minister and 25% elder, and the balance at the conference felt good to me.

I felt led to stand and give messages in meeting for worship several times over the course of the conference.  Although this felt easier than it sometimes has in the past, it is still a hard thing for me.  Some of the messages felt strong, prophetic, and challenging (for me as much as anyone else!), but I also was blessed with opportunities to give joy-filled messages.  I felt on the whole that I was faithful with what I was given, and this is still an area where I am growing.
Me and Lucy

Throughout my time in Kenya, I felt like God was teaching me a lesson about support, abundant support.  This was grounded in the support I received from f/Friends and family before I left and personified while I was there in Lucy F (North Pacific YM), who served as my elder.  Lucy appeared the first night I arrived, before we went on different pre-conference tours, and gave me a much-needed hug after 30 hours of travel.  In a conference of 850 people, I found Lucy just about any time I thought of her, which felt like a miracle.  Lucy was an ideal elder for me there: after serving on my support committee for two years, she knows how I am when I do ministry, and she could make me laugh.

 An experience I had in the dining hall at Kabarak provided a concrete illustration of the kind of spiritual support I received during the conference.  It is a pattern of mine that I have a hard time eating and getting enough sleep when I do spiritual work for any extended period of time, and the travel and malaria medication I was taking exacerbated those tendencies.  In addition, the dining hall was crowded, noisy, and the tables were in constant rotation, with up to a dozen introductions within a single meal.  There was plenty of food, but it was high in starch and meat, which is very different from what I usually eat.  The vegetarian options were better, but the line was always long and I felt guilty eating there because I had not registered as a vegetarian.  In general, I felt overwhelmed by the dining hall and I dreaded going to meals.

The dining hall
 One night, I went to the dining hall in a hurry.  I had something to do right after the meal, so I didn’t have time to wait in the vegetarian line.  When I got up to where the food was being served, I could not face eating the meat, so I asked the server to give me rice and just put some of the gravy from the meat on the rice.  He said, “Oh, do you want beans?” and quickly disappeared with my plate.  A minute later, he returned with beans on my rice!  I thanked him and continued down the line to pick up utensils.  Before I could get them, a Kenyan Friend I didn’t recognize said, “Oh, Ashley, you need utensils!” and put them on my plate.

In the same way, I felt like spiritual support appeared without me even having to ask.  An example of this support occurred on the afternoon after my last thread group session.  I gave the thread group everything I had, and I felt extremely tired and vulnerable when it was over.  As Lucy and I left the classroom where the thread group took place, we ran into Sharon F (Philadelphia YM).  Sharon said she had been thinking of me and asked where I was going.  I told her I was on my way to pastoral care with my elder.  She said, “good,” and continued on her way.  After Lucy and I debriefed at pastoral care for a while, it was clear that they needed to close the room.  I stepped outside to get some water and ran into my roommate, Alex Z (Southern Appalachian YM).  She said, “I was just thinking of you!” and asked how I was doing.  She then proceeded to escort me back to our dorm room and helped ground me for the work ahead.

Friends gathered in the auditorium for worship
It would be impossible to name all of the other people who supported me throughout the conference, but I would like to express my gratitude for a few more people in particular:
·    Kristin O-K (North Carolina YM Conservative), Carrie H (Northwest YM), and Joe S (North Pacific YM) for their prayers and help with the thread group
·    Emily S (North Carolina YM Conservative) and Charley and Lynn B (Alaska Friends Conference) for providing a hedge of protection around me the morning after my thread group was over
·    Colin S (Indiana YM) for lending me his cell phone so I could call my Mom on her birthday
·    Aimee M (Northern YM/Northwest YM) for sitting with me two times as I struggled with difficult ministry in meeting for worship and for her pastoral care
·    And all the people (some of whose names I don’t even know!) who prayed for me, sat with me, gave me hugs, encouraged me, and fed me

This report feels like a beginning to sharing my experiences at the World Conference.  In exchange for covering my conference registration fees, I plan to write two articles for Friends Journal: a shorter piece on my experiences visiting Friends in Nairobi Yearly Meeting and a longer piece on my experience of doing ministry at the World Conference.  In addition, I am sure I will have lots of other stories and experiences that arise over the coming days, weeks, and months.

I want to end by expressing my gratitude: to Freedom Friends Church for sending me with love and a traveling minute, to the PYM International Outreach Granting Group for its grant, and to all of my f/Friends and family, near and far, who sent prayers, financial support, and love, and who made this trip possible.  Thank you.

Ashley Wilcox

May 6, 2012

A view from my room at Milele Guest House


  1. Thank you! I LOVE hearing people's experiences when they are FRESH from an event.

    One topic I am really interested in hearing more about when you have time and if you have any Light: David Zarembka writes of some of the African Yearly Meetings barely including women at all. Did you sense either any barriers to participating for African you met or any awareness by anyone of this exclusion issue.

    Holding you in the Light as you write the next things.

    1. Rantwoman, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the number of women I saw in leadership roles in Nairobi YM. While I was there, I met three female pastors and two women who are monthly meeting clerks (also, with their system, several local churches make up one monthly meeting, so it is a big job). I can't speak to other parts of Kenya, but that is what I saw in Nairobi.

      Thanks for holding me in the Light!

  2. Thanks for sharing your report, Ashley. It was good to hear your sense of answered prayer, as we had prayed the time would be just what the Lord Jesus wanted it to be for you, and for all attending. Perhaps we will hear more from you in June at the PNWQWTG Conference?

    1. Thanks for your prayers, Alice! I am looking forward to seeing you at the women's conference. I am not going to be on the panel presenting about the World Conference because I am speaking in another plenary, but I'm sure there will be lots of opportunities for me to share about my experiences while we are there.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.