As we know far too well, there is much more work to be done than we will ever complete. We pray for help with all that could be done, not just locally, but around the world in which we live. The FUM Triennial was a great way to catch up with so many of God’s harvesters — the living answers to our prayers.
Looking at Matthew 9:37-38, Mark 4:29, Luke 10:2 and John 4:34-38, what else can be our calling than to harvest the opportunities that God presents us? It was exciting for me to find so many faithful Quakers answering this call of “A Great People to be Gathered: in Christ, in Community, for Mission.”
My drive to Marion, Indiana, was immediately rewarded by the welcoming staff of FUM who had obviously worked extremely hard to make my experience a smooth and easy one. Volunteers pitched in to ensure that I received what I needed in good order. This first contact set the tone for engaging exchanges over the next few days.
Many of the items discovered in the check-in packet were novel, yet useful. This included toys that were both were both fun and practical, thus characteristic of most Triennial activities. I still use the bag it all came in for groceries.
Because there are no FUM affiliates in Kentucky where I worship with Quakers, my experience with programmed Friends has been limited. However, the good work of so many has been so noticeable that the opportunity to attend a Triennial was compelling. While I know very little about FUM itself, many of the people were recognizable from other Quaker arenas, and the work of everyone there was a joy to discover. It was humbling to realize I was breaking bread with such luminous children of the Light.
I enjoyed speaking with current and former fellow students, as well as professors, from Earlham School of Religion. Talking at length with a chancellor of Barclay College, or trustees of such places as Friends University, reminded me that my academic world is larger than realized.
Many funny jokes were told, and Quaker humor was openly encouraged. Referring to iPhones as Apples (because they are so tempting) took the serious edge off of thinking about my electronic idols. Laughter was a common, refreshing part of the Triennial.
Many amazing stories of money miracles made the fish and the loaves seem almost commonplace. One example was found in Del and Suzanne Livingston who made my drink seem more precious as they told me about their efforts with Living Water in Africa. They helped me realize how far the seeds we plant can extend.
The economic and political aspects of African countries embracing a Quaker initiative seemed less important than the practical aspects of providing drinkable water for a household of 10 to 12 with raw materials as simple as sand and gravel. Hearing prices like $1.20 or 50 cents per month gave me a new perspective on my water bill, but also on what is really important to do with all the blessings I enjoy, whether clean water or an hourly wage. How much easier would healthcare issues like cholera or AIDS be if the world had an available water supply?
Many of my quandaries, like how I could ever be as Christlike as those around me, were addressed by plenary speakers. The dilemma of reflecting Christian virtues while being authentically human is not new, but it was previously unimagined that Jesus living in us makes us sacred the way an artist’s signature adds value to a painting.
FUM’s mission statement: “to energize and equip Friends through the power of the Holy Spirit to gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord” was echoed by employees describing their callings in the same terms. Each talked about how, according to their individual gifts, God led them to this harvest.
Henry Freeman’s definition of a disciple as a student spoke to my condition of being in school, and his entertaining presentation persuaded me that fundraising is a different process than I imagined. He described it as uniting people with their dreams, or their true callings, as I might term it.
The FUM staff had worked so hard to organize the Triennial as a vessel, making it an environment that allowed us to better hear the authenticity behind the voice rather than the presenting voice. This sense of gathering and quickening overshadowed any sense of differences and gave participants a sense of being called.
Donne Hayden reminded me how important it is to go to each other’s “do’s,” and how attractive Quakers are to the outside world when we are united. That was easy to see at the Triennial where members of Liberal, Conservative and Evangelical branches joined in with, and were celebrated by, FUM Friends.
The cross-sectional nature of the conference was not limited to organizational styles, but was seen in the mix of ages. Thus it was easy to confer about how to engage young adult Friends in Quaker programs. Who would have otherwise thought to frame the issue as how to support the excellent work already being attempted in youth programs?
As many Quaker events as I have been to over the years, I was sad that so many display tables were new to me. Displays not seen before ranged from earning Quaker badges in conjunction with scouting to Lugulu Hospital in Kenya with the motto: “We treat, Jesus heals.”
The whole experience fed me intellectually with sound theology and insightful perspectives on the Bible. The difference between works and the word effort used in II Peter 1:5-7 solved the age-old “grace versus works” problem, and called us to action.
I came away from the event refreshed and encouraged that so many good Friends are diligently working for a better world, and that FUM gives us a venue to learn about, as well as join in with, so much good work.
Steve Olshewsky is a Writing as Ministry student at the Earlham School of Religion.