Way opened so that my role as a steward at the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) in Kingston, Jamaica, was to help out at the registration/info table. With two other stewards and two fantastic World Council of Churches (WCC) staff members we not only welcomed and registered the 1,000 participants but we also fielded every possible question from internet malfunctions to directional requests.
I loved it. To welcome the stranger, to bring folks into a space such as this international peace convocation was amazing. Not only did I get to personally meet most of the other Quakers but I also recognized names of people whom I had read about and met hundreds of faces for the first time.
There are many stories from the registration table and I have moments both humorous and heartbreaking that will stay with me in remembrance. One example of a moment that sent others laughing was when I was working with the other American steward (who was helping out with computer issues) at the registration desk and a familiar face walked into the room. Lois Wilson had been the keynote speaker at the NCC-USA meeting we both attended in November. A charismatic spry woman who is described in the book she later gave us as a ‘minister, ecumenist, educator, author, Chancellor, Senator, wife, mother of four and grandmother of twelve’ has become my personal hero. If I could do half of what she has done in her life and still have the grace and humor that she displays on a regular basis, I would be more than satisfied. And by the way the two of us Americans reacted when she came into the registration hall, you would have thought that a movie star had just walked in.
Prior to the beginning of IEPC, the stewards had engaged in ecumenical training in hopes that we would be prepared for the experience that lay ahead. One of the conversations that resulted from this training was a conversation about titles. As I mentioned in my prior post, I’m concerned about titles; Quakers don’t normally use them. So, how was I to authentically address an Orthodox Bishop, respecting my tradition as well as his? One of our leaders suggested that if I ever came across a situation where such a title was in question, I should simply ask. So in good form, when I got the opportunity to register an Orthodox Bishop (who spoke English well enough not to be misunderstood) I asked. “As an Orthodox Bishop, what should I call you?” I inquired innocently. The Bishop smiled and simply said “You can call me Mike.”
Not everyone who approached me at the information/registration table was in their best form. We had some sever issues with the Internet during the first few days of the IEPC and many people were annoyed. Have we idolized our technology so much that we cannot do without? A question for another time perhaps. However, in the middle of a rather busy registration hall a prominent member of the WCC leadership exploded his humanness. He publicly yelled at me for not being able to fix his internet connection. Shocked, I took the anger flashed at me and immediately grounded it. I closed my eyes and it took me a moment to recover. In that moment my dear friend had stormed out of the room. Running after him and addressing him by name I offered some possible solutions.
In reflection all I could think was how human each of us is, no matter our title or rank. Later on this man humbly apologized to me and in such displayed that a person holding power can be human both in his frustration and in his compassion. So, I thank him now for reminding me that all leaders are just people with good moments and bad and with my own imperfections I might have a shot to be a little like him.
The registration/info table was always full of surprises and I learned so much from the two WCC staff with whom I worked. From them I saw grand displays of patience and multi-tasking. I witnessed them take care of people in strong, calm ways that made people feel safe and secure. I have so much to work on, not to mention adding a few languages to my repertoire, so that I can continue to welcome the stranger and begin to call the stranger friend.