Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Being a Peculiar People

Over the last two weeks I have worked as a steward for the World Council of Churches (WCC), International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC). With over 300 member faith communities, the WCC gathered close to 1,000 people, in Kingston Jamaica, to share, discuss, and dream of Just Peace. This event was the harvest event for the 10 year WCC project, the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV). The theme of the gathering centered on a document known as the Ecumenical Call to Just Peace (ECJP) which will be adopted by the WCC at the 2013 General Assembly in Busan, Korea.

These are my reflections on the gathering. Please feel free to post your comments below and email me at rachel.e.stacy@gmail.com.

My experience with this international peace convocation began several days before the event. Thirty-six young adults from around the world gathered to learn, work, pray, and play. We were the stewards; a selected group that during the convocation worked long hours, helping the event run smoothly.

To place myself in a bit of context with the ecumenical movement, last November, I served as a steward for the National Council of Churches-USA meeting in New Orleans. This was my first experience working alongside young adults from various Christian backgrounds in such an ecumenical setting. Like in New Orleans, in Jamaica, working with other young adults was challenging and rewarding. Most of us were, and still are, seminary students. The differences between the Orthodox communities and my little peace church are staggering, yet we all worked side by side registering, directing, and serving the events.

During this event the cultural differences accentuated the religious differences . For the first few days, before other peace church members arrived, I found myself exhausted in my attempts to explain Quakerism. In contrast to the NCC-USA meeting where one of the other stewards was a Mennonite, I was the only peace church member present. Most of the other stewards did not know much about Quakerism. On top of that, explaining your faith to another seminary student is a bit different than explaining your faith to some person on the street; most people don’t just come out and ask you about your eschatology.

Oh and the looks of people’s faces when I started explaining this peculiar faith! Trying to be fair to the diversity among Friends, I attempted to describe our lack of hierarchy, our waiting worship and our mystical sacraments. I really couldn’t get into my universalism at all—or even explain much about Jewish Quakers, Buddhist Quakers etc… so instead I tended towards listening to the questions posed and trying to slip in my passion for interfaith work where I could.

One day in particular, the peculiarity of Quakerism really got to me; being so different from everyone else is hard. I craved discussions with other peace church members where I wouldn’t have to admit that I didn’t believe in the Nicene Creed and I didn’t recite the Lord’s Prayer to display my loyalty to the church. It was draining to be different—having an appreciation and curiosity for other traditions but having no one know about you.

The tides turned quickly enough and soon I was joined not only by other peace church members but also by other North Americans. Is universalism a western phenomenon? It was sure easier to speak to Westerners about Quakerism… I’ll address this in another post.

One young Mennonite women I met spoke about attending Meeting for Worship in Spokan Washington. Later, for a seminary class, when asked to bring in pictures of the Eucharist from different traditions, she thought to bring in the picture of Christ in the midst. A simple story, but one that relieved my feelings of being ‘weird.’

I spent much of my free time during the IEPC among peace church members, both historic and living. The more knowledgeable folks were of my tradition, the easier it was to spend time with them. Though, from this experience so many questions rise up in my mind: Can I appreciate other faiths when they are intolerant of mine? When do I stand up and say “I’m a Christian, but not a Trinitarian!” “Don’t try to baptize me with water!” or more generally “You’re not including me!” and when do I let the moment pass, let the dominant voices establish the norm and appreciate the small still moments when my voice is valued?

I think in the end, I found my place. I spoke clearly and boldly and respected others. My voice is being heard and with a beautiful group of diverse peers I am rising up in this exploration and development of ecumenicalism.

It’s still hard to be of this peculiar faith. I wonder if I will ever have the opportunity to be the general secretary of the WCC since neither my faith nor my leadership as a woman are particularly recognized by patriarchal traditions. Without a title attached to my name such as Dr. or Rev. will I ever find myself among ecumenical leadership? For starters, I feel called into this work and I have faith that regardless of the obstacles, other plans are at work.