The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
George Fox, “the first instrument” (Penn) of the Society of Friends, was 23 years old when he found personal salvation and peace of mind through Jesus Christ in 1647, after four years of spiritual seeking. He soon became a mighty preacher and leader with a positive Christian message. The Friends rapidly grew in numbers, in spite of severe persecution. They became both evangelists and missionaries. They fervently believed that seventeenth century followers of Christ were to live in the same spirit and power in which the first century Christians lived.
Excerpt from the Preface to Why Friends are Friends by Jack L. Willcuts (Barclay Press, 1984)
In the centuries since the seventeenth century, Friends have scattered and evangelised worldwide, and have become known for our good works reflecting our love for “that of God” in every person. Our forms of worship have evolved through culture and context, with many Friends now worshipping in Friends churches with pastoral guidance in addition to the silent expectant waiting upon the Holy Spirit. Friends acknowledge this rich diversity.
Origin of FWCC
The Friends World Committee for Consultation was established at the Second World Conference of Friends held at Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, in 1937. The concept of a world organization to express the sense of world fellowship of Friends arose as an important part of the evolution of the Religious Society of Friends in the first two decades of the twentieth century. This tentative development gained impetus from the 1920 Friends World Conference in London and the Young Friends Gathering in Jordans, England, held in the same year. No other organisation exists which links together yearly meetings and other Quaker bodies around the world. Authority within the Religious Society of Friends lies at the yearly meeting and monthly meeting/church levels, leaving these groups potentially in isolation. Hence the vision of an organisation arose to keep Friends connected and in touch with each other across the diverse spectrum of the Society.
The vision was kept alive through the Second World War and meetings of the Committee occurred irregularly up to 1952, after which these became “triennial” through 2007. Further information about FWCC meetings, officers and secretaries is included at the end of this introduction. FWCC was responsible for organising the subsequent World Conferences, at Oxford, England, in 1952 and at Guilford College, North Carolina, in 1967. The fifth World Conference was held on three sites in the Netherlands, Honduras and Kenya, in 1991. It was the occasion for a greatly increased participation of yearly meetings, especially those in Africa and Latin America, and it was accompanied by a growing recognition of the shared concerns that unite Friends in spite of our differences in theology, culture, and worship practices.
The 2012 World Conference of Friends, held at Kabarak University, near Nakuru, Kenya, followed a Consultation on Global Change initiated in 2010. At the 2012 Conference, Friends agreed the Kabarak Call for Peace and Eco-Justice, which urges Friends to work for a more just and sustainable world. More details can be found at www.saltandlight2012.org. Following on from the Conference, Friends at the 2016 FWCC Plenary Meeting in Pisac, Peru, agreed the Pisac Minute on Living Sustainably and Sustaining Life on Earth. This has become one of the main focuses of FWCC’s work. In 2017, with the support of Britain Yearly Meeting, a Sustainability Communications Officer began work in the World Office, helping to connect Friends who are working on this issue worldwide and share their stories, as well as representing Friends at interfaith and other organisations working on sustainability globally.
Aims and Purposes
The primary task of FWCC is to help Friends appreciate their unity within the diversity of the Quaker family. There are differences of language, culture, and nationality, and in the emphasis placed on different aspects of our common Christian and Quaker heritage and witness. Friends worship in a variety of ways, and FWCC, by increasing understanding of these differences, helps Friends both deepen and enlarge their own understanding of their faith and life as Quakers.
FWCC operates collaboratively as one organization, with the World Office and four Section offices. The five offices are independently incorporated and have separate budgets and programmes, but work across Sections to bring Friends together across the world. The World Office encourages cross-Section engagement, while respecting the autonomy of individual yearly meetings and other Quaker organisations.
The World Office represents Friends at the world level as the only Quaker organisation which has this overall, worldwide perspective and responsibility.
FWCC was established to be a channel of communication among Friends, helping us to explore and nurture our identity as Quakers so that we can discover and be faithful to our true place in the world as a people of God. The current mission statement is: Answering God’s call to universal love, FWCC brings Friends of varying traditions and cultural experiences together in worship, communications, and consultation, to express our common heritage and our Quaker message to the world.
FWCC was charged by the 1937 World Conference of Friends to act in a consultative capacity to promote better understanding among Friends the world over, particularly by the encouragement of joint conferences and intervisitation, the collection and circulation of information about Quaker literature, and other activities directed toward that end. The 1976 Triennial revised and expanded the Aims and Purposes of FWCC:
- To encourage and strengthen the spiritual life within the Religious Society of Friends, and its outreach in the world, through such measures as worship, intervisitation, study, conferences and a wide sharing of experiences on the deepest level.
- To help Friends to gain a better understanding of the world-wide character of the Religious Society of Friends and its vocation in the world.
- To promote consultation amongst Friends of all cultures, countries and languages. To bring the different groups of Friends into intimate touch with one another, seeking their common Quaker heritage, sharing experiences, and coming to some measure of agreement in regard to their attitude to world issues.
- To promote understanding between Friends everywhere and members of other branches of the Christian Church and also of other religious faiths, and to interpret the specific Quaker message to those who seek further religious experience.
- To keep under review the Quaker contribution in world affairs and to the world Christian mission; to facilitate the examination and presentation of Quaker thinking and concern in these fields; and to encourage Friends to cooperate as far as possible in joint action with other groups having similar objectives.
Nearly all yearly meetings in the world are affiliated to FWCC, and their members are the membership of FWCC. Cordial contacts are maintained with those yearly meetings that have not affiliated. Each affiliated yearly meeting appoints a number of representatives, based on the size of its membership, who are responsible for attending world plenary meetings and section meetings, and promoting the purposes of FWCC.
There are four Sections in the following places:
Africa Section – Nairobi, Kenya
Section of the Americas – Philadelphia, PA, USA
Asia-West Pacific Section – Canberra, ACT, Australia
Europe & Middle East Section – Cambridge, UK
The Sections range in size from over 180,000 Friends in the Africa Section to around 24,000 in the Asia-West Pacific Section. The Sections also differ widely in staff, program and financial resources. Within the overall aims of FWCC and working collaboratively, each Section is autonomous, holding regional gatherings, publishing materials and organizing its own special programmes. (See information about each Section.)
The Central Executive Committee (CEC) appoints a General Secretary who works from the World Office, currently situated in London, England. The World Office organizes what were Triennial meetings (now called World Plenary Meetings, as they are no longer triennial, but held every six to ten years) and other world gatherings and consultations, implements CEC decisions and maintains contact with isolated Friends and worship groups (International Members) throughout the world, as well as Quaker service bodies. FWCC acts as the representative body of the whole Quaker family in worldwide ecumenical bodies and at the United Nations through the Quaker United Nations Offices (QUNO) in New York and Geneva.
International Membership Programme
Over the years, individual Friends have moved to many different areas of the world and want to retain their connection with Quaker institutions. There are also seekers in parts of the world where there is no yearly meeting or other Quaker body who have discovered Quakerism and want to become part of the worldwide family of Friends.
These Friends inspired the creation of an international membership programme, first as part of Britain Yearly Meeting’s work, then since the mid-1980s as a programme of the FWCC World Office. The International Membership Programme has expanded to serve isolated worshipping groups as well as individuals. With the spread of the worldwide web, more seekers have found Friends on-line, creating new opportunities and challenges for international membership work.
At the end of 2017, the programme was serving nine monthly meetings on three continents, four recognised meetings on two continents, 24 worship groups on four continents and 110 individual international members.
World Plenary Meetings
As a general pattern, the full World Committee has met once every three years in different parts of the world (the “Triennial”). However, the Constitution was amended at the 2007 Triennial in Dublin to allow up to five years between meetings of the full International Representative body. This was further changed at the 2016 World Plenary Meeting which set an outer limit of meeting every ten years. The meeting minuted its preference that the CEC consider holding the next Plenary Meeting no later than six to eight years from 2016. The CEC subsequently agreed to hold a Plenary in 2023 in South Africa and a further one in 2030, with plans for a World Conference in 2037 to mark the centenary of FWCC. These changes were made in recognition of the environmental impact of face-to-face meetings at a worldwide level. Friends are encouraged to meet regionally and with other Sections between Plenaries, especially using video conferencing and similar technology.
Interpretation and translation are offered by the language services group in Spanish, French, and English as needed.
An internationally representative Central Executive Committee (CEC) meets between World Plenary Meetings to continue FWCC’s decision-making and to guide its work on behalf of Friends. Other internationally based committees (which usually function through email and video conferencing) are constituted to assist with various specific tasks, such as finance and nominations.
Current representatives to FWCC are invited to attend World Plenary Meetings. The constitution of the Section of the Americas provides for an additional number of representatives for FWCC activities within the Section. Yearly meetings in the Section of the Americas select a proportion of their full list of representatives to attend World Plenary Meetings. As world meetings are less frequent, FWCC allows for applications to open places for additional Friends to attend.
In addition, observers from non-affiliated yearly meetings, Quaker mission and service bodies and selected Friends’ publications are invited to each Plenary, along with additional Friends from the Section in which the plenary meeting is being held.
Worship at FWCC Gatherings
Many Friends have a vivid experience of salvation through the teaching, life and death of Jesus Christ. Many others are hesitant about using words at all to describe the deepest spiritual experiences of their lives. Some come from meetings where worship is a joyful combination of song, prayer and Biblical teaching, often led by a pastor. Others meet together to worship waiting in silence for the spirit of God to move upon their hearts, leading at times to words of ministry shared aloud.
At FWCC meetings, worship is shared from the variety of Friends’ experience. Recently, Sections have led worship on different days, opening those present to new ways of worship. Friends who approach worship at FWCC meetings with open hearts and a desire to learn are enriched by the shared experience. Learning about other ways of worship in no way diminishes one’s own experience. When respect for each other’s ways of worship is honoured, it serves to deepen our understanding of our own experience. This is why we gather.
FWCC cherishes the traditional Friends’ manner of decision-making. Our meetings for business are meetings for worship where we seek to learn the will of God.
Votes are not taken. The unity we seek is God’s unity, not the will of the majority, nor of the vocal minority. Each person is a full participant in this search for God’s will; thus while representatives need to know the mind of their yearly meeting, they are not delegates with a mandate from their meeting. The clerk is the servant of the meeting and has the difficult and sensitive task of discerning the sense of the meeting. This way of doing business together is the common experience of most, but not all, of the Friends attending the FWCC meetings. Doing business together has always been a test of our loving understanding and faithfulness.
FWCC is a committee with a programme of work. At World Plenary Meetings we review what has been done in our name and consider future tasks.
Reports are received from the World and Section offices and the Quaker United Nations Office, and Friends are brought up to date on projects initiated at previous world meetings. World Plenary Meetings also provide opportunities for sharing the life and concerns of individual yearly meetings and groups. There have been, for example, opportunities for discussion on mission, service, racism, disarmament, gender relationships in the Society of Friends, and work with refugees and migrants. Throughout the meetings there is worship and study in small groups, giving Friends the opportunity to learn together and grow into a community seeking to know God. Participants are enriched, and their vision enlarged, by this first hand acquaintance with the variety, breadth and depth of the Quaker experience.
A world gathering provides the chance to discern where God is calling the body of Friends. Spiritual preparation and consultations help to prepare those present for discerning God’s will for Quakers worldwide. It is an opportunity to amplify the Quaker voice and to strengthen Quaker presence in the world.
Conferences and Consultations
A significant contribution of the World Committee has been its sponsorship of World Conferences that enable larger numbers of Friends to be aware of each other’s existence – and validity – as descendants of George Fox and his spiritual legacy.
There is ample evidence from responses of conference attendees that these events have been of great value in establishing friendships and fellowship, in deepening one’s faith, in being inspired and giving mutual support, and in growing awareness of the worldwide nature of Quakers around the world.
The Fifth World Conference of Friends held on three sites, in the Netherlands, Honduras and Kenya, in 1991, provided a unique opportunity for Friends from all parts of the world to meet. The theme “In Spirit and in Truth – Faith in Action” led to deep sharing between Friends from different cultures and traditions, learning from one another and creating lasting personal friendships. Many Friends report a renewal of their faith and witness as a result of these encounters. The Conference was reported in Faith in Action: Encounters with Friends.
A Sixth World Conference of Friends was held at Kabarak University near Nakuru, Kenya, in April 2012. Under the theme of Being Salt and Light: Living the Kingdom of God in a Broken World, over 850 Friends reflected on issues of sustainability, peace work, poverty and justice through worship, small group discussions, and hearing from speakers from across the globe. Friends agreed the Kabarak Call for Peace and Eco-Justice, which has informed FWCC’s work ever since.
Occasionally, FWCC organises a smaller gathering called a “consultation” on a specific topic with limited attendance. Papers and reports are available afterwards. The most recent one was a worldwide consultation on Global Change which took place from 2010 to 2011, and informed the 2012 World Conference.
In addition Sections have led a variety of regional and border conferences on specific themes as well as their regular Section meetings for business.
Young Friends have organised World Gatherings of their own, the most recent having been held in 2005 in Lancaster, UK and in Mombasa, Kenya.
Communication & Online Opportunities
A major function of FWCC is communication with Friends around the world, through email and correspondence, through social media, in sharing ideas and concerns through our semi-annual journal, Friends World News, and in ensuring that adequate information about Friends is available through pamphlets, handbooks, and directories. The World Office maintains a website, www.fwcc.world, as well as a Facebook page and a Twitter account. There is also a dedicated website for World Quaker Day.
FWCC across all Sections welcomes translation and publication of Quaker literature in languages other than English. Providing materials in Friends’ original languages contributes to George Fox’s vision of “a great people to be gathered”. There is a growing number of works being written in other languages, including, for example, the writings of Korean Friend Ham Sok Hon, and of Heredio Santos from Cuba, which have been translated into English.
Much work has been done in the Section of the Americas to translate works into Spanish. The Europe and Middle East Section has being translating texts into many of the languages that are used in that section, and has created online courses in several languages. The Asia-West Pacific Section has been working on material in Hindi, and the Africa Section does much of its work in Swahili and other local languages. We all benefit from this work and we appreciate individual Friends’ contribution to this growing body of translated materials.
Sections have been initiating online worship experiences. We are increasingly seeing the value of using technology as a collector of community experience.
World Quaker Day
In 2014, FWCC launched World Quaker Day, a global celebration of Quakerism. On the first Sunday of October each year, Friends are invited to join Quakers around the world in our shared experience of worship, celebrating our wonderful diversity of expression. Church to church, meeting to meeting, country to country, and section to section, we feel the power of God collecting us into a faithful family. Friends are encouraged to organise events and share photos, videos and stories on the dedicated website.
World Level Representation
As the representative body of Friends worldwide, FWCC attends the annual meeting of the Conference of Secretaries of Christian World Communions. In a similar capacity, it is invited to send an adviser to the Central Committee and Assemblies of the World Council of Churches. It also represents Friends at the Global Christian Forum.
Friends World Committee has general consultative status as an accredited, non-governmental organization with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. Thus, a Quaker presence is felt at the highest level of international negotiation. Quaker representatives at our Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) in Geneva and New York are engaged in the issues being discussed in UN bodies, including negotiations, consultations with delegations, members of the UN Secretariat, and representatives of other civil society organizations.
QUNO Representatives also convene informal meetings at the Quaker centres or at conferences to promote broader understanding and greater consensus on issues of particular concern to Quakers. This enables Friends to make a positive contribution in such fields as peacebuilding and the prevention of human conflict, human rights and refugees, peace and disarmament, human impacts of climate change, economic justice, food and sustainability, trade and development, crime and the treatment of offenders. Volunteer representatives from time to time attend particular UN Conferences and monitor issues at the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in Vienna.
FWCC appoints half the membership of the Quaker United Nations Committees that serve the New York and Geneva Quaker UN Offices. The appointees come from each of the four Sections and the FWCC General Secretary serves on the governing committees of both offices. These committees set the policy agendas for the two offices, which work as one office with complementary priorities. In addition, FWCC provides support for volunteers at other UN departments and agencies.
Travel in the ministry was once a major means of communication and mutual support between Friends in different parts of the world. In these days of rapid communication there is still an important place for direct personal encounter. Friends under religious concern to travel in the ministry may be encouraged and supported by the FWCC through the World and Section offices. In addition, FWCC staff, Central Executive Committee members and others working on behalf of FWCC travel to visit Quaker groups as a regular part of their duties. These visits provide nurture and strength to the spiritual life of the individual and meeting.
Main Gatherings of Friends & FWCC
|1920||All Friends Conference||London, England|
|1920||Young Friends Gathering||Jordans, England|
|1937||Second World Conference
Friends World Committee for Consultation
|Swarthmore & Haverford Colleges, PA|
|1938||1st Committee Meeting||Vallekilde, Denmark|
|1939||2nd Committee Meeting||Geneva, Switzerland|
|1947||3rd Committee Meeting||Richmond, Indiana, USA|
|1950||4th Committee Meeting||Oxford, England|
|1952||Third World Conference
|1955||6th Triennial Meeting||Germantown, Ohio, USA|
|1958||7th Triennial Meeting||Bad Pyrmont, West Germany|
|1961||8th Triennial Meeting||Kaimosi, Kenya|
|1964||9th Triennial Meeting||Waterford, Ireland|
|1967||Fourth World Conference
10th Triennial Meeting
|Greensboro, North Carolina, USA|
|1967||International Young Friends Conference||Pennsylvania, USA|
|1970||11th Triennial Meeting||Sigtuna, Sweden|
|1973||12th Triennial Meeting||Sydney, Australia|
|1973||International Mission & Service
|1976||13th Triennial Meeting||Hamilton, Ontario, Canada|
|1976||2nd International Mission & Service
|1979||14th Triennial Meeting||Gwatt, Switzerland|
|1979||3rd International Mission & Service
|1981||4th International Mission & Service
|Ciudad Victoria, Mexico|
15th Triennial Meeting
|1985||16th Triennial Meeting||Oaxtepec, Mexico|
|1985||World Gathering of Young Friends||Guilford College, North Carolina, USA|
|1985||5th International Mission & Service
|1988||17th Triennial Meeting||Tokyo, Japan|
|1990||International Theological Conference
of Quaker Women
|1991||Fifth World Conference||Elspeet, Netherlands
|1994||18th Triennial Meeting||New Mexico, USA|
|1997||19th Triennial Meeting||Birmingham, England|
|2000||20th Triennial Meeting||New Hampshire, USA|
|2004||21st Triennial Meeting||Auckland, New Zealand|
|2005||World Gathering of Young Friends||Lancaster, England and Kanamai, Kenya|
|2007||22nd Triennial Meeting||Dublin, Ireland|
|2012||Sixth World Conference
23rd Committee Meeting
|2016||1st World Plenary Meeting
24th Meeting of the Committee
|2023||2nd World Plenary Meeting
25th Meeting of the Committee
FWCC Clerks (until 1985, “Chairmen”)
|1938-1947||Carl Heath||Great Britain|
|1948-1952||D. Elton Trueblood||USA|
|1952-1958||Errol T. Elliott||USA|
|1962-1964||James F. Walker||USA|
|1965-1970||Douglas V. Steere||USA|
|1971-1973||Heinrich Carstens||Federal Republic of Germany|
|1974-1979||Edwin B. Bronner||USA|
|1980-1985||Joseph P. Haughton||Ireland|
|2004-2012||Duduzile Mtshazo||South Africa|
|2013-2016*||Ramon Gonzales Longoria||Cuba|
Clerks of Interim/Central Executive Committee
|1980-1985||Mary Eddington||Great Britain|
|1991-1997||Erica Vere||Great Britain|
|1998-2000||Peter Eccles||Great Britain|
|2001-2007||Thomas C. Hill||USA|
|2008- 2012||S. Jocelyn Burnell||Great Britain|
Following changes to the FWCC Constitution made at the World Plenary Meeting in Pisac, Peru, the roles of CEC and FWCC Clerks were merged. One of the Assistant Clerks will be responsible for clerking the International Planning Committee for the 2023 World Plenary.
|2017-19||Simon C. Lamb||Ireland|
FWCC Assistant Clerks (2)
|2017-2018||Ramon Gonzales Longoria||Cuba|
FWCC World Office – General Secretaries
|1938-1946||Frederick J. Tritton||Great Britain|
|1947-1948||Leslie D. Shaffer||USA|
|1948-1950||Frederick J. Tritton||Great Britain|
|1950-1954||Harry T. Silcock||Great Britain|
|1954-1956||Ranjit M. Chetsingh||India|
|1956-1962||Herbert M. Hadley||USA|
|1962-1970||Blanche W. Shaffer||USA|
|1971-1980||William E. Barton||Great Britain|
|1980-1981||Thomas R. Bodine (acting)||USA|
|1986-1991||Val Ferguson||Great Britain|
|1992-1997||Thomas F. Taylor||USA|
|1998-2004||Elizabeth A. Duke||Aotearoa/New Zealand|
FWCC World Office – Associate Secretaries
|1970||William E. Barton||Great Britain|
|1979-1985||Val Ferguson||Great Britain|
|1986-1991||Thomas F. Taylor||USA|
|1992-1996||Roger Sturge||Great Britain|
|1997-1998||Elizabeth Duke||Aotearoa/New Zealand|
|2003-2004||Annis Bleeke (acting)||USA|
(There have been no Associate Secretaries since 2005.)
Quaker United Nations Office
Directors, or principal “Quaker representatives”
New York Office Geneva Office
|1948-1960||Elmore Jackson||1948-1949||Algie I. Newlin|
|1961-1962||George Loft||1950-1954||Colin W. Bell|
|1963-1969||William Huntington||1955-1977||J. Duncan Wood|
|1970-1978||Barrett Hollister||1978-1979||Philip L. Martin|
|1979-1982||Stephen Thiermann||1980-1982||Peter Whittle|
|1983-1986||Roger Naumann||1983-1984||Kevin Clements|
|1986-1998||Stephen Collett||1985-1992||Joel McClellan|
|1998-2005||Jack Patterson & Lori Heninger||1993-2004||Brewster Grace|
|2005-2006||Sarah Clarke (acting)||2004-2007||David Atwood|
|2006-2007||Robert A. Callard||2007-||Jonathan Wolley|
|2007||David Atwood (acting)|