The gathering of Friends in Central Europe was held at the Don Bosco Haus in Vienna from Friday, 29 May to Monday 1 June, the weekend of Pentacost. There were 30 people from Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary,Poland, Slovakia and the UK. Among us there were Friends who had attended every gathering since the beginning, and F/friends for whom this was their first gathering. For some this was their first contact with Friends.

Among the new attenders, Tony and Agi Frei from Tolna, Hungary, represented 2000 Evangelical Friends whose community reaches from Hungary to Romania, Croatia and Serbia, including Roma as well as Hungarians, Romanians, Croats and Serbs. Their participation expanded our collective understanding of the roots and branches of our common Quaker beliefs and practices.

The theme of the gathering was ‘Challenges and Blessings of Small Meetings’. One of the real joys was to see – and hear about – the growth of the Prague Meeting. We reflected on the idea of Friends’ commitment to a spiritual path and to community.

Nancy Irving, Executive Secretary of FWCC, led us in a workshop on the history of the evolution of Friends, beginning with the teachings of George Fox. It’s in the teachings of George Fox and other early Seekers where we find the common ground shared by Evangelical Friends, Conservative, Programmed and Unprogrammed Friends. This includes the unmediated relationship between people and God, reflected in experimental learning; the principles of human equality, simplicity and non-violence. Where we diverge is over the question of authority: Evangelical Friends are unequivocally Christocentric and hold the Bible as the literal word of God and the authority by which personal revelation is tested. For the Unprogrammed/Liberal Friendpersonal experience or leadings have the highest authority and may be supported by the Bible or other significant writings and Christocentrism is not a given.

We enhanced our capacity to reach across these differences with an evening of active listening exercises, and we applied some of that learning to a simulation of a Quaker Quest process led by Kathy Butler.

After a free afternoon we met in our geographic groups and prepared collages of the past and present situation of our meetings. What fun! We concluded the evening with an epilogue literally filled up with lullabyes from our countries.

We departed enriched and inspired by our fellowship and by the opportunity to know and learn from each other.

The next gathering will be held the weekenf of 23/24 May – Pentacost – 2010 in Hungary.


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