Market watchers were struck both at the concern over inflation as well as the stress over the overseas problems.
"It makes it particularly difficult to gauge exactly when they think it would be appropriate to raise rates…because of how opaque (the situation in China and elsewhere) is," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. "It's not clear to me exactly what we'll be able to look at or fix on when they will begin to raise rates."
In its economic projections, Fed members showed misgivings despite improvements in a number of areas.
The Fed has what is known as a dual mandate—price stability and maximum employment. The unemployment rate, currently at 5.1 percent, is well below the Fed's initial 6.5 percent benchmark for raising rates, but inflation, at least by the FOMC's favored gauges, has remained tame.
The "central tendency" for headline inflation, as gauged by the personal consumption expenditures index, is now at just 0.3 percent to 0.5 percent, down from an already-anemic 0.6 percent to 0.8 percent in June. Projections for core inflation, which excludes energy and food, held steady at 1.3 percent to 1.4 percent, well below the Fed's 2 percent target.
Concerns over the slow pace of inflation seemed to carry the day, as members adjusted their expectations for the pace of future rate increases.
One official on the 17-member FOMC even indicated that the appropriate time for the first rate increase wouldn't be until 2017. Thirteen members still see a 2015 hike, down from 15 in June, while three anticipate a 2016 move.
"We have to be worried now about what's happening in Asian equity markets and other places," said Jim Caron, fixed income portfolio manager at Morgan Stanley Investment Management. "If they lower their growth and inflation forecast, you have to weigh more heavily the possibility that the Fed will wait until 2016."
On Wall Street, the Fed's deliberations have been 2015's biggest drama.