Letters - 5 February 2021

From Peace and justice to How we do it

Peace and justice

The late and now largely-unlamented British Empire eventually came to the conclusion that the slave trade should stop, and from 1808 the navy was given the difficult task of suppressing it. In 1834 the Emancipation Act became law.

Prior to that time, slavery had existed all over the world and in every age. Is it not remarkable that no previous empire had repudiated the practice? Was that repudiation historically inevitable?

If that decision had not been made at that time and in that way, would slavery be now so universally understood as a deep moral wrong? Or would the ‘wisdom’ of all previous ages have continued to prevail?

Yes, the Empire had benefited from the slave trade, and even more from the products of slavery, from Elizabethan times onward. Yes, the repudiation of slavery wasn’t perfect, and the racism so implicitly a part of imperialism continues to disfigure our society and many others to this day.

Yet the remarkable fact remains that a unique moral decision was made, even in the face of the deeply-entrenched forces of self-interest.

In our age, the onward march of militarism and ever-increasing destructive technology seem inevitable. It is universally accepted, as it has been throughout human history, that those who desire peace should prepare for war. It is good to remind ourselves that even in this very imperfect world moral choices can be made, and that when they are rightly-made they have the power to change our understanding of what it means to be human. The abolitionists used the slogan: ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’ The equivalent slogan for our times must surely be: ‘If you desire peace, cultivate justice.’

T Roger S Wilson

Doing it together

I enjoyed Celia Waterhouse’s piece in the Friend about oversight (1 January 2021). My Meeting (Bradford-on-Avon) long ago decided to move not only away from the looking-down word ‘overseer’ but from a system in which it seemed as if we were dividing ourselves, albeit for limited terms, into those needing care and others into carers.

That felt wrong in a community like ours. Also, it was hard to keep finding Friends who were willing and able to do all the looking after and, when we came to think about it, we realised that we could do a more inclusive and nurturing job by doing it together.

This is what we’ve done since then. We divide the Meeting’s membership (in which we of course include attenders old and new) into three or four groups, which we call fellowship groups. These offer what their name suggests: friendship with fellow Friends and pastoral care from them, as needed.

They ensure that if any member has particular support needs at a given time, the others can either meet those needs or put them in touch with others who can.

Each group keeps in contact with a few Friends who, for whatever reason, cannot or do not wish to participate in person, trying to ensure that their pastoral needs are met. Each one has two convenors and the convenors meet as a group from time to time to compare notes and discuss any problems or ideas that come up. Every year we have a whole-Meeting review of how the groups are working and every few years we have an ‘all change’.

Of course there are some individuals who are natural overseers, in the best sense, and they will do what they have always done and are valued by everyone; but we find that, as a system, fellowship groups work better. They help us all to feel part of the life of the Meeting and to get to know one another better than we otherwise would, sharing things about our lives and discussing ideas and experiences.

Since my Meeting made this change, others have done something similar and, during the past strange year, our groups have stood us in good stead, meeting on Zoom and keeping in touch by phone in addition to our blended Meetings for Worship. In our experience, they are an option worth considering. 
Diana Francis

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