Meeting for Sufferings: Sufferings focus on sustainability

The work on sustainability being undertaken by Britain Yearly Meeting was considered at Meeting for Sufferings

the work and witness that Quakers in Britain have done on sustainability was the main issue for consideration in the morning session at Meeting for Sufferings held in the George Fox room at Friends House in London on Saturday 3 February.

The Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) Sustainability Group, set up in 2014, is one of two working groups of Sufferings (the other being the Book of Discipline Review Preparation Group) and the terms of reference of the group require that it be reviewed after three years.

Lis Burch, clerk of the BYM Sustainability Group, spoke to the Group’s report. It described the background of the commitment to sustainability since it was accepted at Yearly Meeting Gathering in Canterbury in 2011 and how Friends – nationally, locally and individually – had responded to it.

The report described the background and spiritual base underlying the concern, the involvement of central committees, and various initiatives. In Britain Yearly Meeting all committee terms of reference, for example, will now include a reference to the commitment and how their work relates to it.

She emphasised the need for Friends to ‘live by Quaker discipline’ and said that ‘there is a sense in the group of getting into our stride’. She admitted, at the beginning and with ‘such a wide brief’, that the Group had ‘inadvertently trodden on some toes – for which we are sorry. It’s fair to say much of our progress has been by trail and error’. She added: ‘We have tried to remain faithful to what love requires of us.’

‘It is,’ she explained, ‘like the concern on the abolition of the slave trade. We all have to live by Quaker values and discipline. What’s our role in Meetings in living up to the commitment?’

She referred to ‘The Ballad of the White Horse’, the poem by the writer G K Chesterton, a theme of which is the story of Christianity battling against the destructive forces of nihilism and heathenism:

‘I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet.
And the sea rises higher.’

Lis Burch said there had, on concerns like sustainability, often been decades of work by a small group of Quakers who wished to influence other Friends.

It was felt that sometimes Friends seemed to talk about sustainability in terms of whether we are ‘worse than the society around us, but is this the best we can be?’ Many Friends in the room nodded in agreement at these words – that the Quaker way demanded Friends be much better than the standards society, generally, accepts.

Lis Burch said that staff at Friends House were working hard on the concern, and there were other groups and Quakers also doing a lot, but that this was ‘not enough’.

She highlighted that, while a lot of work was being done at a systemic level, a lot more work needed to be done at a local level. ‘Some Friends and Meetings,’ it was explained, ‘are doing a lot but others are engaging only minimally.’

Friends were encouraged to ‘understand and live by Quaker discipline’ and urged to ‘do this joyfully and spend more time in worship and honest searching’.

Lis Burch concluded by saying: ‘We will continue to be guided by what love requires of us.’

The matter was then put before Sufferings. A Friend said that it was ‘clear that one problem is funding’. Helen Drewery, from Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW), responded by explaining that ‘there was always a shortage of resources and that trustees had to prioritise’.

She talked about the range of work being done and highlighted, as an example, the ‘quiet diplomacy’ engaged in by the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) in Geneva.

She also referred to the work being done by QPSW and the appointment of a new sustainability communications position at the Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC). The Sustainability Group, it was explained, was there to ‘nudge and suggest and elder’.

A Friend felt that there did not seem to be a great deal of involvement with other churches on the issue of sustainability and said that he would like to see a lot more done in this area.

Another Friend said that Quakers ‘need to get our own house in order’ first and that it was also crucial to ‘limit the growth’ in our society.

A Friend feared that the situation had ‘gone beyond sustainability’ and that there would be ‘major destruction to our civilisation’, while another agreed that ‘Quaker discipline should be the starting point for sustainability’.

Sufferings was told that the concern would be returned to ‘when we receive the report of the Sustainability Group review group’.

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