Eight Friends (6 female, 2 male, all white Caucasians over 50) gathered on a sunny Saturday morning in rural Gloucestershire to consider the six queries on Global change prepared by the Friends World Committee on Consultation (FWCC) as part of the worldwide consultation on global change. Those attending were drawn from local Quaker meetings in a 20 mile (32 km) radius as part of Gloucestershire Area Meeting: Forest of Dean, Nailsworth, Stroud, and Wootton-under-Edge, with one Friend visiting from Newbury Meeting (Mid-Thames Area). Apart from our host, Robert, we all travelled by car to the meeting. Our Friend from Newbury travelled 63 miles. Two of us car-shared. None of us walked.
The background paper from FWCC asks: How do we articulate the spiritual basis for our response to global change? What is our experience of global change? What do we, as a worldwide faith community, have to say to ourselves and to the world?
Our deliberations took the form of worship-sharing and discussion with some breaks to enjoy the beautiful spring-time English countryside. We began with a 15 minute period of silent worship followed by 5 minutes of private reflection on the six queries, annexed to this note. We shared our responses and the two that resonated for a majority of us were queries numbered 3 and 6:
#3. How do changes around us affect our relationship with God? How does my relationship with God affect my responses to the changes around us? What role does faith have in my life and in the life of my community? In what ways do I and my Friends church or meeting community bear witness to our Testimonies in our daily lives?
#6. How can we support one another in rekindling our love and respect for God‟s Creation in such a way that we are messengers of the transforming power of love and hope?
Friends’ reactions to the queries ranged widely. It was felt they require a corporate, as well as an individual response and yet in the Society of Friends in Britain we face an obstacle in coming to a shared view about God, exemplified by the debate about whether Quakerism is Christian or not. Our lack of shared language about God seems to prevent our being totally open with each other about our faith and beliefs, or finding the words to be frank with each other. We were helped by one Friend who quoted the words of Brother Ramon:
“God is the name we have for the dynamic, life-giving spirit which flows throughout creation, importing meaning, beauty, love and compassion whenever there are those who are open to those creative impulses and powers.“
Friends spoke of their experiences of trying to find a living relationship with God, a relationship which recognises the one-ness of everything that can draw us to want to do something in response to global changes. “God is not a being, but being itself”. Practical examples quoted included the Transition Towns movement, installing voltaic solar panels for renewable energy, engaging in car sharing, developing a community garden. Such responses are explored by Howard Jones in the book “The World of Spirit”.
It was readily acknowledged that there is inspiration in knowing what others are doing and inspiration from having support from our meeting. We cannot separate the spiritual from the practical. We need to look at our own lives to see what changes we can make. This is why query #6 is so important. How can we support each other in rekindling our love of God?
The response to God is a dynamic in each and every one of us. There is transforming power in listening for that of God in everyone. Peace can come through the will of ordinary people, breaking down barriers and misconceptions. Our Quaker response is to promote more peaceful ways of doing things. Friends should speak more loudly about the need for commitment to right process as well as right outcome.
One or two Friends sounded a note of caution. It can be a struggle to keep up one’s own sense of inspiration and not be overwhelmed with too many demands placed on us, or guilt at our own shortcomings. Inspiration can be squashed too, by over-commitment. We need times of renewal, time to share our spiritual dimension through Meeting for Worship.
The question of time and how we use our time keeps coming up. There is tension and paradox in how we as Quakers manage “clock time and “calendar time” as distinct from “divine time”, which requires a commitment to listening and waiting. It was felt that Friends may take longer to make decisions than some other groups but we hoped our decisions were based on a slow and thorough process, involving patience and listening.
One Friend asked whether global change was the right focus because change is a crucial feature of our times. Rather we should be looking at our relationship with all of the world’s resources and its creatures. There are a cluster of things we should be worried about. Humankind has to change its ways or the world will not survive as the place of beauty and inspiration that it has always been. We desperately need a shared testimony which combines what we individually need to do with that which can only be done by groups and by nations. Somehow we need to harness the insights of Quakers through our testimonies to see if we can get a fundamentally different way of relating to the world.
There are hopeful signs such as the growth in support for recycling, the waiting list for allotment gardens, changes in people’s attitudes, the emergence of Local Exchange Trading Schemes (LETS). These are all small but important steps which we can support.
One massive issue which people are reluctant to talk about is that of population growth and over-population. There are simply not enough resources in the world to feed the numbers of people. Do we have a Quaker response? In poor countries having many children is commonly seen as a means of guarding against poverty or an insurance policy for old age: our children will look after us. We need to look “bottom up” at why people want to have large families and work to change the underlying issues.
We also voiced concern about community cohesion in the face of possible future environmental crises. Would a crisis result in a community pulling together and act as a catalyst for positive change or would it precipitate a descent into violence and destruction?
This is as far as we could get in the short time we had available – just 2½ hours. Much more work is needed. We would like to see more Friends in our Area Meeting and at Yearly Meeting Gathering engage with this consultation exercise from FWCC. We would especially like to encourage Friends give some voice to what God is from a Quaker point of view, how we can see the Divine in each and every one of us and how this can give us a new sense of direction and how we can better inspire and support each other in our responses to global change.