Background to the 2010 FWCC Global Change Consultation

The FWCC Central Executive Committee received minutes from numerous yearly meetings urging Friends’ actions of various sorts in response to environmental, climate, and global change generally. The FWCC Triennial in 2007 responded to some of these minutes with a minute that was distributed to yearly meetings world-wide.  In late 2008, Asia West Pacific Section wrote a minute that, among other suggestions, asked the Central Executive Committee to move forward to bring Friends together in consultation on the subject of global change. A feasibility ad hoc committee produced a report and recommendations which were received positively by the CEC. The following combines the report of the ad hoc committee and the CEC decision as minuted:

There is a need for FWCC and Friends to take action. Friends sense urgency in the face of external conditions and the predictions of scientists for disruption.  At the same time we see many Friends working in apparent isolation and at times duplicating one another’s efforts.  Knowing that the Quaker ethic of simple living has in some ways put us in the forefront of thinking and behaviour, nonetheless we feel a desire to empower a radical and deep transformation that delves deeper than outward behaviour and words

There may be a distinctive Quaker response, not so much some new action to decrease individual contributions to global warming (although these are important), but perhaps in the arena of spiritual grounding and preparation to take action in the face of the upheavals and socio-economic dislocations that may arise. How might Friends embody the spirit of “shalom”, the way of peace, which grows out of the abundance of God’s love rather than the fear which scarcity engenders, so that all might be treated justly?

When we use the term Global Change, we see it as being about “unity, integration and the inter-connection of all change.  Seemingly different or unrelated changes are in fact aspects of facets of a single greater change.” (Quote from Julian Stargardt.)  This is a very broad term encompassing the waves of change we see not only relating to the environment but also to the economy, migration, agriculture, and how we will live in the near future and beyond.

In the face of substantial evidence that the world climate is changing and access to basic resources and necessities of life is becoming increasingly threatened by depletion and exhaustion of non-renewable resources, pollution, economic, social & spiritual dislocations, FWCC is calling for a consultation among Friends worldwide.   We are asking how God’s justice, peace and integrity of creation can be made visible in our responses to these challenges.

This consultation process will help Friends articulate what that distinctive might be and create space for discernment and dialogue. FWCC sees that a genuine consultation (without a preconceived result) could lead to new directions and initiatives and be helpful.

The purpose of the Consultation is to ask ourselves how our lives are contributing to the causes of detrimental changes, what actions we might take to live in right relationships as part of the global community and to discern what Friends have to offer to each other and to the world at large.  Underlying all our conversation is the understanding that as the Lord keeps and sustains us, so must we keep and sustain our Lord’s creation.  Here, we understand “keep” to mean a caring, loving action to sustain all people and creation in full beauty and vitality, as in the prayer, “the Lord bless you and keep you.”

The theme for the cluster gatherings and the international Consultation is: Mending the World: A Broken Covenant? Friends’ responses to global change.

To supplement this theme, a quotation from William Penn:

True Godliness doesn’t turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it, and excites their endeavours to mend it. We have nothing that we can call our own; no, not our selves: for we are all but Tenants, and at Will, too, of the great Lord of our selves, and the rest of this great farm, the World that we live upon.

And from the Bible:

The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers; the heavens languish together with the earth. The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. (Isaiah 24:4, 5)

And from Jonathan Schell from The Fate of the Earth and The Abolition

In weighing the fate of the earth and, with it, our own fate, we stand before a mystery, and in tampering with the earth we tamper with a mystery. We are in deep ignorance. Our ignorance should dispose us to wonder, our wonder should make us humble, our humility should inspire us to reverence and caution, and our reverence and caution should lead us to act without delay to withdraw the threat we now pose to the earth and to ourselves.

Regional Clusters

Face-to-face encounters in settings where people could tell their stories in response to queries were seen to be the most powerful way to reflect on our response, as Friends, in the face of pending change.  The costs in terms of finances and carbon footprint as well as the complexities of international visas, made regional cluster gatherings the most viable opportunity for large number of Friends to consider these complex issues.  These clusters also encouraged the formation and strengthening of networks of Friends committed to addressing the challenges posed by Global Change.

Regional clusters were assembled quickly in locations with the greatest concentrations of Friends. Not every yearly meeting in the world was covered and the structure of the individual cluster were adapted to the local region.  Where possible, these gatherings, especially examples of individual story-telling, were taped and shared with other gatherings.  Individuals and yearly meetings distant from the cluster sites were invited to circulate their statements or testimonies and perhaps connect electronically.

Queries were useful to help the Clusters focus and to provide a common thread among the Clusters:

  • In what ways do we see humanity as having broken its covenant with God for care of creation?
  • How has climate change and its ripple effects affected our communities and ourselves?
  • If we see global change as a consequence of a broken covenant what actions have we taken in response to mend the covenant, heal the world and our relationship with God?
  • How might we witness to the abundance God offers us and testify to the world ways in which justice and peace might abound in the face of significant disruption and tension?

The responses to queries and the stories shared during the regional clusters were passed on to other clusters and to the international consultation. In this way we linked those who contribute to the causes of environmental problems with those who face living with the consequences. Communication between these groups brought to life the often-abstract concept of global change through the shared connection of membership in the Religious Society of Friends.

Being carbon neutral as much as possible is a priority and therefore not all yearly meetings were within a cluster area. However, this was an opportunity to avail ourselves of technology advances to be inclusive. FWCC wanted to build upon existing networks where available and to use technically savvy Friends to record and help us share the stories from the clusters.

International Consultation

FWCC  convened a worldwide Consultation on Global Change specifically to address the question of the broken covenant between humanity and God that is triggering planetary change. This consultation brought together 50 to 60 representatives who participated in each regional cluster, plus others who had specific wisdom to bring.

Some individuals attending the Consultation were asked to prepare reports in advance on each of the regional gatherings. These reports offered a sense of each clusters’ response to the queries and other important perspectives raised at the clusters. These reports also included some of the taped examples of story-telling so that the whole group might gain a better sense of the range of concerns and responses worldwide.

Other individuals were asked to prepare reflection papers, considering the “state of society” of Friends on the queries which were addressed by the Clusters.  Together, these informed the awareness of our own contribution to the broken covenant, the damage done to us, and changes in our own behaviour that we should consider.  These presenters reflected on what Friends might be able to offer as a Testimony to the whole world.

The members of the Consultation Committee were asked to prepare a statement on their actions for circulation to Yearly Meetings around the world.

Concluding thoughts

“Just as we seek unity in the Lord, so there is a unity and inter-connectedness in the challenge of change we face, unity of natural change and man-made change. All changes are inter-connected. The challenge before us is how do we – creation on this earth – survive the change we face? How do we survive and flourish? These are challenges to our survival which face us now and face the survival of our children. What is the role of Friends in this?

“We do not own this planet. It is not ours to consume. Yet in our efforts to improve the material quality of life for all humans we have brought about fundamental changes to both human society and to the natural environment which put our survival at risk. (Julian Stargardt.: “Friends and Global Change” 2008)

Based primarily on the report of the ad hoc Feasibility Committee and CEC Minute 09-16 – as of March 2009