BYM Sustainability Gathering 2018

Bridging the Gap – Hope and Action

In late October, Angus Morris and I made our way by train northward to Swanwick in Derbyshire for the 2018 BYM Sustainability Gathering. Friends from around the country homed in on the the Hayes Conference Centre, the beautiful grounds of which could have occupied any one of us for the entire weekend, but we settled in to a packed agenda of workshops, talks and discussions on sustainability and our Quaker responses, ideas, plans and actions.

With the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) having only recently been published with its blunt and authoritative announcement that the impacts of climate change are on course to be felt sooner and to a greater extent than had previously been predicted, alarm bells and urgency have escalated. The scale of the problem and the lack of governmental leadership in facilitating solutions frequently generate feelings of paralysis and powerlessness so it was heartening, supportive and healing to be among so many Quakers who share sustainability concerns and lend their energy to doing whatever they can to re-balance our precious planet.

There will be a report on the conference in the Area Meeting Newsletter, so I thought, rather than duplicating that, I would share specific items from the weekend over this and coming issues of our Redland Newsletter.

To start – The Listeners Report which, just as it says, was put together by members of the gathering who set out specifically to listen. I hope it will share a flavour of what was covered during the weekend and some of the inspiration and challenges that arose.

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The Listeners Report

“Since Friday, we have been both comforted and discomforted.

We have at times felt great resonance with William Penn.

Quaker Faith and Practice 19.47
“When William Penn was convinced of the principles of Friends, and became a frequent attendant at their meetings, he did not immediately relinquish his gay apparel; it is even said that he wore a sword, as was then customary among men of rank and fashion. Being one day in company with George Fox, he asked his advice concerning it. George Fox replied , ‘I advise thee to wear it as long as thou canst.’ Not long after this they met again, when William had no sword, and George said to him, ‘William, where is thy sword?’ ‘Oh!’ said he, ‘I have taken thy advice; I wore it as long as I could.”

We have been inspired and at times daunted by the urgency and scale of the task. But we trust that through faith and discernment we will have the power to achieve change in ourselves and our world. We were reminded on Friday of the Valiant 60 who sought to change the world and were not daunted by the task.

We have seen that we have come from different places, have different roles, are at different places in our relationship to the planet and its sustainability. We have chosen different pathways through this weekend. But we have been together and shared. By seeing and taking heart from the different approaches we have encountered this weekend, we have been helped to listen more closely to Friends and others to hear their views and respect different approaches, so that we are better able to respond to others lovingly.

We have particularly heard a number of broad themes. We know this is not a complete list, but hope these may be prompts that help us identify what we do next and may help to focus feedback to our Area and Local Meetings.

  1. The need to be joyful. To see the changes we make as positive opportunities to explore the new, have fun and be joyful, rather than talking negatively or making people feel guilty. Nobody signs up for hair shirts.
  2. We have heard of the importance of envisaging the world we want; of speaking it into being, for example working out what a zero carbon Society of Friends would look like. Rather than what we will not be doing, what is it we will be doing to give us joy?
  3. The importance of sharing stories, we have heard inspiring stories of individuals who are letting their lives speak and are leading others to follow their example; we have heard and see on the display wall examples of inspiring actions by Meetings. We have shared stories of how an event or even a journal cover have inspired individuals on their journey. We often do not know the change that flows from our own simple acts. Sharing inspires others and fosters new cultural norms.
  4. We have been challenged to reflect upon whether our role is to ‘Bridge the Gap’ or to ‘Inhabit the Gap’.
  5. We have been challenged by the concept of exceptionalism. The incomprehension that what we apply to others should also apply to us. Our species, our country and us as individuals fall prey to this. How often do we make excuses? Do we understand where this approach comes from in our culture and are we prepared to address this in ourselves and our society?
  6. We seek to engage spiritually, to deepen our relationship with others we inhabit this world with. We know we must campaign, make practical changes in the ways we live our lives yet we have been challenged as to whether we have fallen out of the right relationship with that which is sacred.
    In Quaker Faith and Practice 24.13 Marian Fox, wrote 100 years ago “remembered the familiar words about William Penn’s sword – and it seemed clear to me that if William Penn had given it up from self-interest or cowardice, or for any reason short of the ‘witness of God in his own soul’, he would have been wrong.
  7. We often heard of the importance of acting from and through love. Whilst at times we are angry or afraid, we must ensure the bedrock of our action is love, the power of love (don’t worry, I’m not going to sing!)
    Remember Advices and Queries 28
    “Attend to what love requires of you.”
  8. Finally, Connection. There are many opportunities to strengthen our connections with others. With those with whom we share common journeys but perhaps equally importantly with those we don’t. We need to be able to listen and seek to understand what motivates others as well as communicating clearly our own message.

We are grateful for the time with you all and for what we have discovered.”

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…It is up to each of us to do whatever we can, however small, to work for a sustainable future for our planet, and not to give up but to find the joy in it and share it and, especially, to reach out to and encourage those who imagine that they cannot make a difference. With governments desperately slow to act, reversing helpful environmental policies or hiding behind the smoke screens of the deniers, to borrow some of the text from my favourite Quaker peace banner:

A sustainable future will come
through the will of ordinary people
– like yourself.

More next issue – and meanwhile, continuing on this theme, an excellent article by Claire Herford follows later in this edition.

Mary-Jane Thornton for Redland Meeting
Image: seen in the bicycle rack at Derby railway station – it cheered me