SOUTH

BELFAST

 
 

EQUALITY AND COMMUNITY

 

Our second session explored the testimony of equality and community. We started by asking everyone to write down a word or phrase on what equality meant to them and grouped these together to find common themes. This was followed by two short talks. The first looked at how in his book ‘A Sustainable life’ Douglas Gywn describes equality and community as the warp and weft of the early Quaker spirit-led grassroots movement and then went on to explore how early Quakers were reading the Bible for themselves and living it as it spoke to them. From this divine inspiration they were challenging the society and norms of the day. The second looked at the basis of ‘equality’ as a spiritual concept and how this had come to inform a commitment among Quakers to equality across all aspects of life. It also considered how we can create the conditions for equality in our own meetings and societies, and the kinds of actions that we might be called to do as Quakers. 

 

After reflection a number of quotes were handed out (a selection taken from "Engaging with the Quaker Testimonies: a toolkit")Those present were asked to choose which quote spoke to them about the meaning of equality and which they found the most uneasy or challenging. This was then discussed in pairs, groups of four and with the whole group. From this we tried to discern what is distinctively Quakerly about our understanding of equality, concluding that for Quakers the testimony of equality and community is rooted in the early Quakers' experience of reading the scriptures. It comes from George Fox’s belief in divine authority and freedom in all humans and recognizing that of God in everyone. 

 

PEACE

 

In the third session we explored the Peace Testimony. We reminded ourselves that the peace which Friends have sought is not an absence of conflict but is, in Gwyn's words, "the hidden sanctuary of those willing to face conflict, endure struggle and choose life over death". The Lamb's War which Quakers fought in the 17th Century was a "struggle against spiritual forces that keep men and women locked in alienation", and as we continue to seek Peace we must continue that struggle against these alienating forces which have varied over time. We were also reminded of Fox's injunction to us that "The first step of peace is to stand still in the light", reminding us of the deep spiritual root of social commitment and action. 

 

We then in pairs, and as Group, used a valuable exercise in the Toolkit to ask ourselves how we practically lived out our Peace testimony, whether in our spiritual lives, in Meeting or in daily life across Ireland, in our families, in the workplace, in our relationship with money or if it is in struggles against militarism or against the degradation of the environment. It demonstrated the pervasive nature of the Peace testimony and the incredible range of challenges we must address.

 

 

SIMPLICITY AND SUSTAINABILITY 

 

In our final session we explored the history of simplicity within the Society of Friends. A Friend spoke from her personal experience of growing up in a Quaker household and Quaker school in the 1940s and 1950s. She asked the group to discuss in pairs what simplicity meant to them and why it is spiritually important? 

 

We then showed the recently produced EcoQuaker video ‘Quakers: The Spiritual Journey of Earthcare’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1ZcfbpYgbE). This was followed by a discussion on sustainability and how Quakers have engaged with it since the start of the Society.  In particular we explored what a key aspect of our vision for a sustainable world would be;  and what would we change in our lives , community and relationships, and our relationship with the Earth. The session concluded with looking at ways to try to have a simpler and more sustainable Christmas.

 

CONCLUSION

 

Both Douglas Gwyn's book and the Toolkit emphasised the spiritual grounding of testimony, and also the interrelated nature of the different issues which we addressed over the four nights. The challenge that we all have to address is clear, as well as the courage and creativity with which many Friends have responded. 

 

Bryan Burke, Lorna Burke, Megan Corrigan, Margrit Grey, Will Haire, Joan Huddleston, Rebecca Loader, Kerry Nicholson