Murray Short, Aotearoa/New Zealand Yearly Meeting Representative
Two things struck me particularly about AYM as I inevitably made comparisons with our YM. First was the presence of a large group of children and young people. It was interesting to learn that this is in part the result of efforts made over recent years to provide more opportunities and activities for them in Regional Meetings and YM. The role of the Children and Junior Young Friends Coordinator has clearly been significant and the list of things that Jenny Turton has achieved in working with RMs was impressive.
Secondly the strong emphasis on spiritual learning and development was great to see. The activities of Quaker Learning Australia and Silver Wattle Quaker Centre ensure that Friends have many opportunities to learn and grow in their faith. The Meeting for Learning program is one that will be of particular interest back in Aotearoa.
I attended the Summer School session run by the First Nations People’s Concerns Committee. Much of the discussion was very similar to what occurs in Aotearoa New Zealand with layers of complexity added by the sheer number of First Nations tribal groups and languages. We learnt that some of these groups still prefer to use the name Aboriginal whilst others are now using the term First Nations Peoples. Similarly, some groups are advocating strongly for sovereignty, including the group involved with the First Nations Peoples embassy, whilst others regard this as inappropriate for a variety of reasons. This makes it difficult for Quakers to position themselves in support and some Quakers have difficulty with the concept of sovereignty as well.
It was good to see that despite these complexities, AYM was prepared to accept a “Way Forward” statement that included acknowledgement of past wrongs and commitment to ongoing action to ensure the injustices that have resulted are addressed.
The sessions on Earthcare were similar to the A/NZYM considerations of what we call “sustainability”, with descriptions of, and renewed commitments to, a range of individual and corporate action. Clearly this concern has become as prominent in Australia as back home, with good reason. The challenge is how to galvanise Friends to action without imposing moral “guilt trips”, as we put it in Aotearoa.
I was impressed by the range of peace and social justice action that Australian Friends are involved with, from the World War 1 exhibition that New South Wales Friends developed, to the action on refugees. The scale of funding and operations, particularly of Quaker Service Australia is well beyond what we are able to achieve in Aotearoa. Active Quaker witness is alive and well in Australia!
From such a large and varied range of experiences the final thing I would mention is the Backhouse Lecture. Sally Herzfeld has produced a very valuable resource by documenting the history of the Alternatives to Violence Program. The delivery of the lecture on the night by a team of people provided a fascinating and lively summary. This Lecture will be of great interest in Aotearoa.
A big thanks to Friends for being so welcoming and supportive to Niwa and I. We felt very much at home and even though the gathering was quite a bit bigger than A/NZYM, at no stage did we feel overwhelmed or isolated.