Peri Coleman, South Australia and Northern Territory Regional Meeting
Travelling before a Yearly Meeting, rather than after, means that you could turn up while people are very busy getting organized for Yearly meeting, but the Aotearoa NZ Clerk (Murray Short) neatly sidestepped that pitfall by arranging for me to attend the Junior Young Friends Camp on Waiheke Island. I landed in Auckland on a Monday afternoon and was met at the airport by Claire and Linley Gregory, who whisked me off to the ferry terminal down at the harbor and sent me across the water into the darkling evening armed with a shopping bag of herbs and vegetables and not much else. I sat on the open deck of the ferry, snug in my coat and woolly scarf and gloves, watching the lights of Auckland brighten as they shrank astern. It was well dark when we landed at Waiheke, but the locals are friendly and loaded me onto the correct bus. The driver knew where the “red shed” was, and would tell me when to get off. He did. And drove away. It is surprisingly dark on Waiheke Island. You may have laughed at me, using the “torch app” on my phone to determine the numbers on the letter boxes! Barely 3 minutes and probably 30m elevation later I found myself at the top of the steepest driveway, welcomed into the warmth and light by a tribe of happy young folk who had been holding my dinner for me…
What a busy few days followed. Wonderful company. We did a service project in the forestry, armed with razor-sharp “sharkeys” (Japanese grass sickles) on a remarkably steep slope. Planted trees and weeded round Friends House, visited the local eco-village of Awa-awa-roa, played on the beach… We listened to talks about FWCC and carbon reduction, made button badges, chatted with visiting Friends and played games during Epilogue. I felt thoroughly welcomed and had so much fun. Huge thanks to Sue and Anna for finding me a bed and making sure I had three “squares” every day.
It was still dark on Thursday morning when I slipped out of Friends House Waiheke, trundled down that vertiginous driveway and waited by the red shed for the bus, ready to reverse the journey of Monday night and spend the day in Auckland at Friends Centre, preparing for Yearly Meeting.
So what was similar and what was different in Aotearoa Yearly Meeting? John Greenleaf Whittier’s hymn speaks of Christ’s sharing with us “The silence of eternity interpreted by Love” and I truly saw that in action in Auckland. Laughter punctuated many of the business sessions, reminding me that these are indeed Friends.
Young Friends were vibrantly alive to the need for taking action in the face of climate change, with Jimmy Green presenting on Generation Zero and the proposed Zero Carbon Act, actions Friends enthusiastically endorsed. At the same time, Thomas Owen spoke of the “lost generation” of younger adult Friends, a feature common in Friends’ Meetings here in Australia as well. ANZ Yearly Meeting was dedicatedly bicultural, with Maori language used for much more than mere introductory remarks, as well as for singing and dancing. And Aotearoa New Zealand’s strongly non-nuclear and locally focused approach to military matters was brought to the front of my mind by Marion Hobbs’ feisty Quaker Lecture “A Peaceful World – How Can We Make It So?” I saw an air of openness, independence and an optimistic approach to making a difference in the wider world – there is no fearful talk of “border protection” here, in any part of the population.
It was fascinating to see the practical work being undertaken by Esther Cowley-Malcome, funded by Quaker Peace and Service Loxley Award, to assist families raise children in non-violent ways. The result of the project is a freely available smart phone app called “Play Kindly.” It is targeted initially for Pasifica families who may be bringing children up isolated from their extended family networks, but is much more widely applicable. A great example of taking resources directly to where they will be accessed.
In common with Meetings worldwide there is a concern for energy – both that of individuals undertaking Friends’ work and also the environmental issue of energy profligacy. On the “individual energy” score, A/NZ YM is discerning deeply its future Meeting structures. They are exploring whether four overarching YM committees may encompass the work of many of the current YM appointments, committees and groups. There is, as a concurrent concern, unity about the need for stronger spiritual support and spiritual learning opportunities. In relation to the wider concern about “carbon footprints” we heard about the decision of the Friends Worldwide Committee for Consultation to reduce the frequency of its gatherings. The FWCC Asia West Pacific Section is working towards using digital technology to ensure that the linkages between Friends in different nations that have been forged over time are not lost.
This visit our neighbouring Yearly Meeting was fun, but importantly it has given me much to think on. Thank you Friends, for the opportunity.