Kia Ora Friends! (Greetings)
When I was appointed as Australia’s representative to Aotearoa/New Zealand Yearly Meeting (A/NZ YM), Cathy Davies and I offered to show the nine completed Crewel Embroidery Panels in New Zealand, and we spent nearly 3 weeks travelling from Dunedin to Auckland for this purpose. Yearly Meeting was held in Wanganui Settlement this year and was about half way through our trip.
We felt warmly welcomed wherever we went and enjoyed sharing time with Jairaj Brown, the FWCC Asia West Pacific Section guest from India.
YM started with a “Retreat” ably led by Linley Gregory which lasted a day and a half. We had, along with many others, expected this to be largely silent, but far from it. Linley led us in lively discussions and workshop sessions, teaching us why we have Yearly Meeting and how it is conducted. It was a wonderful introduction to Yearly Meeting for everyone, especially newcomers and enabled us all to settle into the rhythm of sessions very smoothly.
Yearly Meeting itself started with an “orientation” to place; Nigel Brooke, a Friend and Settler, spoke of the stories and spiritual messages he has learnt from Maori elders, how the land was formed, describing a tear drop that divided and started the two local rivers. Wanganui has a long history. Much of this was spoken in Maori and all in such a broad New Zealand accent, that I personally missed most of it, but discussion afterwards showed Friends were extremely appreciative.
I liked their system where papers are sent to Monthly Meetings (their equivalent of our Regional Meetings) for decisions before Yearly Meeting. It takes a lot of pressure off decision making, but it also adds considerably to the workload of the Yearly Meeting Clerks. The Monthly Meetings appear to take discussion of these papers much more seriously than any RM in Australia seems to take discussion of our Documents in Advance.
Wanganui has a strong relationship with Earlham College (an American Quaker college) and their students assisted with cooking and serving us. It was lovely to have these energetic and helpful young people around because I really missed the JYFs and children. We did have one family with 2 very young children join us for part of the time and the baby babble that accompanied the sessions they attended made me feel very much at home. It was also good to hear Rosie Remmerswaal, the Young Friend who attended our Yearly Meeting in January, give an inspiring report on her time at a three-week Outward Bound course, supported by the Quaker Education Fund .
The names of those who had died since the last YM were read out, but no testimonies to the Grace of God in their lives and I really missed those. I find them so uplifting. In discussion afterwards, I found out that the Meeting is considering including them. There were 21 deaths this year and A/NZ faces the same problems as we do, filling all the positions to do the work that YM considers it necessary to carry out. There is an awareness of a desperate need for outreach, as there is in Australia.
I was struck with many similarities to our own Yearly Meeting, but one tremendous difference, apart from the fact that it was really only two and a half days, though the “retreat” added a couple more. Standing Committee lasted only one and a half hours – a testament to the preparatory work that had been done by the Meetings. One thing I really valued was that there was only one programme, so there was no necessity to choose between activities. I find this choice bewildering and exhausting at our own YM.
Many of the sessions were divided up into small groups of about half a dozen to discuss a topic under review – for example, the Treaty Relationships group and Yearly Meeting Futures, which considered climate change and the Peace Statement.
The Treaty Relationships group bemoaned the teaching in schools of Aotearoa/New Zealand history which has left false perceptions of how Te Tiriti (the treaty of Waitangi) was understood by the Maori signatories. This has had a deep impact on the indigenous population, and on how Pakeha (white settlers) understand Te Tiriti matters. It was not difficult to draw some comparisons with the struggles our own indigenous people have.
The Respect and Safety (called Respectful Relationships in Australia) session also divided us into small groups, asking us what it looks like, feels like, sounds like. This group has put in an enormous amount of work and identified the need for a closer relationship between the Committee and local Contact Friends.
In Christchurch we were taken on an extensive tour of the city. The repercussions of the earthquakes there have had a devastating effect on everyone. Yearly Meeting allocated surplus funds to provide $3,000 for Nepal. I gained the impression that Aotearoa/New Zealand Yearly Meeting has less trouble than Australia with funding.
The Quaker Lecture, given by Bryan Bruce was excellent, highlighting how many children are growing up in poverty today. Ten percent of their population now own 52% of the nation’s wealth while the bottom 20% hold almost nothing. Bryan highlighted how shocking this is in comparison with when he (and incidentally their Prime Minister) as new migrants, received such a very good start in life, with housing heavily subsidised and education free.