Ronis Chapman.Canberra Regional Meeting.
April might seem a long time ago to you all as you settle in for winter but for those of us who had the fortune to share 10 days in rural Kenya with 850 Quakers from around the world, those days in April carry memories that will stay with us for a long time. When I sit and think about the 2012 Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) World Conference I get overwhelmed by a mixture of feelings, but mostly feel humble. The conference was typical of many other Quaker events that I have attended – that is long days! -as we try to pack in far too much to the time we have. But it was not typical of Australian or New Zealand events as there were people from so many parts of the globe. So many opportunities to sit and chat with people whose life experience is far from mine. I think of those days as fresh, vibrant, chaotic, happy, sad and very challenging. The days were colourful thanks to the African women who always looked beautiful. And the days were rich with conversation and rich with all the moments during the day when we were able to share our Quaker faith and practice. This letter has contributions from a few Australians– little snapshots of our highlights. If reading this gives you an appetite for more I would encourage you to follow up with one of those who went to the conference. I still love sharing my experiences and suspect this is the same for all who attended.
Joy Bowles: The highlight of the conference for me was the willingness for everyone I met to be Friendly and friendly. To me it felt like what Heaven might feel like – everyone listening carefully, willing to share from the heart, and able to appreciate the richness of experience in the other.
Tom Dundas: The highlight of the conference for me was sitting in the main auditorium and the Young Friends’ sessions and listening to the spirit being voiced in different languages, with varying perspectives and disparate opinions and beliefs. This was an incredibly enlightening and empowering experience. I felt that this conference gave a voice to all and each was listened to with love and respect.
Callista Barrit: The highlight of the conference for me was the incredibly unique and enriching opportunity to be living, eating, worshiping, talking, playing and working with such an amazing diversity of people from all over the world every day. I can’t imagine I’ll ever have another such experience, of getting to meet and talk with people with such a variety of backgrounds. In what other situation would one be able to approach so many complete strangers, already knowing that we share something profound in common, that we consider ourselves Quakers, and getting to discover what that means to them, and how that informs their lives?
Ronis Chapman: My highlight was definitely the pre – conference work camp we spent in Kaimosi. We visited the local Quaker school, hospital and theological college and just loved being part of this community for about 10 days. This was the place where we learnt to make Bio-Sand Water Filters, a project of Friendly Water for the World (FWW) (http://www.friendlywaterfortheworld.com/). These simple water filters turn dirty water into clean water and FWW people are helping to establish small water filter building businesses in Kenya (as well as a number of other countries). We were a party of 14 working with some of the locals and all have a commitment to find ways to support FWW in their work.
Michael Searle: This was my first trip to Africa. A great contrast to our style of living. Christianity (of all kinds) is strongly woven into Kenyan culture, and Friends are strong in numbers and in spirit. Experiencing programmed Meetings for Worship took me to new places, and despite initial concerns, I saw how much joy is expressed in this worship. Kenyan people are financially poor, and live in more rudimentary conditions than we do, yet so much have a big smile on their faces.
Maxine Cooper: I co-facilitated a home group that had 26 people including Friends from America, Congo, England, India, Switzerland and Tanzania. This was a deep and warm spiritual experience, even though at the first scheduled home group meeting we had no room, no chairs and no space to meet. I was lost. My co-facilitator and I found each other and 5 others listed for our group but we had lost all the rest of our home group because the room that had been allocated to us was filled with university students and so we all kept walking around the balconies looking and looking. So no space, no place, and yet lots of people looking for their home group. Those of us who found each other were grateful to join together and pray. Each day it was a challenge to find a place to meet but each day we felt closer. Once in the space together we supported each other and built on our sense of community and purpose. We shared our spiritual connections, our sense of salt, light and courage in a ‘broken’ world. We shared our history and our being, our hopes and our sorrows. Each day our strength and courage were fostered and new dimensions of our faith were explored. So over time and through the daily struggle for a comfortable and safe space our home group had a special connectedness with a lot of love, peace, prayer, song, integrity and creative tension.
Tom: A new challenge I bring home with me from this conference is the challenge of hearing the voices of all, and of trying to meet the needs of all in my immediate community, my local meeting, my country and the world. What can we do to help transform our often-violent and unjust communities and countries into manifestations of the Kingdom of God?
Joy: A new challenge I bring home with me from the conference is to pray more, and to pray about all aspects of my life – I realised that I have not been praying for my work and my work colleagues, nor have I been letting my ‘saltiness’ be evident in all areas of my life, only when I feel brave enough… now I realise it’s not a matter of being brave – just a matter of ‘being’!
Callista: I was challenged in so many ways at the conference to transform my everyday life when I returned home, but the most important is that the spiritually-charged atmosphere I experienced at the conference challenges me to listen deeply to the leadings of the spirit within, to discern every action that I take to be in line with the ultimate goal of living out the Kingdom here and now, and to make sure that I am being Salt and Light every day.
Tom: Something really interesting I have learnt about Young Friends in Canada and Ireland is that they have paid youth co-ordinators who run their children, Junior Young Friend and Young Friend programs. Canada has a similar number of Quakers as Australia, and is a muc larger country by area.
Maxine: I was invited to be a weaver and the task was to weave the numerous and varied ideas from the thread groups together into some form of cloth or fabric of queries. My weaving responsibilities included healing and interfaith threads. It was a difficult task in a brief time frame to report this back to the whole gathering. The days were full of challenges and paradoxes and covered a myriad of activities. Out of the weaving activities the notes on the website state’
‘We yearn for a radical and challenging transformation that forms the basis for our hope for the future. We wonder if there could be one or two projects in which all Friends around the world could unite, each in our own context. What could be our common project and how are we known as Friends? The work of loving our neighbours, building peace, or creating something with our own hands can involve risks and require courage, but should also lead to great joy.’ http://www.saltandlight2012.org/text/threadsminute.pdf
Joy: Something really interesting I have learnt about Quakers in Rwanda is they take peacemaking seriously enough to be involved in the reconciliation and rehabilitation process between “survivors” and “perpetrators” of genocide. The breakfast conversation where I learned about this will stick with me, in no small part due to the amazing benign calm in the face of the person telling me the story who had lived through the genocide himself.
Ronis: I re-learnt at this conference the importance of small groups. Home group time was my favourite part of the day. I shared the facilitation of the group with a young man from Kenya. We met every day for an hour and a half and managed to transcend our vast differences and have fun. We talked and laughed, prayed and sang. This was a place of shelter from the 850 people where we could take time and have quiet moments to make sense of what we were experiencing.
Callista: Something really interesting I learned from Quaker women in Kenya is that they are much more aware of the injustices and discrimination that women face in their society than I had thought. I heard many women voice concerns about problems they face such as men controlling their finances, not being adequately represented in positions of authority, and the cultural expectations that women will do all domestic work, which is extremely laborious, demanding and time-consuming in Kenya. I was impressed by the work that they were doing to help the women and youth in their communities, and some said they were inspired by stories of early Quaker women to become active in ministry, a role that very much a man’s one in other denominations in Kenya.
Michael: I had wondered how the theme of the conference: “Being salt and light in a broken world” would work out. For Australians, salt is not always a good substance, and a broken world did not immediately speak to me. Jocelyn Barr Burnell, in a keynote address to the conference, spoke about the ways that our life crises, including the times we got it severely wrong—the times in which we may feel we were broken—give us the basis of understanding the plight of others, of having compassion, of being able to be a resource to others, to be creative. Her expression of this made a lot of sense to me, and helped us see “brokenness” in a positive, even essential light.
Maxine: On my return home I knew that I was a part of a renewed spirit and hope. I knew my needs were simpler, my learning and understandings of the world enhanced, my view of peace and social justice reinforced in multiple ways. I have maintained my connections with F/friends in Kenya and intend to go back sometime in the future as well as to make closer personal links with friends from overseas who are escaping persecution and poverty. The best words to describe my thinking then is echoed in the Kabarak call for Peace and Ecojustice 2012 ‘We are called to do justice to all and walk humbly with our God, to cooperate lovingly with all who share our hopes for the future of the earth’ (Kabarak Call for Peace and Ecojustice 2012).
Ronis: FWCC the organisation is going through a time of change. There has been an international committee that have been meeting over the last 18 months with the task of providing some options of how to develop a more efficient and relevant organisation.This led to a thread group at the conference that started with the committee’s report and kept visioning. I was a part of this group and it proved to be lively and enthusiastic.This visioning work coincides with a big change in personnel. Nancy Irving is the current General Secretary and she is handing over to Gretchen Castle in January 2013. The governing body of FWCC is the central Executive Committee (about 12 people) and this group is also having a change of personnel. Come 2013 we will have a new General Secretary, Treasurer, FWCC Clerk and CEC Clerk plus a few others (including myself as incoming Asia West Pacific Section Secretary). The new committee met with the old a couple of times around the conference and I sense new energy and commitment. The aspect that excites me the most is a commitment for the General Secretary to work in a closer way with the Secretaries of the 4 sections and a commitment to clarify the role of the organisations. It is really important that together we clarify the role of FWCC in the twenty-first century and then learn how we can work together to implement our vision effectively, efficiently and appropriately.At the final CEC a small change began to emerge – perhaps we should refer to Friends World Committee rather than FWCC – an acronym that makes sense only if you are in the know. I take on the challenge of being part of the changing FWCC. The Conference web-site is still active and you can read transcripts of all the plenary talks, look at photos and also read reflections from many people from scattered parts of the Quaker world.
Maxine: Before the World Conference, in Kenya, I took part in a preconference tour of the Western Provinces Peace Programs organised by David Zaremka and I had a Quaker home stay in Nairobi after the conference. These were both important spiritual and learning experiences for me and I am happy to talk further with Friends about this and hope to write up more about this later.