In conversation: Jessica Morrison (Quaker Peace Worker) and Margaret Clark (Australian Friend Committee)

Margaret Clark

Congratulations, Jessica, on your appointment as the new Quaker Peace Worker! I know that QPLC is really looking forward to the energy and experience that you bring to the role.

Thanks Margaret, I’m also really looking forward to working alongside F/friends in this role.  Quakers have made so many important contributions to peace and justice movements on this continent, and I’ve long been inspired by the strategic engagement of Friends internationally. So I’m excited to see what we might create together!


Jessica Morrison

Tell me a bit about your previous job as the Executive Officer of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, especially things that you anticipate will flow into the Peace Worker position.

 Fourteen years ago I visited the West Bank – spending time with Community Peacemaker Teams (then called Christian Peacemaker Teams); an initiative of the historic Peace Churches in North America. I spent time with Jean Zaru at the Friends Centre in Ramallah; as well as Sabeel Liberation Theology Centre in Jerusalem. The experience rocked me to my core – to see the Holy Land under a brutal Israeli military occupation, a systemic violence not being opposed by my Government or many fellow Christians. The stories of Jesus navigating life under occupation came alive in a new way for me; as was a conviction that I must do everything I could to advocate for an end to this cruel system.

As I returned, the nascent Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) had just held its’ Inaugural General Meeting and advertised for an Executive Officer.  A Canberra Quaker (involved in Christian Peacemaker Teams) sent me the job description and suggested I apply.  When I was offered the (very part time; very short term) role, with my fresh convictions without hesitation I resigned my permanent University role teaching Social Work. So began what was almost thirteen years of not only a job, but a core vocation. One of my early roles was to connect with likeminded groups and invite them to join as members. Faith groups have always been central to APAN – its Presidents for the first 10 years were Christian clergy; and many Christian groups and denominations were members. Quakers accepted the invitation to become one of APAN’s earliest members.

For the first few years I was responsible for everything. Our media strategy and engagement; our strategy to support and enhance grassroots activism; social media and communications; as well as political engagement.  As the years progressed, we made it a priority to offer training and support for people in the movement – particularly for Palestinian young people- to build their confidence to join and lead. One of the things that I believe APAN does well is twin ‘people power’ with strategic political engagement.  We find tools to make it easy for people to engage directly with their elected representatives, and to demonstrate broad ‘public opinion’.  It is much more difficult for parliamentarians to resist change if their constituents are calling for it.

 APAN’s work has a strong lobbying component – and over the years I was part of hundreds of meetings and events with parliamentarians. One of the things that most surprised me in this work is that I became less cynical about politicians the more I got to know them. I believe many sincerely want to make a positive impact on our world (even those who have a different idea of ‘positive’ to me!). 

It has been an enormous privilege to be part of APAN’s growth – in size; impact and analysis.  APAN now has a staff team of five people – and so its time to hand over the batton.

 And in a little turn of the wheel – it was walking alongside a Friend in the Gaza Ceasefire Pilgrimage in February this year that I was encouraged to apply for this QLPC role.  So it seems I have Friends to thank for all my employment for the last fourteen years!

You’ve been attending Meeting for Worship with Melbourne Friends, and have other connections with Australian Friends. Could you please tell me a bit about those experiences, and how you see Quakerism (eg the  Peace Testimony) influencing your peace work?

It was on the Iona Community in Scotland 25 years ago that I first came across Quakers – a fellow volunteer was a Quaker, and I was struck by his grounded, thoughtful presence. I then lived with Quakers at the Indigenous Hospitality House in Carlton – a place that provided welcome and hospitality to First Nations people needing somewhere in Melbourne to stay when visiting for hospital business. Slowly I was introduced to Quaker practices and ways of being; which I appreciated alongside my experiences in other faith communities which were often far noisier and faster paced!  When I was living in New Zealand I attended the Wellington Regional Meeting, and was so grateful for a Meeting for Worship for Clearness that led to my decision to return home. In Melbourne I’ve attended both Northern Suburbs and now the Friends Centre Meetings throughout the years – often between commitments to other communities. I lived for about 18 months at Gembrook Retreat; sharing life and prayers with Quakers there in the land gifted by Maggie Dunkel. There were many days being nourished by the land, even as I pulled up countless blackberry bushes!

 About two years ago in a Meeting for Worship, I read these words that sat deeply with me: Responding to divine guidance, try to discern the right time to undertake or relinquish responsibilities without undue pride or guilt. Attend to what love requires of you, which may not be great busyness [Advice & Queries 30]. As someone brought up drenched in the Protestant work ethic, it is challenging to not assume busy is best! Over the next few months I gained clarity that it was the right time for me to relinquish the responsibilities that I had with APAN.  I was deeply tired in my soul and needed some time away from the ‘fight’. As the time approached for me to conclude my work, the genocide in Gaza began and it was even more difficult than expected to lay down this responsibility. I approached a dear weighty Friend, who has been a mentor for many years, and she agreed to hold a meeting with and for me – which perhaps we could call a Meeting for Worship for letting go!  So on my last day as APAN’s Executive Officer, a number of Friends as well as my APAN colleagues, family and close friends joined me in a circle of worship. It was a profound space for me and for those who attended – for many it was their first experience of Quaker Worship.

 Throughout my connections with Quakers I have deeply resonated with the Testimonies – being both nourished and challenged by them. For example it is easy to point the finger at arms dealers, but perhaps more challenging to search within my own way of life the seeds of war. I am so grateful for the spiritual foundation of the Friends peace testimony.  That actions are grounded in seeing that in God of everyone, and of deep listening. 

 I hear that you will be in Adelaide for our Yearly Meeting in July!  How can Friends find you if they’d like to chat? Will you be available?

Yes!  One of the things I’m keen to do in these first few months is to listen deeply to Friends – as I know there are lots of skills, experience and passion among Quakers about working for justice and engaging with parliamentarians.

 By the time Yearly Meeting comes around, I’ll have been in this (very part time) role for two months, and together with the QLPC we will have done quite a bit of preliminary scoping work.  We hope to bring some of this thinking to Yearly Meeting to get feedback and input from Friends.

 I’m also always keen to talk with Friends more informally.   If Friends would like to check in earlier – please email me and we can make time for a Zoom chat!

It’s been great getting to know you, Jessica, thanks for chatting with me.



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1 Comment

  1. Valerie Joy

    Having heard about you for many years, I’m looking forward to meeting you during the Yearly meeting in Adelaide. I was with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Palestine in 2007, and you said you were there in 2010. The stories of hardship and cruelty in Palestine have gotten worse over each year since- though at the time I was amazed at the brutality to children and also to the shepherds in the Hebron Hills needing a Caucasian person to accompany them as they took their sheep out to glean a little of the thin grass on the hillsides. Then later I heard that the Judah community had shot and killed a shepherd- just for walking past them.
    Peace has become so much more complex now, but a strong belief in the power of people’s voices and your already developed relationships with Parliamentarians will bring us closer to knowing how Quakers can continue to be strong influencers for peace. Wishing you love and Spiritual Power as you work amongst us.


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