By Sally Kingsland, Canberra Regional Meeting.
Thank you Jenny for publicly raising an issue that I have heard much frustration with privately, and on which I was going to write myself if no one else did!
As I write, I am still in the happy after-glow of a great Yearly Meeting (YM) and have been reflecting on whether it would be possible to do our business and gain the nourishing aspects of YM in a way that reduces the unrealistic burden on the organising committee and host RM. My clear sense is yes!
There are many reasons that we need to change the way we do YM. I believe that the amount of effort required to host the event is unsustainable and unrealistic particularly if the Society wants younger people more involved. I cannot see how YM, as it is currently run, would be possible without it becoming a temporary, part-time job for several dedicated retired (or other non-working) folk. We must consider the opportunity cost to the people who put on YM each year – people who could be contributing in service to the community (Quaker or other) with all that time.
Is it really worth it when I believe the critical community and spiritual nurture aspects could be achieved with smaller gatherings and perhaps less frequent national gatherings?
Another important consideration to the question of sustainability is the issue of justice. I believe that current YM practice is not a great way for us to do business as an organisation. Each year, a subset of the Society makes decisions for the rest of the group – a subset that is self-selected and highly influenced by physical wellness, wealth and ability to take time to travel. It also selects against parents because, even when we are able to take our family, we often spend much of our time caring for the children!
I have heard about the way that the Kiwis run their summer gathering which doesn’t seem to involve too much business – I would like to know more about that and other options. It sounds highly attractive to gather for the primary purpose of being together rather than most of the time being taken up with formal sessions.
I think the key is working out how to get the business done in another way. Are we willing to allow Standing Committee to make more decisions on our behalf? (I certainly hope so Friends.) Is there anything we’d need to change about Standing Committee to enable us to feel comfortable with doing that?
While I don’t think that Regional Meeting gatherings alone would be a sufficient substitute for YM community gatherings, they will play an important part in any new way of doing things. Victoria Regional Meeting puts on a great camp each year that I believe is more accessible, cheaper and easier to organise than YM, but which, as far as I remember it and have since heard, is fabulous as a community gathering. It seems to me to be much more inclusive of families and allows for summer school-type opportunities. I hope to travel to the VRM gathering (from Canberra) with my family in the next year or two.
In January this year one of the barriers to realising our hopes and dreams for a healthy Australian Quaker community, that my fellow summer school participants and I experienced, was undue attachment to tradition. I hope that Australian Friends will embrace the reality of our times, including the need to reduce our carbon emissions, and engage in finding ways to revitalise our processes to meet the needs of our community and planet.