2016 Gathering Report

Saturday 20 February 2016, at the Quaker Meeting House, 40 Bull Street, Birmingham, West Midlands B4 6AF (Priory Rooms Meeting and Conference Centre).

Friends attending: Jessica Bishop, Gretchen Castle, Elizabeth Cave, Dorothy Crowther, Phoebe Emond, Ann Floyd (chair), Theresa Haine, Bronwyn Harwood, Nick Jewitt, Abdul Kamara, Marian Liebmann, Roger Moore, Deana Owen, David Pulford, Catherine Putz, Jo Rado, Janet Rothery, John Rouse, Chris Sewell, Hazel Shellens, Colin South, Cherry Stainforth, Roger Sturge, Lee Taylor, Barbara Tonge, Stephen Vary.

Two quotes from Faith and Practice were mentioned during the day, and helped to frame our discussion.

That the sweat and tedious labour of the farmer, early and late, cold and hot, wet and dry, should be converted into the pleasure of a small number of men – that continued severity should be laid on nineteen parts of the land to feed the inordinate lusts and delicate appetites of the twentieth, is so far from the will of the great Governor of the world, … (it) is wretched and blasphemous.
William Penn, 1669 (F&P 25.13)

We need both a deeper spirituality and a more outspoken witness. If our spirituality can reach the depths of authentic prayer, our lives will become an authentic witness for justice, peace and the integrity of creation, a witness which becomes the context for our prayer. Out of the depths of authentic prayer comes a longing for peace and a passion for justice. And our response to violence and injustice is to pray more deeply, because only God can show us the way out of the mess that the world is in. And only God gives us the strength to follow that Way.
Gordon Matthews, 1989 (F&P, 23.10)

Welcome, introductions to each other and the day, worship

We began with a period of worship. We followed this with one-minute introductions from all present – name, LM and AM, and connections with Quaker work in Africa.

National and global updates

1. A report (with an African slant) on FWCC’s World Plenary, held in Pisac, Peru, 19-27 January 2016. Living the Transformation; Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God (Romans 8:19).

Gretchen Castle, General Secretary of Friends World Committee for Consultation World Office, shared a slide show and a video of the reading of the epistle.

The Epistle can be found at http://fwcc.world/plenary-2016/epistle-from-2016-friends-world-committee-for-consultation-world-plenary and the video at vimeo.com/153757538 

Gretchen reported that 320 Friends attended the gathering, from 37 countries, 77 Yearly Meetings and 10 Meetings and worship groups that are not affiliated with Yearly Meetings.  FWCC had set the goal of having 12% of attendees be Young Adult Friends (under age 35), and this was far exceeded, as 90 of them came (35%).   This had a significant impact on the gathering itself and its discernment.  About a third of participants were native Spanish speakers, a shift from communicating predominantly in English. There were 44 Africans, many of whom were delayed due to difficult visa challenges in spite of working over many months.

Friends were encouraged to use Churchill Malimo, Africa Section Secretary, as an important contact when travelling and to help understand the context within the Section.  The Section also has a van, which they can use to transport travellers, and a small charge is used as income for the Section.  They are pursuing other social enterprise projects in order to raise money, with the intention of becoming, through small steps, more self-sufficient.

2. An update on the situation in Burundi
We watched a video prepared for us by Laura Shipler-Chico of QPSW, as she was unable to be present in person. She gave a brief explanation of the historical background, and how the present crisis arose when the current President Nkunziza sought a third term of office, which was in violation of the constitution drawn up under the 2005 Arusha Peace Accords. The police response to the initial peaceful protests was brutal. The army, which is 50% Hutu and 50% Tutsi, has been a moderating influence. This was followed by an attempted coup, which failed. The crackdown since then has been more intense. People’s houses have been searched, especially in Tutsi-dominated areas, and many people have been killed and their bodies left on the streets. On the worst day yet, in December, about 100 people were killed: this is still under investigation by human rights groups, but with no independent media it is hard to know exactly what is going on. The conflict is clearly becoming increasingly ethnicised, Tutsis are feeling especially vulnerable, and the situation could spill over into massacres, though it hasn’t yet. QPSW’s work focuses on root causes, notably structural issues, rather than responding to the immediate crisis. However QPN-Burundi is trying hard to bring people from opposing sides together at community level, and to defuse situations as they arise. They have also been supporting a network of citizen reporters who log incidents and help QPN-Burundi to know what is going on.

3. An update on the 2016 Swarthmore lecture, to be given on May 28 by two African Friends, and focused on peace building in Eastern Africa:
Ann Floyd reminded everyone that this year’s Swarthmore lecture is of particular interest to QAIG, being given by Esther Mombo from Kenya, and Cecile Nyiramana from Rwanda. The lecture will be on Saturday evening, May 28, at Friends House. Ann reminded everyone of the need to register for the sessions people wish to attend at BYM this year, including the Swarthmore lecture, so that numbers attending can be planned for. There will be a session on Sunday 29
th, called ‘meet the Swarthmore lecturers’ which will be a great opportunity for any QAG members who can be there. Two weeks later, (June 10-12) Esther and Cecile will be at a Woodbrooke weekend, which will give Friends the chance of more in depth interaction. Flyers were made available at the QAIG meeting. Between the two events they will be seeing something of the UK (probably including the 1652 country) and speaking at some meetings. QPSW is arranging this, in partnership with Woodbrooke.

4. An update on the first year of the reconstituted Quaker World Relations Committee (QWRC) with reference to QAIG
L
ee Taylor reminded us that the new committee has a much smaller membership, and more focused remit. QWRC’s aim is to help Britain Yearly Meeting keep in contact with other Quaker meetings and groups abroad, understand their witness, communicate ours, and maintain two way communications and support.

The six centrally nominated members are Anne Bennett (clerk), Ann Floyd, Alick Munro, Huw Still, Lee Taylor and Barbara Windle. Liz Scurfield and George Thurley have been co-opted to run the Network Cluster and the Forum.

QWRC set itself 25 objectives in its Workplan, and has worked hard on these, including:

  • forming, norming, performing….’

  • Setting ourselves up as a committee, including nominating a willing Clerk, drawing up a workplan, reporting to BYM Trustees/EMES and so on;

  • Understanding better what we know (or don’t know) about the Quaker world: this has been much strengthened by attendance at the World Plenary

  • Getting to know each other ‘in the things that are eternal’

  • Organising the first meeting of the QWRC Consultative Forum (representatives of various Quaker bodies – QPSW, Quaker Life etc.) so as to increase mutual understanding and increase synergies with regard to international matters. The first Forum will take place at the end of April 2016: ‘Working together in the world: what do we do best and where do we go next?’ The outcomes from the World Plenary will be key here.

  • Supporting/helping host the EMES Annual Meeting + the FWCC Central Executive Committee at Woodbrooke in June 2015 and the intervisitation of CEC members with Friends in Britain.

  • Direct support to EMES by QWRC members (Anne and Alick on the nominating committee; Lee on the Executive) plus the hosting of the EMES Executive meeting at Jordans in March 2016 (Ann)

  • Supporting FWCC and the World Plenary by:

  • Advance work with the World Office, organizing the briefing for BYM Friends in November 2015, support for home groups, co-ordination of the workshops etc

  • Responsibility for the weekend on the World Plenary (September 16-18,at Woodbrooke)

  • Fundraising and communications – speaking at Meetings

  • At BYM: organizing hospitality and support for overseas visitors and facilitating special interest groups (e.g. Kees Nieweurth on the World Council of Churches in 2015)

In future QWRC will be working on actions arising from the World Plenary, particularly on the consultations on:

  • Youth leadership and ministry

  • Intervisitation

  • Sustainability

  • Funding for worldwide work

QWRC will also consider any relevant actions arising from BYM in May 2016, and from this QAIG meeting.

Three project presentations

5. Quaker work in Sierra Leone (Abdul Kamara and Dorothy Crowther)
Abdul told us how he came to Quakerism from his Muslim upbringing, about some of the hardships he underwent as a result and about how supportive FWCC had been. He was sponsored to go on a course at Woodbrooke to learn more about Quakerism. He had travelled to Keswick with Adrien Nyongabo, and had met Dorothy there. They have been collaborating ever since, notably through establishing the Dorothy Peace Centre in Sierra Leone. They have worked to rehabilitate war veterans, and to build community livelihoods, through such things as microcredit schemes, and building wells. The Ebola crisis made great demands, notably in training health workers, and the centre now has an orphanage and a school for children left with no families to care for them.

Abdul is also the current clerk of QPN-Africa, a peace network that works to connect Quaker peace builders across the continent. He currently lives in the UK, studying for a PhD at Anglia Ruskin University.
www.dorothypeacecentre.co.uk
      www.quakersintheworld.org/quakers-in-action/349

6. African Great Lakes Peace Trust (AGLPT) (Elizabeth Cave)
AGLPT is a UK registered charity that supports peacebuilding work in Burundi, DRC, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. It gives small grants for peacebuilding initiatives and for travel in support of them. Its funds come from donations. It was originally set up to be a channel for support to the African Great Lakes Initiative, but it is not confined to that: for example, it is a key channel for support to the Bududa Vocational Institute in Uganda. Thus AGLPT provides a means for British Friends to support African initiatives specifically or in general, without having to set up their own mechanisms.

http://www.africangreatlakespeacetrust.org.uk/wordpress/

7. Friends of Monze (Zambia) (Deana Owen)
Friends of Monze is a UK charity that
works with a range of grassroots groups that are helping to develop their communities in Monze, Zambia.  Key areas of work include HIV/AIDS sensitisation, supporting orphans and vulnerable children and caring for the sick and elderly. The charity focuses on helping the groups maximise their impact through capacity building, skills development and social enterprise. It is very much a collaborative effort with both the local people of Monze and a local team of people.
Deana told us about recent work, rebuilding a school, now completed. The school now has compost toilets, permaculture gardening, and a water supply, as well as its new roof.

http://www.friendsofmonze.org

8. Discussion topics in groups, after brief introductions

a) Friends work with African (and other) refugees in Calais (and Dunkerque etc.)
Nick Jewitt introduced this, drawing on his own experience. About 7% are Eritreans, but there are Chadians, Senegalese, Sudanese and others. Some of them want to come to the UK, because of the English language or because they have relatives here, but many more want to go to Germany. Quakers, along with many others are volunteering in Calais, and collecting and transporting food, clothes, tents, bedding and other basic needs. In their own communities they are encouraging their local councils to take in refugees, especially children who have relatives here.

b) QAIG’s response to BYM plans to review all listed informal groups
Ann Floyd and Lee Taylor introduced this, and circulated a paper setting out the issues (attached as Annex 2 and 3).

9. We split into two groups to consider these topics further, and then returned for a plenary discussion. Key points were as follows:

a) Calais
I
t is hard to discern the long term, but there are things we can do now. We can volunteer, support campaigns, and work locally wherever we can see opportunities for resettlement. We can speak out about our concerns.
We heard that many Friends and Meetings are in touch with QARN (Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network
www.qarn.org.uk, which has a useful page of Frequently Asked Questions about help and support. They are supporting local initiatives to get supplies to Calais, Dunkirk and other refugee encampments. For a list of such groups see
www.facebook.com/groups/CalaisMigrantSolidarityActionFromUK

Meeting for Sufferings has issued an updated statement on safe paths for refugees: http://quaker.org.uk/news-and-events/news/quakers-urgently-call-for-safe-paths-for-refugees, (see Annex 1) and is canvassing opinion about a potential Private Sponsorship scheme for refugees. The BYM website is likely to have regular updates on this.
We recognized the value of hearing stories about Quakers working with refugees, and of individual refugee stories – and our commitment to prayer for peace and justice. Can we work locally and think globally on this?

b) Response to BYM review of listed informal groups, such as QAIG
W
e welcomed the idea of linking with a part of the BYM structure, and moving towards being a Quaker Recognised Body (QRB), when this new system materialises. QAIG already connects FWCC centrally managed work, Quaker charities working in Africa, and other African initiatives. QAIG could therefore make a valuable input into the work of central committees, and it would be a channel for us to express our concerns and suggestions to BYM should we wish to do so. We concluded that the appropriate central body for us would be the Quaker World Relations Committee, though we would want to ensure continued links with QPSW. We asked the current QAIG organising group (Ann Floyd, Lee Taylor, John Lampen) plus Roger Sturge, to take this forward when appropriate.

 

11. Evaluation

Liked:

  • Shared purpose
  • Hearing about projects and activities
  • Networking (including lunchtime)
  • Using media (World Plenary film + video of QPSW work): shareable resources
  • FWCC report
  • Numbers going up, but manageable
  • Well organized, good chairing
  • Accessible transport (for most)

Could do better:

  • Shape of room/ no windows
  • Relatively homogenous group in terms of age range/diversity
  • Acronyms: spell things out, don’t assume people know

Queries

  • Do we know if we ‘cover’ all those who might be interested?

(e.g. Purple Field Productions www.purplefieldproductions.org)

Future topics/thoughts

  • Common issues for Trustees of small charities: fundraising, evaluation, monitoring, sustainability, succession planning for Trustees etc
  • Learning from African Friends
  • Bringing in African Friends (e.g. Churchill Malimo) via videos/Skype
  • Reviving the QOV scheme in some way

 

 

11. Date and venue for QAIG 2017: we agreed to meet on January 28 2017, at the Priory Rooms. Alternative rooms will be investigated.

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