Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Quakers and Transition

Last weekend around forty Quakers met at Woodbrooke to look at the links and potential synergies between Quakers and the Transition movement. 

The facilitator team, who started planning this event a year ago, consisted of: Catrina Pickering from Transition Network; Sunniva Taylor from Quaker Peace and Social Witness; Jasmine Piercy from Living Witness and Quaker Voluntary Action; Gordon Matthews from Evesham Quaker Meeting and Transition Evesham Vale; and me from Woodbrooke.

Participants came from all over Britain, with one visitor from the USA also joining us. About half the group came representing their local or area Quaker meeting, and about half came on their own account. Many had been involved in environmental issues long before Transition appeared on the scene, and were bringing their previous experience and knowledge to the movement.

There was a strong feeling in the group that Quakerism and Transition had a lot in common, as well as real differences, and a lot to offer each other. One group looked at visions for how this might look a few years from now. The flip-chart sheets from this session included:

• Food Co-ops and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) in Meeting Houses
• Free Transition Libraries sited at MH
• Meetings very enthusiastic and supportive of Transition Initiatives
• Pockets of Quakers orchestrating all the above activities
• Quaker land grows food
• Recycle, reuse site at Meeting Houses
• Solar panels on Meeting House roofs
• Workshops including conflict reduction
• Carbon neutral Yearly Meeting Gathering
• Greening the Meeting House
• Solar panels, insulation
• Sharing transport
• See what else can be done
• Suggest get backing for making our Meeting House an eco-centre as well as pushing the “greening” of the Meeting House faster
• Create “T” group (Transitions) within Meeting House
• Setting an example of how to live simply and positively
• Awareness raising
• Organic vegetable gardening at Meeting House
• Have Living Witness group, if not already there

Many Friends said they felt quite alone and isolated in their meetings, in relation to sustainability issues in general, and Transition in particular. However, there were also many encouraging signs:
- Common elements living in Quaker testimony and Transition principles
- Many people involved and overcoming similar challenges – not alone – a network (of Quakers) to call on / contact
- Encouraged by a growing emphasis on community-building on existing initiatives and developing cooperative effort with local councils
- Others are doing great, diverse things so we could too, given the ideas and projects these examples offer
- People are carrying on despite set backs, negativity, reduced energy and enthusiasm

One group looked at Quaker values, and how they might inform the work of Transition. One example given was from Transition Stratford, which ran a “Have a happier Xmas” event, trying to put across messages about avoiding/rejecting the materialistic values promoted at that time of year. Questions considered included: would sessions on understanding and changing lifestyle and values be useful as part of a Transition initiative? How might Transition initiatives work with organisations, such as faith groups, on values and Transition? Should Transition projects or activities be designed to promote values – and if so, how might this be done?

On Sunday morning we held an ‘open space’ process to pick up issues and questions either remaining, or which had been generated by the event. The report-back sheets from that included:

Actions/Proposals from Open Space
- Political actions
- Love – risk it, share it, don’t cling to it!
- Hold “Be the Change” symposium/events: for Quakers, Transitioners, other faith groups…EVERYONE.
- Go home fired up – tell others, but find the right words

How to start up a Heart and Soul group – ideas
- Proselytising – beware!!
- Silence? – introduce to meeting if we feel we need it eg can we – pause – take a moment
- Small groups – to share feelings/emotions
- Start at centre and work out – acknowledge anxieties/fears about ‘unknown’
- Simplicity – do something together eg craft and talk

Prompting more corporate Quaker action
- Theatre/Poetry/Music to communicate the serious and hopeful visions of future. (Themes around equality etc, consumerism, competition)
- Visions of future and transition and just for fun to bring people together.
- Inner transition and consumerism workshops – how to attract “outsiders” to this
- Must think about ‘self-selection’ of type of people we wish to attract

In very first session, many people indicated need for strong government policy, yet my impression is both Quakers and Transition either don’t relate to policy at all, or have basically cynical/oppositional attitude. Is this true? Is it a problem? if so, what could we and/or government do about it?
- Government legislation vs local actions – how much of each do we need and how best to do
- Cynical? Maybe just sense of powerlessness. Very varied views on importance of politics vs local action.
- Need to build coalitions respecting others’ interests and motivations
- Role of business relationship eg around consumer desire for low-carbon products
- Is role for government of ‘society’ in driving demand for low-carbon products?

Attracting people with energy to your transition initiative
- Go out to other groups to find people
- Talking to people
- Find and ‘harass’ people who have time and energy
- Back people in pursuing their dreams
- Create openings for people to choose their roles
- Listen to the cues (people don’t like to be rejected)
- Articulate the roles needed to be filled
- Offer/encourage (especially new) projects
- Reward involvement
- Give people their head
- Make it fun!

Defining Transition
Transition is about experiment. Requires patience. But there is huge urgency.
Quaker meetings are doing a lot – need more networking and communication.
Inner transition.
Transition as journey – as something we are part of.

Quaker offers:
Professional expertise
Consensus decision making
Conflict resolution

OK – that’s probably enough of our report-backs! But I hope you can see the kind of thinking and energy that was emerging. This event was a first time co-operation between Woodbrooke and the Transition movement, and generated openings for futher joint work. The next opportunity is a special interest group at Yearly Meeting Gathering in Canterbury, and Woodbrooke will host a further Quaker/Transition conference towards the end of next year.
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