Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Community and Minute 36


This post is the first of 3 guest posts. Before we begin, John Gray tells us a little more about his background and I leave you to his words. 

I was brought up a Quaker, and I am an attender at Friargate meeting in York. I originally qualified as a solicitor, and since leaving the law in 1994 I’ve worked and volunteered in the not-for-profit sector, including at the Quaker UN Office in Geneva and with local Friends caught up in the ethnic-political conflict in Burundi. For the last twelve years I have been a freelance organisational consultant and coach, specialising in organisational and individual change, and inquiry approaches into ethical and environmentally responsible practice.

In the summer of 2011, Britain’s Quakers at their Yearly Meeting Gathering, the business assembly of Friends in Britain, made an historical corporate commitment to become a low carbon sustainable community www.quaker.org.uk/creating- just-and-sustainable-world The commitment has since become known as the Minute 36 Commitment, or the Canterbury Commitment, drawing the name from where the Yearly Meeting Gathering took place.

These three guest blogs on the Good Lives blog explore in turn the three elements of the Minute 36 Commitment: community, sustainable, and low carbon.

Community and Minute 36

For me the greatest challenge and opportunity in the Minute 36 Commitment are not the aspirations to sustainability or low-carbon, but rather that we aspire to these things as a community.

Even as we sat in the Yearly Meeting Gathering session, it was clear that for some Friends the aspects of targets and accountability were problematic, and for some, the words  baselines and frameworks were in themselves contradictory to the concept of community.

Recent articles and correspondence in The Friend echo this. What does it mean if some members of the community are not the least interested in committing to become a low-carbon community? If I’m in community with someone who has different views, do I ignore them? Tolerate them? Try to influence them? Will Minute 36 remain a silent topic? What is our response to the work of Quaker Peace and Social Witness, Woodbrooke and others in enabling us to live this commitment in practice?

My guess is that within any typical Quaker meeting there will be a range of views about the Canterbury Commitment. There will be those who regard the Commitment as central, perhaps the most significant, aspect of their Quaker witness in the world today. There will be a few who do not regard human-made climate change as an established fact and thus requiring no action. There will be another group, perhaps larger in number, who are accepting of the evidence but who do not believe that changes in behaviour individually or as a meeting are appropriate responses. For everyone, there will be levels of comparative ignorance or misunderstanding of the evidence, and emotional response to the Minute 36 commitment which at their strongest could include passion, fear, anger (at themselves or at other people), resignation or despair.

This range of responses is also likely to be found in Quakers in their other meetings –committees, special interest groups and Quaker-led organisations. I mention these because the Commitment refers to corporate as well as individual action, so wherever any Friends are meeting or working together in the expression of their Quakerism.

The strength of the wider public debate on environmental issues – its critical language and vehemence, the blame-culture and vested interests (on both sides) - is unlikely to embolden Friends who are wondering how on earth to begin the conversations with their fellow Quakers.

It is because of all this that the word Community in the Commitment, 'a low-carbon community', is for me the way forward. Friends have over 350 years' experience of trying to live in community with each other. We began as a gathered body of people, and although the foundation of our religious experience is 'What canst thou say?', our spiritual practice is of corporate worship, not individual meditation. When James Naylor rode on a donkey into Bristol in 1656 in apparent imitation of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, early Quakers’ response led in part to the establishing of processes – still in use today – of testing concerns as a way of moderating and guiding spiritually-grounded action in the world, This aspect of community, establishing norms and expectations and a willingness to support Friends in living their witness, still serves us well in our collective discernment of right ordering.

So back to those troubling words in Minute 36, accountability and baselines. My view is that accountability is the very nature of being in community with other people.

If I have views on other's behaviour, what am I do with those views? Is it OK to fly for work? Is it OK to fly to visit family in far-flung places of the world? Is it OK to install a hot-tub in my back garden? Is it better to buy locally-grown produce or support fairtrade  producers in the developing world? if I have a larger carbon footprint than you, can we negotiate a sharing – rationing – of carbon usage?

There are no right and wrong answers to these questions – it seems to me that it is for each community to find answers together. And a starting point is to dare to name the questions.

It seems no coincidence that the sections in community and on conflict, in Chapter 10 of Quaker Faith and Practice, are next to each other. To be in relationship with others is encounter difference, and that may lead to conflict, and that conflict may be a negative destructive experience or an affirming deepening process.

These two quotations from QF&P might serve as useful starting points for Friends wishing to explore, in relationship with the Friends around them, what being a community of sustainable, low-carbon users might entail.

Our shared experience of waiting for God’s guidance in our meetings for worship and for church affairs, together with careful listening and gentleness of heart, forms the basis on which we can live out a life of love with and for each other and for those outside our community (from 10.03, QF&P)

And from 10.24:
In our desire to be kind to everybody, to appear united in spirit, to have no majorities and minorities, we minimise our divisions and draw a veil over our doubts. We fail to recognise that tension is not only inescapable, however much hidden, but when brought into the open is a positive good.

John Gray
07986 016804
john@johngray.org.uk 


1 comment:

  1. If anyone is interested in finding out more about living in carbon neutral sustainable community living projects, most Eco-Village (type) communities have their own websites and YouTube channels transparently showing life for people living in communities, and with lists of networks shown also at group pages, such as detailed by the Global, EU and UK Eco-Village Network.

    The Eco-Village Network UK group pages are at www.groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/ecovillageuk/info
    The EU Eco-Village Network website link is:
    www.gen-europe.org/home/home/index.htm and the Global EcoVillage Network (GEN) main website is at:
    http://gen.ecovillage.org/

    Other websites including information on proposals for (carbon neutral) sustainable community living projects include:
    www.eco-hamlets.co.uk and the example shown in Dorset of Monkton Wyld Court at www.monktonwyldcourt.co.uk (which is part of an organic Co-Op partnered with Five Penny Farm and others, in what is called the 'Peasant Evolution', detailed on www.peasantevolution.co.uk )

    (And I'm afraid that I really can't leave this page without sharing a link to Cae Mabon - which is just amazing - at www.caemabon.co.uk )

    In theory, any of the above - in permutation, (and with Permaculture principals for ecological land management), all having already set UK Planning Precedent, can be used to show others exemplary carbon neutral sustainable community living projects.

    Hoping this is of help to others.

    Linda Beamish
    Group Moderator: Eco-Village Network UK, www.groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/ecovillageuk/info
    Ambassador: Imagine Rural Development Initiative (IRDI) Zambia, www.imaginezambia.org
    Agent representing veteran environmentalist & author Avril Fox, (author: Common Malaysian Moths, The Emerging Ethic, and Green Design), and 'The Long Road To Realism', (Patron Saint of the Ark Angels social enterprises).
    074252 78960
    Linda.Beamish@yahoo.com

    “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly: defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:8.9

    ReplyDelete