Minute 36 (the Canterbury Commitment) challenges Quakers to seek a sustainable, equitable and peaceful life on Earth. Britain Yearly Meeting is responding to this challenge by focusing on how to become a low-carbon sustainable community.
Minute 36 : As led (Gathering up the threads)
“Sustainability is an urgent matter for our Quaker witness. It is rooted in Quaker testimony and must be integral to all we do corporately and individually.”
(A framework for action 2009-2014).
A concern for the Earth and the well-being of all who dwell in it is not new, and we have not now received new information which calls us to act. Rather we are renewing our commitment to a sense of the unity of creation which has always been part of Friends’ testimonies. Our actions have as yet been insufficient.
John Woolman’s words in 1772 sound as clearly to us now:
“The produce of the earth is a gift from our gracious creator to the inhabitants, and to impoverish the earth now to support outward greatness appears to be an injury to the succeeding age.” Quaker faith & practice 25.01
So we have long been aware that our behaviour impoverishes the earth and that it is our responsibility both to conserve the earth’s resources and to share them more equitably. Our long-standing commitment to peace and justice arises in part from our understanding of the detrimental effect of war and conflicts, in damaging communities and squandering the earth’s resources. As a yearly meeting we have considered this before, and in 1989 we adopted The World Council of Churches’ concern for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, minuting that this concern “grows from our faith, and cannot be separated from it. It challenges us to look again at our lifestyles and reassess our priorities, and makes us realise the truth of Gandhi’s words: ‘Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is’ “.
In 2009 the yearly meeting endorsed the statement made by Meeting for Sufferings on “A Quaker response to the crisis of climate change”. This statement was addressed to the Copenhagen Conference and all Friends and meetings were urged to take up its challenges.
In preparation for this yearly meeting gathering, in the background reading, in many of the events and activities, in the Swarthmore lecture and in yesterday’s introduction and threshing groups, prophetic voices have prompted us to wrestle once again with the immensity of the challenge we face.
We are grateful to those Friends who have responded in their own lives and who have encouraged and informed us. We know that some Friends and meetings have made changes to reduce their impact on the environment, and that there is much more which may yet be done.
We need to arrive at a place in which we all take personal responsibility to make whatever changes we are called to. At the same time, we need to pledge ourselves to corporate action. The environmental crisis is enmeshed with global economic injustice and we must face our responsibility as one of the nations which has unfairly benefited at others’ expense, to redress inequalities which, in William Penn’s words, are “wretched and blasphemous” (Quaker faith & practice 25.13).
The action we are ready to take at this time is to make a strong corporate commitment to become a low-carbon, sustainable community. This will require a process to establish a baseline of current witness and a framework in which individual Friends and local meetings can share their successes.
We need to allocate adequate resources to this process. This process needs to be joyful and spirit-led, with room for corporate discernment at local, area and national level. We believe this corporate action will enable us to speak truth to power more confidently. Growing in the spirit is a consequence of taking action, and action flows from our spiritual growth; here is the connectedness we seek. Only a demanding common task builds community.
“Whom shall I send?” We hear the call to this demanding common task. How will we answer it?
We have been reminded of the current work of Quaker Peace and Social Witness. We ask Meeting for Sufferings to work with area meetings and our staff to make better known our current witness and to give thought to appropriate aims for our corporate commitment and the framework which will allow our successes to be shared. We ask them to look at the priorities in A Framework for Action and ask Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees to see where there are resources that can be allocated to these priorities to support our corporate commitment and to take our action forward. In addition we ask Meeting for Sufferings to look at the issues of public policy that we might be led to adopt and advocate in the political arena.
We ask Meeting for Sufferings and Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees to report back to Yearly Meeting each year on the progress of this concern.
We ask area meetings to consider how truth prospers with regard to sustainability, taking care to relate this to all our testimonies – peace, truth, simplicity, equality and care for the environment.
We encourage local and area meetings to practise speaking truth to power at local level by establishing relationships with all sections of local communities, including politicians, businesses and schools, to encourage positive attitudes to sustainability.
To individual Friends we issue a clear call to action to consider the effect of their lives on the world’s limited resources and in particular on their carbon usage. We ask Friends to keep informed about the work being done locally, centrally and throughout the Quaker world and to educate themselves.
But above all that Friends keep in their hearts that this action must flow from nowhere but love.
If we are successful in what we set out to do, we will need to be accountable to one another, but we will also need to be tender with one another, and to support one another through the grief and fear that radical change will provoke.
“I may have faith enough to move mountains; but if I have not love, I am nothing… Love keeps no score of wrongs, takes no pleasure in the sins of others, but delights in the truth. There is no limit to its faith, its hope, its endurance. Love will never come to an end.” 1 Corinthians ch. 13: verses 2-8 (parts), New English Bible.