Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. (Romans 12:12)
“We came as visitors, but you made us feel at home.”
“It was wonderful to have so many inspirational speakers. That gives me hope.”
“It’s important to have perspectives from across Europe and the rest of the world.”
“I want to say a big thank you for all the help.”
“It was a wonderful first visit to Ireland; now I carry Ireland Yearly Meeting in my heart.”
At the closing session, participants from other European countries rose to express gratitude for the four-day residential meeting. A member of the host Yearly Meeting added:
“I commend the clerking team and the Programme Committee for planning such a full and rich programme, expediting business to allow space for a truly enriching Yearly Meeting.”
“Hi folks. You here for the wee convention?” When the security guy at the campus gate of Stranmillis University College greeted us on the first morning, I knew that, at the third attempt (the first two years thwarted by Covid) we truly were gathering in Belfast. Like the other major denominations, Quakers have never accommodated to the political border set in place in 1921, and Ireland Yearly Meeting covers the island of Ireland.
During our opening worship Patrick Kavanagh’s poem, The Long Garden was read. It begins:
It was the garden of the golden apples,
A long garden between a railway and a road,
In the sow’s rooting where the hen scratches
We dipped our fingers in the pockets of God…
A letter of greeting from Britain Yearly Meeting was read out, together with a summary of other Yearly Meetings’ epistles. The effects of Covid and expressions of hope had been a theme running through all of them, with invitations to draw nearer to God being a common theme among the African and Latin American yearly meetings.
We heard that attendance at Meetings for Worship throughout Ireland had fallen during the pandemic. Responses to hybrid worship had been mixed, with some meetings not wanting to participate, and others engaging readily. At the Yearly Meeting sessions, we embraced it. In addition to parts of Ireland, Friends zoomed in from Britain, Burundi, the Republic of Georgia, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Russia, and the USA. Between a quarter and a third of those present were on Zoom. It was also good to have the in-person participation of visitors from Belgium, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland and the USA. Visitors also joined us from the Belfast Jewish Community, the Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian Church.
Barbara Luetke zoomed in across the Atlantic to describe her ministry of writing Quaker historical novels. Given the disapproval of earlier generations of Friends of music, art and fiction, it was refreshing to hear of her approach as a means of outreach. Barbara’s novel The Kendal Sparrow features Elizabeth Fletcher, one of George Fox’s early community. Barbara said that while we often think of the Valiant Sixty as middle-aged, many were aged between 15-30. Women were less visible than men, because most were illiterate and did not keep journals. She invited us to compare early Friends with movements such as Occupy and Black Lives Matter. Our own Yearly Meeting youth movement was nurtured through parallel sessions for children and young people, and we delighted in Public Lecturer Lynn Finnegan’s baby, who attended in person.
Representatives of Quaker organizations addressed global issues. We heard from Tim Gee of Friends World Committee for Consultation, Jaqueline Stillwell of Right Sharing of World Resources, Esther Mombo of St Paul’s University, Kenya (via Zoom), Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge of the Quaker United Nations Office, Geneva and Joëlle DuBois, a board member of the Quaker Council for European Affairs.
Some of the lessons I took away are:
- Intervisitation is our connective tissue.
- George Fox’s 400th birthday next July will bring many opportunities for outreach and celebration, especially for children.
- The power of ‘enough’ is an important spiritual discipline.
- The love of God ripples out. Think of yourself as an instrument of change. God is walking with you. Remember that you are loved. That love will change your life – and someone else’s.
- Many women in Africa experience discrimination through the sexism, culture, and legacy of colonialism. By joining together in prayer meetings, they challenge the patriarchy.
Writer and artist Lynn Finnegan gave the public lecture on Embodying the Quaker Testimonies in Service of a Living Planet: The Challenge of Asking Beautiful Questions. Among those who have influenced her are Naomi Klein, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Joanna Macy, John O’Donoghue, Parker Palmer and Victoria Safford. Some of what I learned:
- How we talk about something affects how we think of it.
- Nature is sacred.
- Capitalism trains us to look at a world of commodities.
- Don’t jump ship to one side, stand in the gap, the ‘tragic gap’ (Parker Palmer) between what is and what could be. The gap is where the action is.
The recording and text of the Public Lecture are now posted on the Yearly Meeting’s website: https://quakers-in-ireland.ie/2022/08/16/iym-2022-public-lecture/
The other main theme was encapsulated in the session called Peace in Europe and Beyond. It began with a reading of a passage by Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Restorative Justice, followed by passages from Scripture: John 14:27, 2 Corinthians 13:11, and Romans 12:2.
After suffering a year’s solitary confinement in Apartheid South Africa, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge served as Deputy Minister of Defence. She reminded us of Nelson Mandela’s words that courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to overcome it. After her release, and now a defence minister, she would sit quietly and ask for the Light to guide her to challenge the military doctrine that to achieve peace we must prepare for war. She invited us to prepare for peace.
Mikhail Elizbarashvili of the Republic of Georgia heard a call to collect medical supplies and take them, in person, to Ukraine. He described his two-day journey from Tbilisi to Kyiv and Irpin. He said that there are 20,000 Ukrainian and 40,000 Russian refugees in Georgia.
Our societies are becoming increasingly militarized, and ‘neutrality’ appears fragile. It’s complicated. The General Secretary of NATO often uses the phrase ‘pre-positioned’. How would it look if we were ‘pre-positioned’ for peace? How can the early days of the peace testimony inform the present? Or Isaac Penington’s Magistrate’s Protection of the Innocent (1661)? Sydney Bailey’s 1993 Swarthmore Lecture, Peace is a Process, offers a conceptual framework. The World Council of Churches has adopted the doctrine of Just Peace, replacing Just War, thanks to the work of Quaker and other Historic Peace Church representatives. One by one, Friends from various countries offered suggestions. We hope to explore further what our contemporary peace testimony might mean to us, individually and as a society.
For more than a decade, Margaret Fraser has accompanied North American Friends to Ireland Yearly Meeting. She has now moved to Northern Ireland.