Newsletter - May 1999

Edited by: Philip Pollard

Britain Yearly Meeting Epistle

To Friends everywhere:

Greetings from Britain Yearly Meeting held in London from 30' April to 3"' May 1999. We have been strengthened by Epistles from Meetings around the world, and by the presence of Friends from other Yearly Meetings. We rejoice in our shared experience of the guided worship, the quality of clerking, the work of our elders who have kept our discipline before us, and the rich variety of activities outside our formal sessions.

Once again the international situation tests our faithfulness to our Peace Testimony. On the first evening we were forcibly reminded of this challenge by the explosion of another bomb, which harmed fellow members of London's diverse community. We are a part of the commonwealth of life. Our world is a bewildering place in which to live, and a bewildering place in which to witness to the light. Are we misled by a myth of a Quaker Golden Age in which certainty of faith and purpose led inevitably to rightness of action? Was there really a time when Friends did not feel spiritually hungry, when they did not 'feel the pain of not being saints'?

We can discern the readings of God if we take the time, and can then find a united view of what we are called to be and do. To be heard and be credible when we venture into public debate, we need to be more concerned with queries than advice, sure of our spiritual readings, open to old light and new light. In our eagerness to make a timely difference to current situations, we must face the creative tension between our desire to 'do something now', and our trust in the proven processes that have served us so well in the past. We acknowledge the wisdom and work of those who labour faithfully on our behalf as individuals, with their meetings, and for the Yearly Meeting. We know that the greatest mistake is to do nothing because we can only do a little.

Knowledge, a rightful use of our many gifts, and a faithfulness to our tried and tested readings can bring us to unity. Discernment calls for the disciplines of faith, honesty, testing and surrender. It demands care and attention in living according to the truth we see, trusting that we are safe with it. Ultimately the decisions are God's.

For if what is planned and done is human in origin, it will collapse; but if it is from God, you will never be able to stamp it out. (Acts Ch5 V38-39)

Signed in and on behalf of Britain Yearly Meeting

Helen Rowlands Clerk

Yearly Meeting asked that minutes 18, 20 and 27 be sent to local meetings with this Epistle.

 

Back to the top

 

 

Can the War with Yugoslavia Be Justified?

I felt moved to drop my other pressing tasks and write to Roger Sainsbury, Bishop of Barking on 22nd March 1999. The following are extracts:

"Kosova has enormous historical and symbolic significance to the Serb people. The large Albanian speaking majority of the province want independence because of the decades of oppression they have experienced. .... The Kosovan Liberation Army has also committed atrocities against Serbs."

"It was with sorrow that I heard you, on the Radio 4 Sunday programme on 21st March 1999, in discussion with Bruce Kent, use pragmatic sub Christian arguments to justify not only bombing Serbia but also sending in ground troops. ....You acknowledged ....that bombing might well strengthen Slobodan Milosovics support within Serbia. Because of the guerrilla war based decentralised nature of Serbian military strategy, aerial bombardment can only do limited damage to Milosovic's military capabilities. It is likely to strengthen him politically. You therefor argued that air strikes must be followed by ground troops. The deployment of ground troops to enforce a settlement on a reluctant Serbia would involve even more death and injury on all sides. Russia is opposed to bombing and might well feel obliged to intervene on behalf of her Slav brothers and sisters. The danger of the conflict spreading to other Balkan countries would be increased."

"I question your exclusion of the legal use of force to protect the innocent, from the definition of violence. Bombing, shooting, "destruction or denial of the means of life " all become not violent if some legal pretext can be found for them. I think the children, women and men who loose those they love, their limbs or their homes and livelihoods as a result of NATO bombing will experience that action as violent. The Concise Oxford Dictionary gives "the quality of being violent" as its first definition of violence and defines violent as "using or tending to use aggressive physical force". It also includes a specialised legal definition " the unlawful exercise of physical force." This is a restricted usage not appropriate if the morality rather than the legality of the action is at issue."

"Bombing or sending troops into Serbia is contrary to Jesus' instruction for us to love our enemies and the Quaker insight that there is that of God in every person. It is clearly not overcoming evil with good. It is not possible, despite the propaganda of the military, to only hit military targets. People, including innocent civilians are bound to be killed or injured. Nato's use of a bigger stick than the Yugoslavs reinforces the morality that might is right.

It is an open to question whether the bombing would even be legal. It would be sanctioned neither by the UN Security Council or the General Assembly. It involves breaches of Yugoslav sovereignty and preventing a legitimate Government putting down what it sees as a terrorist rebellion on its own territory. Bruce Kent pointed out we are not proposing to bomb Israel or Turkey, India, China or Indonesia, all violently suppressing separatist movements. "....it seems unlikely that bombing or troop deployment will achieve the stated aim of preventing further massacres in Kosova. The immediate effect of the threat of overwhelming force seems to be the opposite with Serbian troops and tanks being assembled in growing numbers in Kosova, killing and thousands more people becoming refugees. If bombing commences it may well reinforce the siege mentality, the victim psychology I heard much about when I visited former Yugoslavia last September and met Serbs and a Kosovar. This a sense of past and current injury and injustice which sanctions the most barbaric treatment of the other ethnic group held responsible. If Milosovic emerges politically stronger .....the ethnic cleansing of Kosova might proceed more rapidly. He might well want to change the overwhelming demographic imbalance in favour of Albanian speaking Kosovar by chasing Albanians out and moving Serbs in."

My fear that bombing would be followed by the forcible expulsion of Albanian Kosovar from their country has been proved justified to an extreme degree. More than 2/3 of Kosovar have been driven from their homes, women raped and men massacred. War Crimes have been committed by all the military involved. Any settlement will need to include just but not vengeful ways of dealing with them. (See the 1999 Yearly Meeting Minute.)

Russia under Yeltsin seems to be playing a largely peacemaking and diplomatic role at this time. NATO decision makers including our own Prime Minister have so far refused to listen or even suspend the escalating military intervention so that further talks can take place. Even peace making actions like releasing the three American servicemen to Rev. Jesse Jackson announced today are spurned. Yeltsin could be removed by an alliance of Communists and Nationalists strengthened by this attack on fellow Slavs by the military forces of capitalism. There is already a pan Slavic federation being put together between Russia, Bylorus and Yugoslavia.

"The movement for Albanian Kosovan self determination was, until a few years ago, a non-violent one. There are still Kosovar including leaders committed to nonviolence. The initiative and power has, however passed to the KLA....We have missed the opportunity to support the nonviolent struggle partly because when that struggle was nonviolent the main media in the Britain and the United States took little interest and the west European nations gave little support. As Edmund Burke said, "for evil to triumph it is sufficient for good men to do nothing". Having done nothing or very little we should not be surprised if an apparently insoluble problem has developed. There are however things both we as individuals and our Government can do which do not involve giving a further twist to the cycle of violence.

There are both Kosovan and Serb refugees already in Britain and others arriving. They are currently not allowed to work for 6 months ( this does not apply to those recently brought in by airlift who have been given permission to work) while their case for asylum is being considered and are left poorly housed and hardly able to support themselves on the tiny state provision. Those with a spare room could offer hospitality in our own homes to those who have committed to peacemaking. We could also, if they want us to, help them to meet others of like mind and tap into the resources of religious organisations, the peace movement and wider educational opportunities to develop their capacity to contribute to nonviolent solutions to their countries problems. Wanstead Friends Refugee Support Group, or "Spare Room", C/O Wanstead Friends Meeting, House, Bush Road, London E11 3 AU, E-mail housepeace@gn.apc.org has the experience and the organisation to do this...

There are young men in Serbia who do not want to be conscripted and others in the forces who want to desert. Our Government could offer them refugee status in the UK and we could offer them hospitality and support. Similar offers could be made to those who join the KLA out of fear rather than conviction.

There are peacemakers in Serbia and Kosova who need support though their liberty and lives will be put at risk by Nato bombing. Two examples areÖ

The Women in Black in Serbia, Zene U Crnom Protiv Rata, Jug Bogdanova, 18/5, 11000 Beograd, SrbijaÖ.

The Balkan Peace Team, Vlajkoviceva, 17/1, 11000 Beograd, Srbija."

I strongly recommend reading the minute of the two special and deeply gathered sessions of Yearly Meeting 1999 on the crisis in the Balkans for a beautiful statement of how the Society of Friends is grappling with the dilemmas the war presents us. Among the main things we are called to do is pray, work with other peacemakers, give succour to the victims, particularly the refugees, help prepare for the peace building that must be resumed when the killing is suspended and lobby our leaders to stop their contribution to that killing.

Chris Gwyntopher. 3/5/99


Back to the top

QUAKERS AND A JUST WAR

In the history book, "A Dictionary of British History", edited by J P Kenyon, it says, "Many Quakers were imprisoned as Conscientious Objectors during World Wars 1 & 11". By the term Conscientious Objector is meant someone who feels they have conscientious reasons for refusing to undertake compulsory military service.

There is a sense in which pacifism in this country in this century is viewed as the domain of the saints. That is, the conscientious provisions of the conscription legislation have enabled those who count themselves out while the rest of the world has blown itself to bits to be perceived as saints. This suits those in authority very well. Saintly they may be, provided the pacifists remain entirely ineffectual.

In going to prison in defiance of conscription and in defiance of the state the actions of Conscientious Objectors were the ultimate political act. Many C0s found that their witness led

them in the direction of radical or socialist outlooks. Some C0s of the 1st World War were members of the Independent Labour Party which was a far more dissentient organisation than the Labour Party is now. On the other hand, their actions stopped not a single bullet nor saved a single life. In their complete ineffectiveness, their actions were the ultimate unworldly, or moral act. Again, the pointless gesture against the forces of evil is a repeating theme (even now, in 1999) of the 20th Century.

The effective worldly political action, and the ineffective unworldly but moral action are often combined in the same act. Quakers are not the only ones to face this issue. Nevertheless, it does seem to me that this dilemma does mark 20th century Quakers apart from earlier generations of Friends, in this country, at least.

You could also say that for much of the 20th century Quakers have been tangential to the forces of violence which have characterised much of the century. It might have appeared for a time that these forces of violence have been subdued, and that peace has broken out. Not so! Here we are at the end of the 20di century exactly where we came in.

We have to start all over again. We wanted to join in, we really did, but we cannot. Our peace testimony compels us to make both political gestures against the violent and bellicose actions of the state which are carried out in our name, and moral gestures, against actions that create burning not beauty, and a stench instead of sweet smells.

However, pacifism is not morally pure, or clean or uncontaminated. Pacifism may not always be the right thing to do. It too carries a moral price. The everlasting darkness poses problems for Quakers, as it does for everyone else. Pacifism can be the vilest of doctrines. To acquiesce in darkness is to partake of the darkness, and if pacifism means acquiescence then pacifism is as deadly as the darkness itself .

No Quaker would agree that the present bombing of the balkans is doing no more harm than good. Darkness begets darkness, this we know. Those to whom evil is done will themselves perpetrate evil, this we know. The military actions carried out in our name have created widows of cities and provinces which were once full of people.

In just war theory, there are two kinds of 'justice', neither of which mean much to Quakers. Firstly, there is jus ad bello, in which criteria for embarking on war are assessed, for example, that the war not do more harm than good. All wars create burning not beauty, and a stench instead of a sweet smell. For Quakers, there are no circumstances in which a war could be assessed as doing no more harm than good. Secondly, there is jus in bello, that the war is conducted with some measure of restraint. That wars can be conducted with some restraint is a kind of justice unlikely to be recognised by Quakers. All wars kill people, that is their point. Quakers can perceive of no circumstances in which war can be constrained from doing the mortal lover hurt.

Andrew Blunden.


Back to the top

 

THE UNITED NATIONS

This is an extract from a paper sent out by The United Nations Association:

So, the United Nations needs to become the centre of activity in the search for creative ways forward. The Yugoslave population needs to be assured the international community has their interest at heart. NATO needs to be given an escape route as an urgent priority. If an international peacekeeping force and possibly, some form of interim international trusteeship for Kosovo are deemed to be necessary as the refugees return and the Serbs in Kosovo seek protection from possible vengeance, the UN must be the authorizing and implementing body. And Mr.Milosevic must be made accountable for the terror and destruction which he has planned and implemented in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovinia and Kosovo.

No easy task; but the effort must be made and diplomatic activity greatly intensified. The alternatives are far too frightening to risk engaging in them.


Back to the top

 

High Leigh All Ages Weekend Conference April 23 to April 25 1999

This year the adult programme covered the themes of eclipse and millenium. The Leaders of the adult programme were Tom Leimdorfer and Marigold Bentley.

The concept of All Ages allowed a certain freedom not to feel you had to join with a particular age group or programme; and that the emphasis was on the variety of ways of getting together with Friends and not just as a family member.

There was an adult programme. But, after a couple of false starts for me, on Friday evening and Saturday morning, I soon decided I wasnít feeling adult enough for the intense nature of sharing and quick thinking which was rightly expected; so I decamped to the 5-12 year oldsí sessions for the rest of the weekend.

Paulette Luff had arranged a play for the children on the life of George Fox; Walk Cheerfully.

Vince Phillips skilfully directed the drama and others of us helped with music and costume, games and activities. In less than two days children had learned lines, songs and action as well as choosing and adapting costumes and props for their parts. They generally worked seriously and good naturedly, but also had the good sense to know when to take a break and just enjoy one anotherís company.

The relaxed socialising which goes on at High Leigh is always a high point for me. There is space to reacquaint myself with Friends I have not seen all year, and to discover depths of Friends whom I see each week, but donít make time to sit down and enjoy. Keith Baxter and fellow band members, as ever, contributed to the fun relaxed atmosphere on Saturday night, making it easy to talk, listen and learn about each other. Less relaxing, but soon forgotten was the false fire alarm on Saturday night at midnight! The well prepared food shared in good company in a dining room which always seems to be filled with sunshine is something else I appreciate every year. The chance to go ski bobbing was enormous fun.

An altercation on Sunday, between small boys, ended with one being dunked in the fountain, and has led to a request (by the dunkee) to do it again next year. Iíll be there.

Jane Evans


Back to the top

OUR MEETING HOUSE

WANSTEAD MEETING HOUSE - BUILDING FUND

Itís only a short time now and Wanstead Meeting House will be getting its long awaited face lift. The plans for the refurbishment have been a long time in the making, and it seems that Quakers are not hasty people when it comes to Meeting Houses as we have seen with Walthamstow Meeting. Most of the work that is anticipated at Wanstead will be paid for by Six Weeks Meeting. That is all the maintenance work and the up grading of things like the heating, the kitchen and the toilets.

Any new building will have to be paid for, in part at least, by the Members of the Meeting and this work can't start until we can be sure of clearing the debt. As long ago as when John and Ann Smith were the wardens I can remember talk of a garage for them, and more recently Mark and Ping have told us how very inconvenient it is to have to use their home as an office to run this place for us. Its high time that we provided the two people that do all the every day running of our Meeting House with the tools to do the job properly.

I expect that you have noticed that there has been a stall in the foyer on Sunday mornings for the past few months. This began when Ruth Western had a clear out and we thought that we could start to raise some money for the building fund. As the weeks have gone passed other Friends have brought things along for the stall as well as buying from it. It will take a long time if this is the only fund raising that we can come up with so we are looking for your ideas and assistance. Lets take the D out of Fund raising and have some fun whilst we are doing it.

How about a sponsored tea shop crawl or a wild evening of coffee drinking?

Of course if any one has a few thousand pounds that is a burden to them we will be only too pleased bear their load.

We welcome all donations to Ann Smith who is, as you know, our Treasurer.

Cliff Hendon

10 May 1999

I had intended to go into more details of the work to be undertaken but have held back. The room we felt we should give to the Kosovo conflict has taken four pages, and rightly so.

Cliffís contribution is helpful for underlining the position while calling on us to join in a wild evening of coffee drinking and other such riotous Friends activities.

The Premises Committee is very keen to make sure that we achieve the best for the Meeting, this has inevitably caused delays. The days are not far off when we should see the start of work.

We will keep you informed.

Philip Pollard


Back to the top

MEETING FOR SUFFERINGS

This is the place to be! It would seem that 1 have not been the only Friend muttering to myself about Quakers and organisations or perhaps it should be ministry and management. In the four sessions 1 have been to we have discussed the following as major items:

  1. Financial strategy.
  2. Co-ordination of central committees and Meeting for Sufferings.
  3. Non violent direct action.
  4. 4 Swarthmore and Woodbrooke.

Financial Strategy

For the last year our total income was about £5,492,000 and our total expenditure was about £6,064,000. The value of our investments (excluding property) is £9,76 1,000 and our cash reserves are about £1,152,000. Between 1991-1997 there was an annual average deficit of about £534,000. Over the next three years this is planned to Be reduced to £315,000 per year. This is part of our first three year plan. We employ 114 staff at a cost of £3,144,000. The costs of your trustees ie, Meeting for Sufferings representatives was £22,456. Financial prudence was the atmosphere of the deliberations on the treasurers report with the heavy weight of staff redundancies still making itself felt from previous years.

Central Committees

I was going to begin this section by referring to the well known central committees of QPS, QHS and QSRE. But thank goodness for word processors. Because 1 can now insert the following information without having to rewrite all the text! This 'information' is that shortly these well known committees will shortly cease to exist. Two new committees will be formed from the present three. - their suggested titles being 'Quaker Life 'and' Quaker Work'. They will be supported by working groups on finance and property, communications and fund-raising, Quaker resources. All five of these groups are accountable to Meeting for Sufferings.

As well as these three well known committees there are two co-ordinating committees vis Quaker Resources for Service (QRS) and Meeting for Sufferings Committee (MSC). The function of QRS is to provide the resources and people required to carry out the central work and the corporate leading. It therefore functions in part as a personnel strategy committee. The function of the MSC is to anticipate issues which may arise in M for S and provide relevant information, as well as monitor the implementation of decisions made by M for S and carried out by staff and volunteers. It could be called a management committee - accountable to the trustees of BYM. The key issue of debate here was how proactive this committee would be in influencing the agenda of M for S. It marks a highly significant change in the way we do business and their was much anxiety expressed in the form of exactly how many people should be on the committee, who should appoint them and how should the clerk be appointed.

Non - Violent Direct Action

This focused on the 'Turning the Tide' consultancy provided by some Friends and Friends House staff to the Trident Ploughshares 2000 campaign which focuses its activities on the nuclear

submarines at Faslane. More recently it has begun a piece of training and constancy in non-violent direct action in relation to the use of genetically modified organisms. The problem is whether, as an organisation, we should be associated with direct action such as painting submarines as this breaks the law although I cannot help wondering whether some of the objections were based more on personal prejudice towards the individuals involved.

Swarthmore and Woodbrooke

Swarthmore is owned by BYM ; Woodbrooke is not. Locally there has been much debate about whether more of Swarthmore's land should be sold as well as what the purpose of a rejuvenated Hall should be. It was agreed to go ahead and sell more land - a luxury that Woodbrooke does not have. In this latter case a decision has been made by Woodbrooke trustees to significantly reduce the bursaries awarded 'in order to reinvest in the building. Monthly Meetings were encouraged to start their own bursary fund to support people going to Woodbrooke. No details were given about alternative strategies to 'training and development' within BYM. Personally 1 regret the loss of this opportunity to consider what our religious society wants from its traditional 'mother house'.

Please watch this space for more personal choices of belonging to the decision- making group of, as one piece of ministry described us, a decaffeinated organisation.

Peter Bevan.


Back to the top

 

Wanstead Meeting goes on the Web

Wanstead Meeting now has its own website with the catchy address

www.gn.apc.org/wansteadquakers

The site which was put together by a small team of volunteers (David Guy, Ben Wehrfritz, Sheila James, Ann Mason, Cliff Hendon and Tim Landsman) directed by our Extensions Committee, went "live" at the end of this April.

A website is a series of linked pages of text and pictures, that can be viewed on any computer connected to the internet, anywhere in the world.

The main purpose of the site is to advertise ourselves to any potential enquirers, telling them who we are, when and where we meet, how to get there, the availability of crèche and so on. In addition we have tried to connect the site to other important Quaker websites such as Friends House, the Friend and Woodbrooke.

We intend to gradually link our own site to as many of the local web resources (such as local authorities and churches) as we can, so that those that are looking for us, whether they realise it or not, are more likely to find us.

For the future, we will be expanding the site to include information on our local Quaker history, the burial ground and statements from our current members and attenders on our spiritual lives.


Back to the top

 

OUR LIBRARY

'The Fells of Swarthmoor Hall' recently returned to the library after 10 years!

Written around 1900 it is naturally dated but intriguing and for a new Quaker like me the chapter headings give a synopsis of early Friends' history. Handle with care - it is disintegrating.

Your library also contains all the Swarthmoor lectures from 1908 and are so called in memory of the welcome Quakers received at the home of Margaret Fell and her family in Ulverston, Cumbria during the mid 1600's.

Do use your library and let us know of books you would like to see on the shelves there is a certain amount of money available each year.

ARRANGEMENTS FOR BORRROWING Choose a book, or books, take the card from inside the cover. Fill in your name, address and the date of borrowing. Put into the box provided. When you return (before 10 years if possible!) find the card, put it back inside the book pocket and place the book on the right hand of shelf to be put into the right place by the librarians. Who are: Lawric Hackwell & Doreen Calver.

List of recently acquired books
The Gospel According To Women -- Karen Armstrong
Not The Quaker Tapestry -- Leslie Webster
Such A Journey -- Frances McNeil
The Lost Art of Forgiving -- Johann Christoph Arnold
Only One Life -- Alastair Heron
The British Quakers 1647-1997 -- Alastair Heron
Reality of the Spiritual World & The Gathered Meeting -- Thomas Kelly
Listening Spirituality -- Patricia Loring
Playing God -- Jackie Leach Scully

Back to the top


The view has been put forward that we should, on the website and in the Newsletter, express how we regard ourselves as Quakers and Christian and members of the meeting. Such views would be very welcome, it would help if they were concise and clearly stated To go on the web or not would be your choice.
Back to the top