What do Quakers and Transition have in common?
By Catrina Pickering 7th July 2011
A report back from Gail Parfitt, a Quaker involved in Transition Exeter, who attended the recent Quakers and Transition event held at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham from 24-26th June 2011.
On Friday 24th to 26th of June around forty Quakers met at Woodbrooke to find out. We had a lively time looking 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 Pam Lunn 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. We were reminded that transition involved a journey from oil dependency to local resilience and a post-carbon economy and society. One Friend asked, “Should transition (also) mean a move to a more socially just /egalitarian society/world.” Another added “a journey we are all part of!” Certainly the writer of ‘the Transition Handbook’ Rob Hopkins, talks of the importance of reciprocity and the need to address the heart as well as the head within an increased local democracy. This was an undercurrent running through the weekend workshop.
International Transition Initiatives
A Saturday Morning input from Catrina Pickering of Transition Network indicated that there was a growing international engagement with sustainable transition initiatives. An example that stayed with me was the news of the involvement of members of the low-income Brasilândia community of São Paulo, Here The Public Space Regeneration Group has adopted seven abandoned places and turned them into community gardens. There was also news of a “Become your own Media Team”- which has engaged many local youngsters, who have been filming local transition activities. There are also projects on Social Enterprise and Local Business, and The Fair for Sustainable Health- promoting the well-being of community members.
Transition work with Faith Communities
We also learnt of profound Transition work with Faith Communities. One annual Dialogue Meeting caught my eye. The Dialogue involved the different Faiths in Tooting expressing responsibility for the earth. Since 2009, there’s been an annual walk to various ‘Faith houses’, where a talk is given by a faith leader on sustainability. (As many faith leaders as possible are involved.) The aim is to build a common set of beliefs and values and make a powerful affirmation of shared values and writings around the guardianship of the earth. Theatre groups also act out scenes from ancient texts about guardianship
Links between Quakers and Transitions
There was strong feeling in the group that Quakerism and Transition had a lot in common, as well as real differences, and these reflective connections were encouraged by Sunniva Taylor, who joined QPSW as Programme Manager of the Sustainability and Peace Programme in February 2010 and is responsible for developing plans for work over a three-year period. She offered reflections on how Friends might link sustainability and peace.
Sunniva explained that work in the far north-west of Scotland – a land of silvered lochs, snow-dusted mountains and flamingo-pink sunsets had led her to reflect on what it is that gives life meaning, and on how we can live with integrity in the world. She says:
“I believe that these questions are central to the desire of Friends to build sustainability and peace. At the heart of both has to be an appreciation of the beauty of the world and all that inhabits it. Building peace and sustainability is about searching for ways to live in respect and celebration of that of God in all people and all life. The three-year Sustainability and Peace Programme aims to increase the understanding and commitment of Quakers in Britain to environmental sustainability.” ( More on the QPSW web site )
Friends focussed on a huge number of topics related to this theme, and I propose to make copies of feedback notes from these group discussions, available to our Quaker library. Here I will focus on two that I thought were crucial . The first was entitled Quakernomics, the second Quaker Values.
This involves a Quaker study of economics that has focussed on zero-growth. Following Green Economists,(e.g. ‘Prosperity Without Growth’ by Tim Jackson) the current economic model of exponential growth is challenged in the face of finite resources . Instead, an alternative approach is suggested, involving an economics of well being and zero growth. The Woodbrooke discussion group focussing on this suggest a new position on “Living Lightly and equitably in the world.’
This group came up with the following lists which may well require further debate. (the Question marks were postioned by them).
|Quaker Values||Transition Values|
|Non-human life has intrinsic value?||Non-human life has intrinsic value|
|Simplicity||Creativity as resilience|
|Integrity||Working together/ unity|
|Understanding of God in all of us|
|Shared responsibility??||Shared responsibility|
They then suggested that ‘Quakers in Transition need to be open to other values. Ready to learn. Bring experience.
One Friend responding to this list on the “speaking wall’ said “I was left shocked by the presentation of values. What of love? Isn’t our love of the world and compassion for all living things fundamental?”
Overall there was a sense of urgency , an abundance of interests, initiatives and enthusiasms, and a call to get more people involved in Transition. Lots of questions have been raised among which I have chosen the following:
- What are the many brilliant ways Quaker meetings are already nurturing the Transition Movement?
- Should we ask Local Meeting to support Transition explicitly – sign statement/set aside budget for subsidised or free use of the building ( Exeter meeting has already been helpful in this area.)
- How do we enable people to see ‘Transition’ as a process and not yet another “green group’?
- How do we bring Quaker values and processes to wider Transition meetings, and use Quaker skills to create/deliver /support broad based education/outreach?
- And finally “How do we bring our experience of the Light to Transition? Would a Green Spirit of writing course be a way forward?
Many felt that Transition is not possible without Inner Transition of a spiritual nature.
I found the weekend inspiring and would like to thank Exeter Meeting for enabling me to go on your behalf.