Epistle of Western Half-Yearly Meeting

Here is a message from the Friends who attended Western Half-Yearly Meeting, the second gathering this year for Quakers in Western Canada that has been conducted online.

To Friends Everywhere:

Greetings from Canadian Western Half-Yearly Meeting.

Friends met online for the Fall Western Half-Yearly session in the midst of a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in Canada. By now more people have become familiar with how to navigate Zoom videoconferencing, and Friends enjoyed being together once again. While it goes without saying that we would much rather be together in person, for the time being, this is the best option. The upside is that Friends that can’t usually join us in person were able to. One Western Friend even joined us from the United Kingdom.

Friday evening, we participated in an intergenerational event. We played an online variation of ‘The Big Wind Blows‘ and joined an online drawing activity. On Saturday and Sunday, Friends were spiritually nourished in Worship Sharing Groups to begin each day.

Friends participated in Special Interest Groups on the following topics:

  • Drawing Together: Meeting for Worship with Attention to Making
  • Canadian Yearly Meeting’s Change and Sustainable Transformation Working Group
  • On Care for End of Life
  • Care for Youth in an Online World
  • Genealogy and Quaker Ancestors

Saturday evening, a Friend now living in St. Paul, Minnesota gave a powerful presentation while he shared his experience of the protests just after the death of George Floyd.

There was much discussion during Meeting for Worship with attention to Business about how we might meet at both Spring and Fall WHYM. Friends wondered if it would be possible to have a mix of in-person and online attendance. We also asked Nominating Committee to seek volunteers for a committee to aid us with technology.

There were some 45 Friends at Meeting for Worship on Sunday, including two young babies. The unusually silent online environment led a few of us to ‘unmute’ ourselves so Friends could hear fidgeting, coughing and baby sounds. We were reminded of the important role embodiment plays in our well-being; we miss the presence of each other at a deep level.

We shared our talent and love of being together at Family Night.

May you be as blessed as we are to gather among Friends.

Read Epistle Summarizing Yearly Meeting 2020

The epistle from Yearly Meeting 2020 is available as a PDF, or can be read simply by scrolling down. The epistle summarizes the collective experience of our annual gathering – the first one conducted online.

Yearly Meeting Epistle 2020 (PDF)

To Friends Everywhere,

Loving greetings from the 186th annual gathering of Quakers in Canada, our 64th as a united Yearly Meeting. Canadian Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends met over 5 days between the 8th and 13th of August, 2020.

In this extended season of diverse isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian Yearly Meeting, like other Meetings across Mother Earth, has had to find new ways of being, new ways of meeting together while separate, and new ways to perceive and acknowledge the Light that grounds us, and the Spirit as it moves among, through, and all around us in our separate solitudes.

Canadian Yearly Meeting’s plan for 2020 was to meet in Winnipeg, Manitoba, but like the rest of everyone’s plans for this year, this was disrupted. Our Program Committee, while accustomed to the many labours involved in gathering Friends together across a vast country — the traditional home of over 600 Indigenous Peoples, stretching over 5000 kilometres from west to east, and across 5½ time zones — had to conceive an entirely new format for Yearly Meeting 2020. An Interim Program and Support Committee was formed to research technologies which could meet our needs and to choose strategies by which to go about our virtual gathering. We honour the Interim Program and Support Committee’s dedication, and that of our Clerks and the many others who have brought the gathering of Canadian Yearly Meeting into a new virtual dimension.

This Gathering of Yearly Meeting in Session, in addition to being different in most physical ways, has had the unique characteristic of not holding Meetings for Worship with Attention to Business. The business of Yearly Meeting has been conducted throughout 2020 by Representative Meeting, which has met in an online forum in frequent but shorter meetings, and will continue to do so. Since our Monthly Meetings also have been unable to meet in person, the communication among individual Meetings, their Representatives, and Representative Meeting has been imperfect, but like everything else this year, it is a work in progress. We are committed to learning, to being patient with one another and ourselves, and to mastering the new technologies which aid us in carrying out our mission.

We have discovered that there are blessings to be celebrated. Many Friends who would not have been able to attend otherwise — those who physically could not have endured the travel, those who wouldn’t be able to spend the time or the funds to travel, and those who choose not to travel because of the environmental impacts — were welcomed into our Yearly Meeting Gathering. The challenge of new technology has been partially overcome, but for many Friends more time and learning are required to allow for comfortable use. Some isolated Friends and attenders have expressed particular gratitude for the possibilities that online gatherings open for them. In addition, we are aware that our carbon footprint is greatly reduced, which is congruent with our concern for the environment.

235 individuals registered for our Yearly Meeting sessions: 203 were registered from within Canadian Yearly Meeting, with 32 visitors who came from Canada, the USA, Britain Yearly Meeting, Kenya, and Kuwait. 22 identified themselves as Young Adult Friends; 13 were new to Quakers, and 70 were attending Canadian Yearly Meeting for the first time. Since we do not have the usual expenses of a physical gathering, but acknowledge the continuing needs of Canadian Yearly Meeting for basic funding, our registration has implemented a “pay-as-led” experiment and an “attend-as-able” expectation. We also acknowledge that some Friends do not have access to the technology by which we come together and we hope to find ways to better include them.

Yearly Meeting began with intergenerational welcoming activities, as usual, and was followed by small breakout groups reflecting on the movement of the Spirit during the pandemic year. As Friends gathered via Zoom videoconference for silent worship, they were warmed by seeing one another’s faces. There was vocal ministry reminding us of love and tenderness, as well as tenacity and mutual support.

A Friend who has travelled in the ministry invited us to listen deeply during our time together — and always — for the Spirit as expressed through its many voices, and reminded us that we need to discern when our own egos are at play, clouding our listening and understanding. We were asked to look at the racism and white supremacy ideology that we all house (both individually and collectively within Canadian Yearly Meeting and the broader community of the Religious Society of Friends), because it is part of the very fabric of current society. We must grow our hearts wider and stronger in order to do the hard but crucial work to heal these harms and divides and come together in wholeness.

Following the opening Meeting for Worship, visitors from Britain, Kenya, and the United States introduced themselves. A Friend from the John Joseph Gurney tradition of Quakers expressed feeling warmly welcomed, and affirmed that we are all children of George Fox.

The lives of many Friends who have died since our last Yearly Meeting in session were celebrated in a Memorial Meeting for Worship. Friends found it profoundly moving and uplifting to learn more about beloved Friends, and to celebrate their gifts.

Our tradition for Canadian Yearly Meeting in session is to create a daily newsletter throughout the yearly meeting gathering called “The Daily Quacker.” This year, for the first time, it was published only online at quaker.ca as “The Daily e-Quacker”.

We heard the report from the Change and Sustainable Transformation working group. After giving the statement of purpose for Canadian Yearly Meeting, the clerk of the working group presented a suggested structure for holding Canadian Yearly Meetings in the future. The 2021 Gathering is currently planned to be held in Winnipeg in August, 2021, on Treaty 1 territory, traditional lands of the Anishinaabe, Cree, and Dakota, and the heart of the Manitoba Métis Nation. Since this year’s gathering of Canadian Yearly Meeting is not constituted as a decision-making body, this report was received in order for Friends to do further discernment individually and within their local Meetings, as we find our way forward as a Yearly Meeting.

The week progressed with Meetings for Worship and Worship-sharing, 14 small Worship Sharing groups, our traditional “Experience of the Spirit in my Life,” and an event with LGBTQ+ Friends. The physical, social, and spiritual challenges of life during a pandemic, especially for Friends who are aging or living alone, or both, were voiced and supported. As ever, Continuing Meeting of Ministry and Counsel cared for the worshipful nature of the week, both in and out of Meetings for Worship, for which we are grateful.

There were special presentations: “Two Row on the Grand: A Learning Journey,” regarding the relationship of settlers with Indigenous Peoples in Canada, and “Quaker Leadings and our Calling in these Times,” with Alastair McIntosh of Glasgow Meeting. Alastair urged us to think in depth about our concern for the environment and global warming, and the climate of racism and how we respond. He asked us to consider what we can uniquely offer that is not being done already in the secular world, and called for our actions to be based on spirituality, reminding us that we have practices and experiences of deep discernment. “Defunding Criminal Justice – Transforming, Abolishing, and What Comes Next,” offered the opportunity to explore this vitally urgent issue. These inspiring presentations nurtured our faith and inspired us to action.

Part way through the week, the need for a Meeting for Healing was made known and was quickly put in place. It was a tender time of sharing, where the Spirit’s healing presence was palpable. Zoom was no barrier to the love shared, and the time was just as rich as in past years.

A chat platform incongruously called “Discord” was used by many Friends to discuss issues, meet and enjoy casual conversation (by text and video), and ‘hang out’ as we might if we were together. Young Friends, Young Adult Friends, spontaneous discussion groups around specific concerns, and other events not on the pre-meeting schedule occurred here. And, of course, there was singing.

We miss the camaraderie, the intimacy, the hugs, the spontaneity of meeting in person, but we are grateful that the world of technology has advanced so far as to make possible this level of gathering. The future is, as it always is, unknown, so we cannot tell whether or when to anticipate how we might meet again physically, but we rest in the Spirit, bear witness as the future unfolds, and wait expectantly for way to open.

We reach out to Friends across the world to greet Friends in these times of uncertainty, separation, disruption, and the challenge of new ways. It is a time of both death and rebirth, and offers many positive things as well as hardship.

This is a richly fertile time of change and transformation, looking at what is essential and what we are ready to do away with (both in our daily lives and within society). We need to prime ourselves and build our resilience to do the hard but necessary work ahead of us, addressing the many injustices of racism, poverty, sexism, LGBTQ+ issues, the environmental crisis, and other concerns which, as we re-form a new world, may we approach with new energy and commitment. May we step into true activism by letting our lives speak. As we move through the dark times of a pandemic, may we find the Light ever present in our lives, drawing us together.


Pamphlet from Quaker Learning Series now available

“African Refugee Journeys: Listen, Love, Learn, and Act” by Etienne Paul Mungombe, the Sunderland P. Gardner Lecture at Canadian Yearly Meeting 2019, is now available as a PDF:

Pamphlet of “African Refugee Journey” (PDF, 2019 SPG Lecture)

Etienne Paul is a Quaker pastor with the evangelical Montreal Friends Church, which he helped found with other African refugees.
 His lecture lecture is grounded in history, as well as his personal story as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, living in two refugee camps in Kenya, and eventually coming to Canada.

A print version of this PDF will be mailed to subscribers to The Canadian Friend in early August, along with the latest issue.


Canadian Quakers Condemn Systemic Racism

Canadian Quakers hear the calls in the streets and in the media for an end to racial violence and injustice. This is echoed in communities across Canada. The ongoing wounds of racism are open and laid bare. We demand better from individuals, from our leaders, and from our institutions.

Many of us have seen the horrific footage of the killing of yet another Black person – George Floyd – by a white police officer. This is not an accident or aberration. Unequal and unjust treatment of racialized people is not unique to the US, nor to the choices of individual officers. It is far-reaching and systemic.

As just one example, the office of our peace and social justice agency (Canadian Friends Service Committee) is located in Toronto – a city where policing costs more than one billion dollars a year and where “Black Torontonians are 20 times more likely than non-Black people to die in an encounter with police, according to one estimate,” as Enzo DiMatteo notes.

Alternatives are possible and needed at once. Systemic racism is far broader than policing, and is found in child welfare, housing, schools, incarceration, education, and many other places.

We name, without taking the focus off of the profound racism faced by Black people in Canada and around the world, that the experience of extreme racism is shared by Indigenous peoples and other people of colour here and elsewhere. The long-term action required to abolish racism targeted at Black people will contribute to overcoming all racism, since no one will be free from the threat of racism until all are freed from it. 

We condemn the ongoing systemic racism within Canada at all levels. Our work involves an active daily commitment toward justice. We also bear witness to the struggles of those who suffer the impacts of racism in the US and elsewhere. The sin of racism is not confined by borders. Wherever it is, it must be exposed and uprooted.

We acknowledge that Canadian Quakers are predominantly white and have work to do within ourselves. In doing this work, it is only too appealing for us to fall into the traps of guilt and self-loathing that focus our attention back on ourselves rather than on what needs to be done. This is not empowering to anyone, and it is not useful. We call upon Quakers to commit ourselves to individual and collective change that would outwardly demonstrate our belief that Black lives matter. We call on Friends to let go of the feeling that we are perfect or know best, and to give ourselves over to the ongoing work of eliminating racism in whatever form that takes.

We call upon Friends to listen, learn from, and follow the lead of Black groups, leaders, and movements such as Black Lives Matter, keeping those leaders front and centre in our hearts. We call upon Friends to speak up, even though the topic is complex and delicate. Each Black life matters. Each Black life is worthy. Each Black life is valuable.

Joint statement by Canadian Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends and Canadian Friends Service Committee. Download it as a PDF.

Epistle from Western Half-Yearly Meeting, Spring 2020

Many Quakers in Western Canada normally come to Sorrento, BC, in May for an intergenerational gathering – Western Half-Yearly Meeting. This year the gathering happened on-line – a first for Canadian Friends.

Here is a message from the Friends who attended.

Epistle from Spring Western Half-Yearly Meeting, 2020

As prepared by the Epistle Committee (not formally approved due to online gathering format)

For the first time in the history of Western Half-Yearly Meeting, this Spring we gathered electronically, rather than in person in Sorrento, BC, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was a unique experience and we thank the Clerk, Continuing Meeting of Ministry and Council and all Friends who stepped forward to make this meeting possible. At the same time, we grieved the fact that we weren’t able to make the pilgrimage to Sorrento Centre to gather together in person.

Dozens of Friends gathered in a series of Zoom meetings and break-out sessions. While there were many familiar faces, we were also blessed by some Friends who had not attended WHYM in many years or who were attending for the first time, who probably would not have been able to join us in person. Other Friends who had less access to, or were less comfortable with, the technology may have felt excluded.

The Gathering began on Friday evening with an intergenerational activity in which small groups recalled our best memories of past gatherings and discussed our hopes for WHYM gathering. This was followed by an on-line “family night” in which Friends shared videos and performances showcasing their talents.

Many Friends gathered on Saturday and Sunday morning in worship sharing. An abbreviated Meeting for Worship for Business on Saturday was followed by a memorial meeting to remember Friends who had passed during the year.

Special Interest Groups on Saturday and Sunday allowed Friends to explore how to make CYM more sustainable, how to meet from a distance when Friends have different levels of access to and comfort with technology, how to discuss climate change and the appropriate ways to define anti-semitism.

Saturday ended with an open meeting of Meeting of Ministry and Council, followed by an evening session with staff from the Canadian Friends Service Committee.

On Sunday morning, Meeting for Worship was the largest of the Zoom meetings, with 75 Friends joining from over 60 devices.

Through the weekend, Friends, and especially Young Friends, were able to meet in smaller groups or one-on-one using an online platform called Discord, which was new to many of us. Despite the struggles (for some) of the new software, Friends persevered and enjoyed chatting, singing in the evening and playing games.

These online meetings brought to mind Jesus’ teaching, “When two or three are gathered in my name, I am there.” While we look forward to worshipping together in person, some Friends were surprised by how strongly we experienced the Spirit among us. Many of us experienced deep, spiritual connections, despite being separated by distance and despite some technical challenges. However, others felt that the lack of personal contact was a barrier to reach the depth that we can in person.

Electronic communications, and how to navigate them as Friends, brought with it unique questions – as when one Friend asked if a typo could be a gleaning. A global Zoom outage at the start of a session that prevented Friends from hearing one another prompts a query: Can we wait expectantly in the silence when faced with technical challenges beyond our control?

The Epistle Committee itself felt the limitations of an electronic gathering, in working across time zones and with the distractions that came from not being gathered together at the retreat centre. In addition, the shortened electronic gathering schedule did not provide for a time for the formal approval of this epistle. We offer it in any case as a summary of the first gathering of its kind.

We are uncertain about when and how requirements of social distancing will ease and when it may be possible for us to meet in person again. This raises the possibility that this will not be our last electronic gathering, or that some future WHYMs will have a combination of in person and electronic aspects. While this gathering was not the same as in past years and we missed the camaraderie and intimacy of being physically together, we found that there were still important opportunities for spiritual nurture.

While we could not meet in person, we are grateful that this year’s electronic gathering has provided spiritual nurture and grounded us so that we can go out into the world and continue to do God’s work during these strange and often difficult times.