A Reflection on CYM 2010 in Winnipeg

By Ben Segel-Brown

I am a birthright Friend and have attended Quaker meeting all of my life. I attended Canadian Yearly Meeting in Winnipeg as a CFSC intern and also as a delegate of Ottawa Monthly Meeting. These dual obligations overlapped with the Young Friends programmed time, and my obligations to the Food co-op, so while constantly busy, I was also constantly missing events. This was my second time attending yearly meeting, as well as my second time as a delegate of OMM. Having multiple roles kept me engaged with CYM, but also made be somewhat of a worse delegate as I had to ask Rachel Urban Shipley to attend nominations meeting on my behalf and catch me up when I was free.

I joyfully participated in a worship-sharing group, which was a wonderful open experience. It was a refreshing experience to hear what people really felt about their families, F/friends, and issues that are on their minds. It felt awkward at first hearing such personal thoughts, but it was a great experience to have people speak so honestly.

One issue discussed at the worship-sharing was the Peaceful Energy Minute considered within a special interest group I had attended. I found that I and two other participants had completely different perspectives on the productiveness and nature of the working group.

The Peaceful Energy Minute, which Ottawa Monthly Meeting discussed (then John Dixon reported on) arose out of the Uranium Working Group’s research into the harmful environmental and health impacts of Uranium mining as well the link between civilian nuclear fission use and military fission use. These points were demonstrated by their research are generally agreed upon. Unfortunately, the minute that the working group brought to CYM last year essentially called for a ban on nuclear power which conflicted with many Friends’ view that stopping Global Warming is our highest priority and that as a transition power source nuclear power is essential to the phase-out of fossil fuel use. This Peaceful Energy Minute was rejected last year.

My impression of the peaceful energy minute was that there was no unity (within the SIG or within CYM), either on the statement or its underlying ideas. I had felt the SIG was hurtful, frustrating, and unproductive. Surprisingly, a fellow member of my worship sharing group felt that the SIG was revealing, healing, and had done much to improve communication and move towards consensus on the underlying issues. I learned that conflict and breaches of procedure can be interpreted very differently by those who attend it. A similar contrast of perspectives arose when the Uranium Working Group was thanked by CYM, in lieu of approving any minute as no minute was approved by the SIG. One member, who had expressed his opinions passionately but politely at the SIG, spoke asking for a condemnation of Nuclear Fission. When the clerk rejected discussing the ideas as it had already be rejected at the SIG the member’s comments turned personal and accusatory against the clerk who was forced to discipline him. Likewise, many sympathised with the member for speaking what he was passionately led to say, and felt that the Friends spoke their mind quite contrary to my impression of the incident.

At the Peaceful Energy SIG I attended where the Peaceful Energy Minute was discussed, rather than bringing forward last year’s minute, which had been presented to CYM, the working group began by presenting a minute from Saskatoon Monthly Meeting, which few attendees had read.  This minute did not incorporate the concerns of many meetings and I questioned the suitability of using it as the working text for the minute. I found this SIG very frustrating, because being inspired by the previous day’s presentation organised by the working group (by Rick McCutcheon on the viability and necessity of sustainable energy) and frustrated by the presentation of last year’s rejected text, I had written my own version of the minute. I had also scrabbled to have it edited and deemed acceptable by each member of the committee and a variety of people with identified interests in it, which I and another Friend managed just as the SIG began. The SIG then proceeded to identify the same issues that had been raised in consultation with MMs, which I had read and attempted to address in my version, but many of which had not been addressed in Saskatoon MM’s minute. There was high tension and speaking out of turn over accusations relating to MMs refusal to host presentations from the uranium working group on the basis that they were not open to feedback and attempted to force their ideas upon MMs, rather than attempt to understand people’s objections. If this was healing or hurtful was apparently up to interpretation.

There were however many clearly wonderful experiences at CYM, for instance the shedding of tears and expressions of joy when a minute from Quakers Fostering Justice was approved almost without modification. In the ministry of one Friend, “This is why I became a Quaker!”  It was also a very energising experience being surrounded by people passionate about the same social issues I’m passionate about.

The little time I got to spend with Young Friends was also amazing: we learnt some swing dancing, we had our annual actually-helpful-and-somewhat-relevant sex talk, we sang as we walked together, and we played Wink with only minor injuries.

During the Tar Sands SIG I presented my findings on the oil sands leases, which was one piece of work I had done as an intern for CFSC. This SIG was entirely different from the Peaceful Energy SIG as it was run as an information session informing people about the issues, before proceeding to seeking an agreement on a statement on which there was already a strong underlying consensus. This statement, which proposed that Friends work with KAIROS on the tar sands, summarised feedback from MMs, and accepted Rachael Singleton-Polster and my reports on the oil sands.

CYM was a great and productive experience overall and I am very thankful for the support of CFSC and Ottawa Monthly meeting.