Epistle from Canadian Yearly Meeting, 2014
To friends everywhere,
Canadian Yearly Meeting (CYM) gathered on the campus of the Canadian Mennonite University
in Winnipeg from August 9-16, 2014.
One hundred and twenty Friends gathered from across Canada, from St. John’s, NF, to Vancouver Island, BC. As we formed once more our beloved community, we greeted with joy those who could come. Many of us also shared the experience of the gathering with others electronically, connecting us with those who, out of necessity or ecological concern, were not able to travel to yearly meeting.
Our gathering together was grounded by a small group of Friends who met the day before in
silent retreat, considering, among other queries:
“What is your personal experience of ‘that of God’ within you and within others?”
“Can we love each other in spite of our differences? If so, how do we do that?”
Our Society holds peace as our earliest testimony. If we hope to increase peace in the world, we must find ways to resolve conflicts among ourselves with love and tenderness.
This year the Sunderland P. Gardner lecture, “Making the Diagnosis, Changing the Prognosis”, was given by Dale Dewar and Bill Curry. They spoke of war as a disease, allowing us to consider diagnosis, etiology, pathology, and treatment. Given the tremendous costs of war, not only in human lives but in the health of our planet, how can we allay the costs by turning our efforts to prevention?
One of the areas where war has been longstanding and intractable is the Middle East region of Israel/Palestine. We considered a well-seasoned report, stemming from a Special Interest Group a year ago which considered the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign (BDS), and considered by Monthly Meetings across CYM. We approved the recommendations in that report, asking that CYM:
- Authorize Canadian Friends Service Committee (CFSC), Ottawa Monthly Meeting, and well-informed individual Friends to make information on BDS available to Monthly Meetings and individual Friends who request it and/or feel led to participate in some way.
- Call upon the Canadian government to require that settlement products be accurately labelled as such
- Encourage Canadian Friends, individually and corporately, to boycott products of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including those wrongly labelled as “made in Israel”
Our daily Quaker Study was on the topic of Simplicity. Local Quaker and author, Mark Burch, who came to Friends through his interest in simplicity, introduced us to the term cumber, and led us to consider both our outward choices and our inward disciplines in relation to simplicity. He reminded us that simplicity lies not only in the choices of our material possessions, but also in the wise use of our time and attention. A stronger commitment to simplicity by those, like many of us, who have access to great privilege, is necessary if justice is to be realized throughout the world, sustainability is to be achieved, and violence prevented.
This resonated with our need to bring our expenditures as a yearly meeting into line with our means. For some time we have been spending beyond our income. We held threshing sessions in small groups on related queries, and from this a devoted working group developed a set of recommendations with which we were able to unite on the final day. Letting go of attachments to what we do and how we do it is a challenge and requires faith and trust. We are aware that Friends in many places, as well as other religious communities, are facing the same problems.
We have been experimenting with how technology may help us. Three of the reports to business meeting were made with the use of video conferencing. This was effective. We held two special interest groups on using our website to support the work of Friends serving the Meeting, and to communicate within the Yearly Meeting and to the wider world. While these options may help us to do our work, we are grateful for and appreciative of the benefits and
necessity of also meeting together face-to-face.
We travelled to North Point Douglas Women’s Centre as a community service project and to learn of the work being done in that community. Savings from our simple meal on Wednesday evening will be donated to support the project.
We had many opportunities to spend time coming to know one another more deeply. At our welcoming meeting we were asked to recall the time of our first Quaker involvement. All present, from young children to elders, then arranged themselves by duration of involvement with Friends, stretching from two years to 81.We were able to walk a labyrinth, build an herb planter for the community garden using permaculture principles, worship in a variety of ways, including walking meditation and sacred chant, and participate in Light groups. At a meeting with Continuing Meeting of Ministry and Counsel (CMM&C), Friends in small groups were given scenarios with challenges similar to those facing CMM&C and meetings of Ministry and Counsel (M&C) of Monthly Meetings, and were asked to discern ways of addressing them. There was a great deal of soul-lightening laughter, along with new ideas and a deeper appreciation of the work that M&C does for us.
We enjoyed and appreciated the Wednesday night Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, and Queer (LGBTQ)-hosted evening, at which we were introduced to many aspects of gender, with the Genderbread person, a checklist of privilege, and stories. In smaller groups we were able to work on being welcoming Meetings, explore the Genderbread person, and learn and share through other activities.
An evening presentation by CFSC brought greater clarity to our understanding of charitable organization status, including the fact that our religious convictions are respected by the Canada Revenue Agency, and peace work is seen as part of our faith, not of politics.
Our representatives to various outside bodies, Quaker and otherwise, of which CYM is a member, spoke to us about the work being done and planned by these organizations. We were invited by the World Council of Churches to participate in a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace with member churches and “people of goodwill everywhere.” It is through widespread and united actions such as these that faithful people hope to make a difference in the world.
As the week comes to a close, we are grateful for the opportunity to gather with Friends both new and old, and to deepen our relationships. We give thanks for the gifts that we share with one another, and look forward to our next gathering in Prince Edward Island next year.
“Sometimes in our eagerness to serve God, we become obsessed with an idea to the exclusion of everything else. When this happens it is time to examine ourselves and our motives carefully to make sure that it is not our own will that we are following rather than that of God. If we do not meet success in our chosen undertaking we have perhaps chosen the wrong time or the wrong approach, possibly the wrong goal. Then is the time to enter into the silence and seek His direction. We must rid our minds of previously conceived ideas, lay aside our visions and with clear unprejudiced mind seek to know God’s will. That is the way that we approach a wise counsellor for advice. Can we do less when we ask for divine guidance? It was said in meeting for worship not long ago, we must be what God intended us to be before we do what God intended us to do.”
Nora Turnbull, 1959. 1.63, Faith and Practice, Canadian Yearly Meeting of the Religious
Society of Friends.