Day 1 Reflection:
Babies in Worship & the SPG Lecture
by Sarah Owocki
It is my first time attending Canadian Yearly Meeting and also my daughter’s. She’s eight months old and very excited to be here, not in the least since Pass the Baby is a favourite game among Friends. She is a sociable baby, and I know that part of her baby brain will be imprinted with these memories, which gives me joy.
For me, attending CYM as a new parent is an interesting experience. I am still practicing trusting others with my child – not just that she will be safe with them, but that she will be accepted and not an imposition. I am finding the balance between togetherness with my child and trusting her to the community here.
As an example: babies in Meeting for Worship. Many of my non-Quaker friends and family assume that silence holds a rather exalted status for us. I have been asked if sneezing during Meeting for Worship is allowed! Of course, the thinking goes that children couldn’t possibly be welcome in such a setting. They must go off somewhere else.
But for us as Quakers, silence isn’t something to be protected or guarded. It’s a tool in the way we worship as a community.
So my baby was in Meeting for Worship this morning and it was wonderful. She made baby noises, which I heard referred to by multiple Friends as baby testimony later. Then she went on a walk with a caregiver – sometimes babies need to move – but was back and asleep on the caregiver’s shoulder by the end of the hour. Later in the day, she snoozed on another Friend. I think she will find a few other human nap sites by the week’s end.
While baby was snoozing in the afternoon, I went to Memorial Meeting for several Friends who died in the past year. I contributed vocal ministry regarding one Friend who was a long-time member of my Meeting (Yonge Street Monthly Meeting in Newmarket, Ontario).
There was a sense of losing a generation of elders at Memorial Meeting – and needing to mark what that means for the community. Friends expressed hope and faith that those being remembered will be with us in the lengthy Meetings for Business we have scheduled for the coming days.
On a personal level, it was lovely to hear of so many Friends remembered who had lived long, rich lives. I reflected on losing my brother David to suicide in 2014, when he was just 25 years old, and how little I was able to cope with what my family was able to throw together for his memorial service in the days after. I hope to have my memorial in the manner of Friends when I die, and I want truth spoken there, tender truth of love as well as sorrow and even pain.
Finally, I attended the Sunderland P. Gardner Lecture by Etienne Paul Mungombe, which was called “African Refugee Journeys: Listen, Love, Learn, and Act.” Etienne Paul travelled to Winnipeg from Montreal, where he is a Quaker pastor with the evangelical Montreal Friends Church, which he helped found with other African refugees.
Etienne Paul’s lecture was 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. He noted that profound challenges faced by African refugees, but also but also described the amazing work he had done while living in a refugee camp. He started a Friends church, did trainings on alternatives to violence and healing from trauma, and started a community-based organization called Voice for Disabled People’s Association to stand up for people with disabilities living in refugee camps.
Etienne Paul also pointed out the Second Congo War (sometimes called the Great War of Africa) was on the scale of World War II in terms of lives lost, but was barely noticed by Western media. He ended with a clear charge calling for concrete action to help refugees, and calling us to remember that refugees are human and have triumphs and resilience.
After a brief closing period of worship, the event ended with the shaking of hands, in the manner of Friends, and everyone going downstairs to have cake (a more recent innovation). For me, it was time to leave and pick up my baby.
Day 2 Reflection:
Cree Elder Betty Ross’ Welcome to Meeting for Worship for Business
by Caroline Balderston Parry
Cree Elder Betty Ross graciously welcomed Canadian Yearly Meeting to Winnipeg at our first formal Meeting for Worship for Business early Monday morning.
Elaine Bishop of Winnipeg Monthly Meeting introduced this Elder as her friend and long-time co-worker through the Winnipeg Regional Health Centre, which they both have served. She presented Betty with the traditional offering of a gift of tobacco and Lilia Fick offered her a further present of tobacco. (I recently learned something about how Elders use from Grandmother Francine in Ottawa is that she takes any gifted tobacco back to include in her follow-up prayers and rituals).
Betty spoke in flowing Cree initially and as she drew to a close. This reminded me of the famous story of the Indigenous leader who sensed “where the words came from,” even though he could not literally understand Quaker John Woolman (1720-1772). Betty’s Cree speech seemed to wash over us and I felt very grateful. Elaine recently alerted me to this important way for members of a non-dominant culture to bring their languages into our privileged awareness.
Betty went on to say her culture was torn from her when she was forced to attend a residential school at age five, then later flown in from Cross Lake to a residential high school here in Winnipeg.
She told us, “I didn’t learn anything but abuse in that system,” but that she gradually did a lot of healing and forgiving. She affirmed “each of us has gifts, but first you have to take care of yourselves,” and appealed to us, saying we need to work together, but “first you have to have that trust with the community members, be on their level.”
Betty also explained that the sacred tobacco comes from the east direction, where new beginnings happen, and we are born in the east, “the place of the white eagle and the origin of our seven teachings,” of which the most powerful teaching is Love.
Betty realized with the birth of her first grandson that she had to heal, take care of herself first, use the sacred teachings and tobacco. She concluded, “It’s all about healing and the connection with the Creator… To have that good voice and stand strong, let’s work together, taking baby steps, each and every one of us.”
Day 3 Reflection:
A “What-If-Minute” on Climate Urgency
by Colin Stuart
The following is a WIM – a “What-If-Minute” – a Quaker whim, if you like, but not really whimsical at all. It is a piece written by one person, written as if it might be minute, but definitely not tempered or seasoned by the Quaker community as all minutes should be.
This particular WIM was written by a participant after, and as a consequence of, discussion in a Special Interest Group at CYM 2019 on ecological action and the climate crisis.
- The need for a global and peaceful response to the climateand biodiversity crisis is urgent: the scientific evidence is unequivocal about this. Indigenous Peoples and Elders on Turtle Island and around the world, today and for centuries, have told us that we are on a path which is destructive and impossible to sustain.
- For at least eighteen years, Friends in various minutes and testimonies have expressed, however insufficiently, their concerns about the crisis we face.
- The task now is to act firmly with discernment and faith.
- We need not fear being a witness to the truth of the crisis we face. In our witness of words and deeds, corporately and individually, we strive to be faithful to our calling of peace, recognizing that the climate and extinction crisis are inextricably bound to the evil and violence of weapons and war that require the extraction of fossil fuels and minerals from the earth for the idols of growth and profit for the few. Such is contemporary capitalism.
- Grief at what we have lost or destroyed of Mother Earth, which will not soon – if ever – be recovered, is a real, understandable, necessary response to the crisis. However, building the peaceable kingdom calls us to live past grief and work together with Indigenous Peoples and those most affected, in order to restore and protect the world and its diverse life, especially for our children and future generations.
- We recognize this will be a difficult task and we will suffer. It will also be a joyful task because it will be the right task and one in which we can work as a community for the common good of all.
- As we resist the further extraction of fossil fuels and minerals from the earth, we can use all possible technical and material alternatives which reduce and eliminate the emission of greenhouse gasses. Reforestation and regenerative agriculture which extract carbon from the atmosphere and promote biodiversity and resilience are key, as are renewable, solar, wind and geothermal energy.
- As we resist the use and production of war and weapons, we are called to build diverse, self-reliant, and resilient communities which have cooperation, reconciliation, and compassion as their foundation. Many such communities, democratic in substance, already exist and are built on the experience of those who have been most affected by the crisis. We can learn and become part of that experience and build a new history together: we think especially but not only of displaced, stateless, or property-less people.
- Spiritually, in all our diversity, we are called to reflect on our current dire situation and share with all our relations, the struggle and pain, the solidarity and joy, of building a new world from the old.