Stories & Reflections from CYM 2019

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.

ShushAs 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 oCake!ut 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

Elder Betty Ross

Elaine Bishop (Winnipeg Monthly Meeting) and Cree Elder Betty Ross

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.

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 climateGrassy Narrows Blockadeand 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 thClean energy future this way - tar sands oil back that waye 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.

Day 4 Reflection:
Hiroshima Day in Winnipeg

by Caroline Balderston Parry

While an LGBTQ+ social evening was being held on-site at Canadian Yearly Meeting, I was among several Friends who went to the Winnipeg Hiroshima Day celebrations in front of the Manitoba legislature. The August 6 evening events were organized by a very multicultural coalition of groups, of which Winnipeg Monthly Meeting is simply one of many co-sponsors – so that it struck me that there was a bigger pool of the public present to participate than in Ottawa, where I’ve attended Hiroshima Day ceremonies for years.

There were a good number of families with small children and I appreciated how the organizers had set up tables with all the craft materials needed, not only for making the lanterns but for folding paper cranes. The organizers had prepared standard-sized, heavy paper strips to be painted Decorating lanterns at Hiroshima Dayand then glued together to make the lantern shape on a square base, but the paper was too opaque for the lanterns to really glow from all sides. I was interested in the variety of images that people drew and the constant messages of world peace they wrote on the lantern papers.

The speeches and readings of the formal program were made by a large group, with a high proportion of literal descriptions of the bombing itself, but no real political commentary. Over the years of observing Hiroshima Day in Ottawa, we have always had group singing, or even a mini-concert, so I missed having any songs or music – until a single saxophonist played some haunting music while people set their lanterns afloat around the big fountain.

Hiroshima Day is a fascinating celebration to me because each year we are remembering and commemorating a huge, horrific tragedy with beautiful lights and creativity, and I found myself wondering what the young children there will understand about what we were doing.

 

Day 5 Reflection:
The Committee of Joy – An Evening with Continuing Meeting of Ministry and Council

by Jeffrey Dudiak

Friends performing actions to a song

Editor’s Note: Jeffrey Dudiak delivered these remarks to open the evening with Continuing Meeting of Ministry & Council at Yearly Meeting.

Last year at CYM, on an evening devoted to listening to our Young Friends, one of their number, (who will remain nameless, but whose initials are David Summerhays) suggested the convening of a Committee of Joy. This proposal was, of course, offered half tongue-in-cheek. But that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be taken entirely seriously. What were Young Friends telling us that we need to hear?

Young people these days, and our Young Friends along with them, find themselves crushed under the weight of a world gone wrong. In addition to ongoing wars and rumours of wars, in additional to an economy whose “success” appears to coincide with an ever-deepening income inequality (with all of its attendant perversions and poverties), in addition to stalled efforts to address sexism and racism — in addition to all of this, our young people are reminded daily that we face near-certain climate catastrophe. That is, of course, unless certain extreme actions are taken almost immediately. But there is next to no reasonable prospect that any of them will be taken soon enough to avoid the frighteningly imminent tipping points from which return will be impossible.

Protesters with sign: Iif the environment were a bank, it would have been saved by now"

Creative Commons – Bob Simpson via Flickr

As the power brokers on both sides of the political polarity bounce rule and privilege back and forth in a self-reinforcing system that pits people against one another rather than encouraging true community — and as the “powers and principalities” of trans-national capital run their course beyond the control of anyone at all — there seems little, if anything, that we can effectively do that would actually make a difference.

We try to stay hopeful, but we all feel it. We are all of us exhausted by an ever-increasing number of exigent calls to which we have no real, or at least realistic, answers. We feel it on a global scale, and we feel it in our Meetings.

This is the world that our young people are inheriting from us and in which they will have to live — whatever bleak prospects for life remain. There seems little cause for joy.

Adorno mural in Frankfurt

Mural of Theodor Adorno by Justus Becker and Oğuz Şen in Frankfurt, Germany. (Photo by Vysotsky, via Wikimedia Commons)

And, indeed, in the face of our current situation, perhaps joy is inappropriate. The German social critic Theodore Adorno once commented that writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.

Perhaps feeling joy in the face of impending climate disaster is obscene — a cheap pair of rose-coloured glasses, a distraction from the impossibly difficult task at hand, a task that demands a persistence that can only be born of panic. Perhaps joy is for some distant tomorrow; for now, we need grief, and — as motivation for the requisite iron resolve — maybe even a healthy dose of collective hyperventilation.

No one who takes up such a stance should be criticized. Our issues are serious to the point of death — we face the potential end of life on our planet, and our approach to such issues must be deadly serious too.

But perhaps Adorno was wrong. Perhaps writing poetry after Auschwitz is not barbaric, but — as the effort to reconstitute the lineaments of language and meaning itself — the only appropriate, the only holy response to the barbarism that was Auschwitz. And perhaps joy in our time is not obscene, but precisely the energizing force we need to sustain us in the face of our overwhelming challenges.

Addressing the distress felt at a disintegrating Jerusalem, the administrator Nehemiah, charged with the daunting task of the rebuild, instructed the people as follows:

“Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

Indeed, the Hebrew word for strength here implies safety, protection, a stronghold. Perhaps joy is precisely the strength we need today, in our day that too is holy to the Lord.

And that is why the Continuing Meeting of Ministry and Council decided, at this Yearly Meeting, to use our evening with CMM&C to convene the first meeting of the Committee of Joy. In response to our Young Friends, yes, but also for the love of us all. We are so pleased you have chosen to join the committee.

Day 6 Reflection:
A Journal of Business Meeting

by Caroline Balderston Parry

Listening during Business Meeting at CYM

Listening during Business Meeting at CYM

After trying to get my journal writing time in each morning this week, I finally just brought my tablet into the morning Meeting for Worship for Business today.  I typed notes (somewhat sequentially, but also a bit at random) as the morning unfolded.

I am feeling the depth of worship and the “sense of the meeting” very strongly today. We are such wonderful — yet imperfect — human beings, aren’t we, dear Spirit? 

Sometimes Spirit surges through us all and many feel it; sometimes it is very hard to discern “that of God” speaking through one of us. Always we have the option to choose joy in creation, in our diversity, in our hearts’ ability to grow in love over so many years and generations.

At the same time, I am mindful that early this week a Friend cautioned us to check whether, when we feel led to stand and speak on the floor of these sessions, the leading is truly of the Spirit or “of coffee.”

The break-up of Business Meeting at CYM

The break-up of Business Meeting at CYM

There are so many wide-ranging gifts this body of people carry, and I love how often one f/Friend will see or hear of feel some piece of the whole that others have missed. This makes our corporate work rich and full — and also humbling, because on occasion we make mistakes, are angry or hurt, or are diverted from truly listening for guidance.

It is hard to step back at times, or step up (especially if one is introverted or reluctant for other, likely complex, reasons).

Cameron Fraser gave his Secretary’s Report and framed it with ministry calling on us to: allow space to lay things down…  take risks, commit to change, embrace our mistakes, that’s how we are gonna grow… all to the glory of god.

Day 7 Reflection:
Gleanings from Canadian Yearly Meeting 2019

It’s a long-standing tradition at Yearly Meeting for Friends to collect gleanings – snatches of dialogue that are particularly funny, poignant, or insightful.

These gleanings are then presented a Family Night, an open-mic-style event on the last night of Yearly Meeting.

Below are a selection of these gleanings – the gleanings winnowed, if you will.

“CYM: where this imperfect person meets with other imperfect people whose company I can enjoy.”

“Most of us Friends here are settlers: called to seek truth and live into reconciliation.”

“Guilt should work in every religion, right?”Young Friends presenting a report at Business Meeting

“I’m not a Quaker, but I am Quaker-adjacent.”

Quaker photographer to group: “Don’t stand in the light.”

“After three years of attending CYM, you take the acronym quiz, then you can apply to get your Quaker citizenship.”

“Quakers: Not just for Breakfast”

“Before speaking ask yourself, ‘Is it the light speaking or the coffee?’”

“Let us trust in the work we do as collectives, that a word here and there will not impact our ability to go forth and live spirit-filled lives.”

“If Friends will wait for the microphone, then everyone will be able to hear the first time, which will be delightful for all of us.”

“Your house is burning down and you’re arguing about particular words?”

During Minute Review Committee: “My attention span is shorter than this sentence.”

“Sometimes we think we are the kind of good people who would do this kind of thing – but there is no upswelling of energy to do the work.”

“I want to be brief – and I find that really difficult.”

“We spend a huge amount of time and resources administering ourselves and reporting to ourselves.”

“Supporting our faith community is a great way to spend our money.”

“The kind of change required for CYM involves both laying down and lifting up – but we believe the Spirit will strengthen us.”

“My resurrection faith teaches me not to fear death but to trust the promise. What I hear is an invitation to embrace death to receive new life.”

“If you see a job someone needs to do, that someone might be you.”

Friends doing dishes at food coopp

Friends doing dishes at food coop

 “If you want to say something critical, you’re automatically on the committee.”

While circling up to eat at food coop, Day 2: “the circle is too small, and too hungry!”

While circling up to eat in food coop, Day 5: “There’s a food coop meeting tonight… is that why nobody’s here?”

Mary Oliver: “The only ship there is, is the ship we are on, burning the world as we go.”

The most popular suggestions for discussion at the Young Friends Gathering:

  • dismantling capitalism
  • healthy relationships and sexuality
  • the coming apocalypse

“We cannot know everything before we do anything.”

“In a healthy relationship, when you fight, you’re really fighting to get back to each other.”

“If reconciliation requires anything, it requires courage.”

“What can we do to bring joy into the lives of the next generations? Give them the space to find their own way.”

Defining ‘pacifist-aggressive’:  “I’m a pacifist, so if we’re fighting you started it!”

“Being on Continuing Meeting of Ministry and Council is a service that rewards as much as it requires.”

“Young Friends don’t say ‘no’ to things because they’re lazy or don’t care. They say no because they want to be here and don’t want to get burnt out.”

“I have a talent for singing along enthusiastically with songs I don’t know.”

“That’s why people should not learn by osmosis; often osmosis is nasty rumours.”

One Friend to group: “Friends, what do you think about CYM getting a patreon account?” Another Friend trying to join the conversation: “What? What do you think it will take to stop the patriarchy?”  (Laughter)
“No, Friend, we’re thinking of giving Jordan Peterson a run for his money on patreon… but maybe the two are related?! That was quite an inspired mishearing.”
“Yes, I must have had the Spirit blocking my ears.”

“The only place to get a job in Ontario is in Alberta.”Circle of Young Friends

“There is no downside to justice.”

“Are we willing to listen? We are – it’s what we do!”

“Nothing should be done about us or for us without us.”

“We are living epistles.  Our lives are sacred text.”

“We are not called to be safe, we are called to be faithful.”

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