EMES Annual Meeting 2014
To Friends everywhere,
We send you loving greetings from The Cultural Centre of St Thomas, in Strasbourg where 47 of us, representing Quakers from 18 European countries have been holding our annual meeting. Meeting with each other, and with our Friends from the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage Committee (also meeting here), EMEYF, as well as visitors from FWCC World Office, QCEA, QUNO and Woodbrooke Study Centre, has meant times of joyful thankfulness, mixed with serious concerns for peace building arising from the growing unease and tensions across Europe and the world as we witness yet another time of political instability.
The theme of this year’s annual meeting, A Confident Quaker Voice, has enabled us to look at our work through EMES to witness to our hopes and beliefs for the wider world. We have been reminded of the three aims of FWCC: connecting friends, crossing cultures and changing lives, and the transformative love that unites us and the developing plan for the next Worldwide Friends Representative Meeting in Arequipa, Peru, in January 2016.
We were enthused to hear reports of the General Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) held in Busan, South Korea, in October/November 2013 on the theme ‘God of Life, lead us to Justice and Peace’. We were powerfully struck by the openings for Friends to join with other Churches to become instruments of justice and peace. Churches all over the world are coming together to share common concerns about social and economic justice, climate change, peace, and environmental sustainability. We recognised the same prophetic spirit that gave forth the call to action from our 2012 World Conference in Kabarak. We need to work together towards ‘an economy of life’ instead of the failed ‘economy of death’, to bring about a spiritually-grounded transformation of the dominant culture. Here is an historic opportunity to encourage others to undertake the Pilgrimage for Justice and Peace.
Pilgrimage can take many different forms and happen in diverse settings. At a time of increasing tensions along the Ukrainian border, two Friends from the Baltic and Russia told us of their wish to travel under concern to Eastern Ukraine to meet and talk with individuals and organizations, to hear their views of the situation and to explore what may be needed. During a deeply gathered and moving unscheduled business session their concern was tested and gained support from Friends. We created a support group, experienced in peace work, tasked to help Friends develop their plans and identify enabling resources.
We heard two confident Quaker voices in the presentations on QUNO and QCEA: the former’s behind the scenes, painstaking, long-haul work that brings people together and sows seeds that often flourish in unexpected ways, and the determination that dares to ask the big questions; the latter’s articulation of the Quaker voice through advocacy to decision makers at the European institutions.
We have been encouraged to consider whether the work of EMES is having an effect on our Meetings. Does the presence of the FWCC Section make a difference? Are our Meetings and Worship Groups aware of the breadth of EMES’ work in Europe and the Middle East and, together with the World Office and other Sections, our FWCC work in the world? Can we make better use of the resources we have to support our Quaker life and practice? Can we uphold the work of peace building in our local communities and internationally? We recognise and are thankful for the huge amount of work that FWCC achieves in our Section and elsewhere and are appreciative of the work of other Quaker bodies in their dedication, generosity and effectiveness in their tasks.
We imagined a world without war in a series of workshops. We reflected on the ways each of us had been affected by war and on the transformative actions each and every one of us can take as steps towards peace, as individuals and as a community. Indeed, being community is a step towards peace – we prayed ‘Our Father’ each in our own language in the awareness that it commits us to a communal vision of our relationship with the eternal.
It has gladdened our hearts to hear how our Secretary and Ministry and Outreach Coordinator use Internet and Skype to manage their work and share support and worship, and that the whole Executive Committee seeks to become a worshipping community.
We were invited to consider the effects that a changing of our perspectives on biblical language could have on the common understanding among Quakers and among all Christians, noting that our responses to traditional Christian language can sometimes become obstacles to engagement in moving together in our common concerns for peace, within and beyond the Society of Friends.
In worship, we were reminded that a confident voice is not just self assured – the word “confidence” derives from the Latin “cum fides” and means: ‘with trust/faith’. It is therefore the voice that springs from our faithfulness.