Bridging the Gap: BYM Sustainability Gathering 2018

Bridging the Gap: BYM Sustainability Gathering 2018 – A Report

Andrew Woodgate – Ludlow Local Meeting.

Hayes Conference Centre, Derbyshire, 19-21 Oct 2018


More than 120 delegates from 47 Area Meetings met in Derbyshire over this weekend in late October as participants in the third BYM Sustainability Gathering to be held since the 2011 ‘Canterbury Minute’. The aim of the event was to inspire, to connect and to map what is happening in the world and within Quakers as we respond to the unfolding environmental disaster. Given the recent release of the stark IPCC report , much of the Gathering focussed on climate change, as the key to all sustainable living.

What happened

Delegates gathered on Friday afternoon in time for dinner. In the evening Anne Ullathorne, Clerk of Meeting for Sufferings, brought us up to date with progress on the Canterbury Commitment and the current state of the Sustainability Group. The programmed events closed with Epilogue, a brief meeting for worship.

Saturday morning began with an early meeting for worship, which was followed by three keynote speakers, who gave short presentations, each with a follow-up to respond to delegates’ questions and comments.

Paul Hoggett, psychotherapist and co-founder of Climate Psychology Alliance, gave an insight into possible psychological roots for campaigning against climate change. His view was that the current, increasingly populist and authoritarian political scene around the world was fuelled by a sense of victimhood. The victim could easily switch into the perpetrator. He spoke of ‘ressentiment’, brooding on old grievances, a ‘moral narcissism’. This sense of victimhood was stemming from increasing inequality. However, we were all potentially prone to ‘ressentiment’; we needed to connect with the grievances within ourselves before addressing those in others. Paul introduced the topic of ‘exceptionalism’, the idea that we have that ‘we’ are special and only ‘others’ need to act. This word seemed to resonate with delegates and was heard often through the rest of the weekend.

Next followed a presentation by Jo-Anne Veltman, a children’s doctor and one of the founders of Plan B Earth, which brings legal challenges to strengthen UK climate policy. Jo-Anne was inspired to act by the realisation that environmental issues were directly affecting – indeed, killing – children around the world. Her background in systems thinking led her to realise that linear thinking cannot be successful in directing action in such a complex system as climate. Her rallying cry was ‘the time is NOW’, both because the effects of climate change are already upon us but because, by holding the present mindfully, we can take action without becoming overwhelmed. Jo-Anne emphasised the need to work optimistically with others.

The final presentation was a short film introduced by Susanna Mattingly, Sustainability Communication Officer at Friends’ World Committee for Consultation. The film showed the witness of three Friends (two from the Philippines, one from Kenya) to the effects of climate change as already experienced in their communities. These included the consequent effects: irregular harvests led to falling incomes, which in turn made it harder to pay school fees.

Delegates then met in groups, then in plenary, to share their responses to the morning’s presentations.

Saturday afternoon brought a range of optional workshops and activities, followed by another worship sharing to capture emerging thoughts. Further workshops were offered in the evening followed by Epilogue.

Sunday morning started with an early worship followed by a plenary sharing and a chance in small groups to map what is happening already and where we might want to act next.

Throughout the gathering, delegates were invited to post comments, posters and examples of their work on sustainability on a ‘talking wall’. Delegates were all involved at times in co-creating an art installation, under the guidance of Mey Hasbrook. Mey is a Friend from Michigan, US, who is on a travelling ministry, using art in various Quaker settings around the world. She challenged us with the question: ‘What is the need arising and how do we respond to it?’. By the end of the weekend, we had shared in the creation of a series of mobile sculptures, which would be added to by other Friends on the next legs of Mey’s journey.

Main Themes Emerging

Three Friends were tasked with acting as ‘listeners’ throughout the gathering, to capture what they felt were the main themes emerging. This is a summary of what they fed back :

1 The need to be joyful, to see the changes we make as positive opportunities to explore the new, have fun and be joyful, rather than making people feel guilty.

2 The importance of envisaging the world we want; of speaking it into being, for example working out what a zero carbon Society of Friends would look like.

3 The importance of sharing stories. We often do not know the change that flows from our own simple acts. Sharing inspires others and fosters new cultural norms.

4 Is our role to ‘Bridge the Gap’ or to ‘ Inhabit the Gap’? (This stems from a Friend’s ministry that maybe as a society we need to sit with the pain of environmental destruction to allow the correct response to emerge organically.)

5 The concept of exceptionalism. The incomprehension that what we apply to others should also apply to us. Our species, our country and we as individuals fall prey to this. Do we understand where this approach comes from in our culture and are we prepared to address this in ourselves and our society?

6 We seek to engage spiritually. We know we must campaign, make practical changes in the ways we live our lives yet we have been challenged as to whether we have fallen out of the right relationship with that which is sacred. 

7 The importance of acting from and through love. Whilst at times we are angry or afraid, we must ensure the bedrock of our action is love, the power of love. Remember Advices and Queries 28 ‘Attend to what love requires of you.’

8 Connection. We need to be able to listen and seek to understand what motivates others as well as communicating clearly our own message.

Personal Reflections and Next Steps

I arrived on the Friday evening tired and slightly daunted by the size of the Gathering. I left inspired, fired up and grateful for the opportunity afforded to me by AM to participate in it. I was grateful also to have been there with Stevie Krayer and Robert Milne from AM; it was good to touch base and to think about how we might jointly take the Gathering forward locally. It was also good to know other Friends, and friends, across Britain were of a like mind.

The theme of the weekend can lead one to feel gloomy or despairing. Friends’ balancing of challenge with a message of optimism, joy and acting from Love helped me find a renewed sense of purpose in acting to promote sustainable alternatives. Particularly, the emerging theme of acting by rooting our response in spirit or love, of ‘spiritual leadership’, seemed to be something which Quakers could add to the rich mix of groups and individuals acting for the Earth.

I was also struck by the importance of connecting with others, to share ideas and activities, yes, but also to share our grief, mourning and anger at the state of the world.

I hope that AM will respond to the Gathering with active optimism, so that local Meetings and individuals are inspired to take action rooted in Love and embodying our distinctive Quaker contribution to the world.

‘Be patterns, be examples…wherever you may come’ (George Fox 1656).

Andrew Woodgate
Ludlow Meeting.