The current work of the NEFUN Committee supports discernment around New England monthly meetings of the faith and practice of sustainability as requested by yearly meeting in 1998. To focus and unify New England Yearly Meeting on the issue of sustainability, we sought clarity about suggesting corporate action. In fact, there are lots of relevant activities around New England Friends—some of them locally and some of them globally focused.
In the end, we found no clear leading for yearly meeting and realized that our large body may take a little more time to discern right action. Our expectation is that, over the next few years, a clear issue or leading will emerge from one or more of our monthly meetings and gain the support of yearly meeting.
Our members have worked hard this year—surveying monthly meetings by phone, traveling to lead workshops, and holding on-site dialogs with individual meetings—to connect with all of the New England meetings and hear about their experiences as they open this issue to the Light. There is a wide variety of vital, luminescent experience and concern across New England related to exploring and creating sustainable pathways.
Some meetings are just beginning to understand and others are clearer in their leadings to work toward sustainability. Some individuals work outside their faith community on these issues, and others find vital connection to life in the Spirit through their meetings. A deep connection with and appreciation of nature as a revelation of God in the world is widespread among New England Yearly Meeting. Many, many people ask for more information or express continuing confusion about the status of environmental problems, solutions that can be tried, and the right stance of Friends toward these problems and solutions.
There is emerging among Friends a common understanding about sustainability concepts that help us with its complexities. What follows are some basic themes from writings and gatherings, especially from Mt. Toby and Cambridge Meetings and from the NEFUN Committee.
1. Sustainability is about limits to Earth’s resources, especially the use and protection of air and water, and responsible use of energy and materials. Fair and equitable access to these resources is as important to sustainability as preservation, conservation, and attention to waste.
2. Quaker concerns of peace, justice, and simplicity are linked to sustainability, which adds the dimension of time and long-range consequences. Peace and justice actions support sustainability when they address the causes of conflict and oppression and work for strategies that put living and replicating solutions in place that last through time. If limited resources foster conflict and injustice (as they do in a large proportion of global conflicts), it follows that a stable supply of resources and equitable access to them are essential to peace and justice. Simplicity can then be understood to be about personal resource use, and "conformity to this world" to be about greed and waste. There is a connection with our testimony on plain-speaking and honesty too: some of us labor to overcome the denial of environmental destruction on which our global economy rests and from which we have profited.
3. We are of Earth, physically and spiritually. We were created to live in Eden, and Eden was created to be our home. The Divine is in the garden as surely as within each of us. As Cambridge Meeting tells us, "the universal processes that establish and maintain the forms we find in nature, including the forms we call ‘life,’ are a manifestation of God in which we are blessed to participate."
4. This work is a call to unity with Earth, a call of such clarity and urgency that we should feel joy and love as we prepare and begin. Sustainable living is as much for our own spiritual health as for the health of the world. In loving and honoring whatever part of the web of life that draws us, we are helping to sustain it. Guilt and dismay are not effective strategies for the problem-solving and change that are needed.
5. Technology is intertwined with our economy and our community, both important issues for sustainability. Technology also drives our use of Earth’s resources. Bob Hillegass suggests that sustainability requires attention to the intersection of technology and Quaker testimonies. The Full Moon Group at Mt. Toby Meeting urges that we take time to understand technical complexities, that we may better understand this intersection. This means learning about emerging cleaner and more efficient production and transportation, product design with environment in mind as well as the normal concerns for cost and performance, toxic chemical threats, fair access to resources, and other issues, as diligently as we learn about injustice, prisons, and preparation for war.
How will New England Yearly Meeting support this work? Our committee found that resources are scarce or nonexistent in some meetings and concentrated in others. Increasingly we have focused on the creation of a sourcebook, a resource for monthly meetings filled with writings, ideas, queries and questions, workshop tools, and initiatives to explore right action from around New England Yearly Meeting.
This manual was offered at New England Yearly Meeting sessions in draft form. It is a work in progress because we see no finish to those activities that are generating such energizing ideas and deepening experience. We are asking monthly meetings to take this book and make it their own—read it and add their own sections and material. We ask that they continue in this way to foster in their meetings and communities learning and inspiration toward unity with nature.
This committee will continue to assemble master files on the materials generated for New England Yearly Meeting and provide a section of the New England Yearly Meeting website for downloading the sourcebook [http://neym.org/nefun/sourcebk.html].
There are also experiences and projects across yearly meeting offering opportunities for action. For example, Equal Exchange offers fairly traded coffee, a term that includes organically grown products that support grassroots co-ops in El Salvador, Peru, Nicaragua, and Chiapas/Mexico. Other yearly meeting initiatives for peace—Friends Peace Team Project, Family Peace Projects, and Active Peace Zones—can support or suggest models for action on sustainability. The NEFUN workshop at yearly meeting sessions last year suggested an Alternatives to Consumption Project. One meeting did an "ecoteam" project during which five families met monthly to reduce their consumption and live more sustainably. The North American Friends Committee on Unity with Nature supports yearly meetings with ideas for the larger perspectives and connections to build synergies.
We would like to see Friends become a model for discernment and action moving us toward sustainability, as we are on actions advancing peace and simplicity. However, it is worth noting that we are lagging behind other faith groups on this effort—the work of individual Friends notwithstanding.
We offer these queries to invite reflection: What is the long-term perspective? What can Quakers do to model a joyous, authentic, valuable, full-bodied life that is in harmony with the natural processes of renewal and replacement of what is used? What is our Friendly vision for a peaceful, green future? What are we called to do as monthly meetings to bring this vision to fruition? How can we best continue to focus the yearly meeting to hear whatever corporate action God asks of us?
—Janet Clark, clerk
New England Friends in Unity with Nature Committee