News December 2015

Friends join in annual interfaith peace conference

The 36th Annual Interfaith Service and Conference for Peace was held in Princeton, N.J., on November 8. The event was organized by the Coalition for Peace Action, a local lobbying and activist organization, and co-sponsored by many religious organizations including two meetings: New Brunswick (N.J.) Meeting and Trenton (N.J.) Meeting.

One of the speakers at the conference was Friends Journal author J. Jondhi Harrell (see p. 6), founder and executive director of the Center for Returning Citizens in Philadelphia, Pa.

The event was well attended with 300 attendees for the interfaith service and 120 participants at the conference. The theme of this year’s conference was “New Horizons for Peacemaking and Equality,” and a wide variety of subjects were explored as a way of broadening the work of Coalition for Peace Action.

 

Mural by Shepard Fairey on Friends Center

© Steve Weinik for the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program
© Steve Weinik for the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program

As part of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program’s month-long Open Source project, Shepard Fairey, a prolific and politically active street artist, painted a mural on an exterior wall of the Friends Center office building near the intersection of Fifteenth and Race Streets in Philadelphia, Pa. The mural is a portrait of Amira Mohamed, titled The Stamp of Incarceration: Amira Mohamed. Mohamed, a graduate of the Mural Arts Guild program, was once incarcerated and is now studying architecture while working part-time with Mural Arts.

Painted over two days (October 14–15), the mural came out of Fairey’s work with the Mural Arts Restorative Justice program; about the subject, he wrote, “Seventy million Americans have a criminal record (I’m one of them) and when re-entering society it is important that these people have training and ways to overcome the label of ‘ex-con’ that can be so stifling to opportunities.” Fairey’s is one of two murals in a series, the second of which will be painted by those currently incarcerated at Graterford Prison, located about 31 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

Chris Mohr, executive director of Friends Center, made the decision to work with Mural Arts on the project after it was rejected by the intended wall owners for being too controversial. The controversial statement was this: “United States: 5 percent of the world’s population, 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.” A press conference held in Friends Center’s courtyard resulted in significant local media coverage of not only the mural and the artist, but also Fairey’s commitment to criminal justice reform and to alternative and restorative justice approaches.

On his website (obeygiant.com), Fairey shared his appreciation of the support:

I admire the courage and humanity of those willing to showcase the art. . . . I’m very grateful to those with enough courage, compassion, and basic humanity to care about this issue and see a need for emphasis on rehabilitation rather than indefinite incarceration.

 

Friends school educators see potential in technology

Leaders from 38 Friends schools in 12 states gathered October 16 in a Friends’ Central School gymnasium in Wynnewood, Pa., to consider a new collaboration in technology-enabled education. “Friends schools have been at the forefront of educational practice and philosophy,” said Drew Smith, the executive director of Friends Council on Education. “Now is the time to harness our collective wisdom and experience through school-to-school collaboration and the use of technology to create positive social change in the world.”

Peter Sommer, head of school at Cambridge Friends School in Massachusetts, played a key role in connecting Friends schools to edX (edx.org), an online education startup created by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012. The edX platform is not yet widely used below the college level, and many attending the gathering felt that Quaker schools could be national and worldwide leaders in exploring how online and so-called “blended” online and in-person learning can enhance the educational experience in primary and secondary schools.

Educators divided into working groups to consider how institutions, including Friends Publishing Corporation, the publisher of Friends Journal and QuakerSpeak, could collaborate in professional development for teachers, jointly develop content for Quaker-focused courses, and use technology to share the unique strengths that different Friends schools offer.

Reflecting after the conference, Smith said, “There is great relief amongst schools that by working together we might relieve some of the pressure on schools to invent the future themselves.” A new, school-led organization is forming to pursue an agreement with an online-education platform such as edX, and a follow-up gathering is planned for June 2016 at Friends Academy in Locust Valley, N.Y.

 

Quakers gather to talk about fundraising

From September 30 through October 2, the 2015 Quaker Fundraisers Gathering brought together about 140 participants to discuss a number of topics around fundraising, both within the world of Quakers as well as ways to fundraise that are in line with Quaker values. The biannual gathering is sponsored by Friends Fiduciary Corporation.

Participants from 85 organizations gathered at the Wyndham Historic Philadelphia District hotel and the Arch Street Meeting House in Philadelphia, Pa. Organizations both large and small were represented, including those that serve Quakers or are Quaker-related as well as Quaker schools and colleges. Conversations and collaboration occurred amidst information sessions, shared meals, and worship.

 

Worldwide Quaker group divests from fossil fuels

Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) World Office announced on September 30 that it has divested from fossil fuel companies, following a June decision of its Central Executive Committee. The money divested from fossil fuels has been redirected to a fund supporting wind energy projects.

The action follows the organization’s 2012 Kabarak Call for Peace and Eco-Justice, which recognized the dangers of climate change and its effect on famine, migration, and war, and pledged to act to reduce the organization’s climate impact.

Elizabeth Cazden, clerk of the Central Executive Committee, shared more about the news:

The core work of FWCC is to bring Quakers together from all parts of the world. We are also committed to a governance structure that includes Friends from all parts of the world, not just those within easy reach of the London office. So it is particularly challenging to envision how to do our work without adding to fossil fuel consumption such as jet fuel. We are actively exploring options such as holding international meetings less frequently, having committees meet by video conferencing, and incorporating carbon offsets such as tree-planting projects.

Headquartered in London, FWCC represents some 400,000 Quakers in meetings and churches in 87 countries. For more information, visit fwcc.world.

 

New minister for New Garden

New Garden Meeting in Greensboro, N.C., has a new pastoral minister. Margaret Webb assumed the position in September, succeeding longtime minister David Bills who retired a year ago. Webb was selected after a year of discernment and search. She comes to New Garden Meeting from Farmington Friends Church in New York, and is affiliated with both North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM) and the new Piedmont Friends Yearly Meeting.

Holding a bachelor’s in religion from Earlham College and an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary, Webb’s personal theology and philosophy of ministry are “rooted in her Quaker background.” She says, “I am passionate about working actively towards peace and justice in our world. I believe that God extends God’s Love to all people, and that everyone should be welcome in houses of worship—they should be places of acceptance and loving fellowship.”

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