FWCC Europe and Middle East Section Peace and Service Consultation
from George Thurley
From the 20th to the 22nd of November, 23 Friends from a number of European countries met in Belgium for the Europe and Middle East Section (EMES) Peace and Service Consultation. This is an annual event, which brings together peace and service organisations from across Europe including Quaker Peace & Social Witness, Quaker Council for European Affairs, Quaker United Nations Office, Quaker Service organisations and peace committees of Norway, Sweden, Ireland, Netherlands and German Yearly Meetings, Friends House Moscow, Northern Friends Peace Board and Quaker Voluntary Action. The consultation is an opportunity to share information, network, and find ways to work more effectively together. It is also an opportunity for these representatives, many of whom spend their working lives working for Quaker witness, to come back to the spiritual basis of their work, and worship together.
The theme of the gathering for 2015 was “Who is my neighbour?” In the light of the recent attacks in Paris and Beirut, and the wider refugee crisis, this seemed a particularly poignant question, and it served to keep us spiritually grounded as we discussed the issues we faced.
The gathering was unavoidably coloured by the murders in Paris and elsewhere, as well as the unfolding security alert in Brussels. All this was in the forefront of our minds as we discussed the need to build a shared, sustainable security, rather than the mainstream understanding of security as a narrow type of militarised protection. As Diana Francis reminded us in the Swarthmore lecture this year, none of us are safe until all of us are. The plans being developed by a group of Friends to hold a peace vigil at the Eurosatory arms fair in Paris, June 2016 clearly dovetailed with this concern, and the group minuted its hope that Yearly Meetings would support the Friends engaged in organising this.
We had with us a Friend from Nairobi Yearly Meeting, who shared the peace work that is being done in his country and more widely in the Lake Region of Africa by Change Agents for Peace, an inititative originally set up by Norwegian Friends, who are still very closely involved in the work. We heard personal testimonies from Friends who had recently been to Bethlehem and Ramallah to offer training in Alternative to Violence and Neurolinguistic Programming, and from a number of Friends about their experience with the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe: from those active in Croatia, Slovenia and Germany and from some who have been helping in the “Jungle” in Calais.
Friends at the consultation were clear that these issues are all intimately linked – many refugees are fleeing from the sort of violence committed in Paris on Friday the 13th November. We felt it crucial that these murders should not fuel more unnecessary violence, and force more people to make the arduous journey to find in Europe the stability lacking in their own countries. The peace and service consultation issued a statement to this effect, which can be found here:
We hope that Yearly meetings will support and promote this statement.
By the end of the weekend the query of our theme had been inverted: who is not my neighbour? Although the challenges are great, we feel sure that we can continue our work cheerfully and courageously, answering and upholding that of God in everyone.