Composting the Covenant: talking about Quaker faith and sustainability

At a gathering at Woodbrooke over three days in June 2016, sixteen Friends explored how our faith relates to ecology and sustainability. Prepared contributions included discussion papers, poetry, film clips, slideshows and experiential and creative activities. We reflected at length in worship-sharing and discussion. The various contributions, other resources, flipcharts and notes – can be accessed here.

We distilled three main themes – each of these is a dimension of our eco-spirituality:

  1. Communion and community – our experience of and commitment to connection with people, other living beings, and the whole universe.
  2. Telling our stories – including our history and vision, the ways we’ve engaged with challenges, the way we articulate our values, our experience of our own darkness and of transformation.
  3. Action/change agency – including our commitment to self-change, our practices and processes for discernment and support in our witness, and our principles for action as a faith community.

People find different ways into ecospirituality. Some start with connection, some with vision or narrative, some with action. But these are inseparable and mutually entwined paths. There are distinctive Quaker approaches to each (see figure below).

Quaker approaches to sustainability

We draw on our corporate roots in Christianity and the witness of early Friends, as well as our personal backgrounds in a variety of religious and secular traditions. We find resonance between the writings of George Fox and others in the Quaker tradition, and our own experiences of God’s presence in all creation, in the web of life and in the cosmos. We also find many sources of new light, from the values and cultures of indigenous peoples to the insights and practices of movements such as the Work that Reconnects.

Friends have a well-developed witness in our approach to the spiritual life, to transformation (standing still in the Light, letting it show us our darkness and bring us to new life) to human relationship (answering that of God in everyone) and to community (setting aside personal positions in seeking unity). We are led to extend the resulting principles of peace, love, equality and community to our relationship with all beings and the natural world – seeking to answer that of God in all creation.

Our faith, lives and action are inseparable. We have a passion to make manifest the vision of Gospel Order through our practices and structures, and through our work in the world for transformation and for reconciliation. In our final go-round, participants called for a clearer articulation of our Quaker eco-theology and vision, and for acceptance of spiritual practices that connect us with the Earth. Quaker discernment processes and approaches to relationship are particular gifts which, if we could breathe more life into them, have much to offer the healing of our world.

We parted with new energy for our own journeys, projects and challenges, in our lives, meetings and beyond – and also with a sense of companionship, which many of us would like to sustain and develop.


One thought on “Composting the Covenant: talking about Quaker faith and sustainability”

  1. “a sense of companionship” – we read this and agree but it really is our way to offer to the world. This Saturday I am giving a session at the John Macmurray Seminar at York on “Fear and Reciprocity at the Brink”. I will begin drawing on “Living Witness” the “Constellation of Crises” then ask “is there a new culture between market capitalism and state communism”. At present I feel a bit grim but I mention new thinking in the Quakernomics blog and the Living Witness” group. I go back to April and remember Jill (Green) ‘s comment on working on our old habits.
    A huge but vital first stage then working in small groups. I have a little booklet by Peter Cadogan on William Morris, EP Thompson and the Third Way”. Will let you know how it goes!
    Richard Thompson

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