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Alone, together: Quaker communities for climate justice

With rising uncertainty about climate breakdown, Ailish Ní Cearbhaill reflects on the importance of finding spaces to spiritually connect.

There is a deep need for those who care about climate justice to be in community together. Photo: Michael Preston for BYM.
There is a deep need for those who care about climate justice to be in community together. Photo: Michael Preston for BYM.

Caring can be a lonely business. For those of us who care about climate justice, it can feel very isolating to see people around us continuing as though nothing is happening. We can feel ashamed or paralysed if we can't convert that care into action. Following 'The Big One' Extinction Rebellion protest in London in April, a Quaker told me that the real challenge wasn't the protest – it was coming home.

In the months leading up to The Big One and afterwards, I've got a clear sense from speaking to Quakers that there is a deep need for Quakers with a concern on climate justice to be in community together. Where the division starts to emerge is in the detail of what that looks like.

Spiritual mobilisation

I like the space to remain a seeker that being a Quaker gives me. It is strange now, as a paid member of staff, to have Friends email me asking for 'the plan' on how to end climate breakdown or expressing to me that they feel they have a clear answer.

Many Quakers I've spoken to firmly believe that what is needed now are spiritual spaces which allow for slowness despite the urgency so many of us feel. Others are equally convinced that time is so short that action on all fronts is what is called for, and as Quakers we should be mobilising to bring about specific projects.

Although the history of social justice movements provides us with a wealth of knowledge and tactics that we can and should use, nothing has ever been won on the scale that is needed to avert climate breakdown. It is uncomfortable for any of us to be unsure in a society which operates on key performance indicators and marks out of ten. It is terrifying to be unsure when what is at stake is an incalculable amount of lives, human and non-human.

The truth remains that we cannot see the future and we cannot say we know without fail what will work. Whether you think you have the conclusive answer or whether you think all hope is lost – consider it possible you may be mistaken.

Travelling with integrity

I don't know what structures or spaces can hold us all, with all our needs and fears, in this unprecedented time. I do feel that we have to try to find them. My sense, which may be different from yours, is that we need our heads, hearts and souls to walk with integrity down the path as it unrolls in front of us.

I worry that the (very well-founded) terror and anguish people feel when they think about climate breakdown can result in being pushed by panic rather than led by the spirit, leaving us disconnected, exhausted and ineffective. We do need to act. I think we also need to be brave enough to look at things that right now we can only see in the half-light until new light becomes clear.

Nurturing community

My idea is to set up a few different meetings and see how they feel. I'd like to invite anyone – Quakers, seekers, weary activists – to join one of the following experiments over the next few months and help nurture these webs of connection as they emerge.

I have also included some existing networks, in case they are what you have been needing but did not know how to find them. I hope one of them is somewhere you feel you can help another up, or be helped up, with a tender hand; somewhere where caring does not feel unwelcome.

(future dates to follow if these prove helpful, sign up to the Faith in Action Newsletter to stay informed)

Find out more about Quaker action for climate justice