As an intern at Quakers in Britain, I get to work alongside many different colleagues, including those who support Quakers who take action to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Quakers oppose hydraulic fracturing of shale gas – known as 'fracking' – as part of our testimony to sustainability. We advocate for investment in renewable energy sources as an alternative.
In the north of England, Quakers have joined with activists from other faith traditions to form No Faith in Fracking, a group that gives a voice to people of all spiritualities who oppose fracking at the Preston New Road site in Lancashire.
I'd heard that they planned to hold a No Faith in Fracking Week outside the gates of the fracking site in April. I had previously volunteered with an Oxfam campaign some years ago, but never been to the kind of spiritual demonstration that these Friends were organising. As part of my internship, I went along on the Friday to experience what it was like.
Gathering in worship
From the beginning, No Faith in Fracking has been interfaith and centred around worship. “We met up with Quakers from Lancaster and a Buddhist friend from Accrington," explains Hilary Whitehead, an activist and Quaker from Pendle Hill Area Meeting.
“We all joined together and sat at the [fracking site] gates. It happened one Friday and we decided to do it regularly on the last Friday of the month. That took off a year ago. It was so nice to bring a spiritual practice to the gates. Because there were so many different types of things happening here it was very calming."
When I arrived at the site I saw that a blue line had been painted on the ground in front of the main entrance – step over it and you risk an injunction. That line is just a few feet away from a busy A-road. I realised that we were restricted to sit or stand on a piece of tarmac the width and length of a residential pavement. But even though we were on a roadside, each of us in our own way turned it into a place of worship.
Over the week there was a Catholic liturgy with a holy supper and a skit featuring a banker, Martin Luther, and Pope Francis; a Druid blessing ceremony for the natural world; Buddhist meditation and mantras; and many other types of worship. The days ended with a silent, Quaker-led vigil, bearing witness together in our resistance to fracking and our commitment to the earth.
A call to action
“It is a very daunting, overwhelming issue, climate change. And there's something about the community in meeting that really helps. I think that's the only way we're going to win, really: together."– Chayley Collis, activist and Quaker from Huddersfield Meeting.
On the Friday morning we began by walking to the gates of the fracking site in slow and silent contemplation, united in our resistance against fracking and our concern for the earth. People driving past honked their horns in approval, reminding us that we had the support not only of each other but of many of the residents affected by fracking in their community.
While some activists stood in the middle of the road holding up placards for passers-by to see, others fetched sandwiches and topped up the tea urn. Some of us sat together in silence, some of us sang and danced – and most of us did both. Just as we came from different faith traditions, we all found different ways to support each other and participate.
Later there was a Buddhist 'Turning winter into spring' ritual, where we scattered dead leaves on the ground to release our worries and fears, and threw colourful flowers after them to release our hopes and wishes. Our contemplation was interrupted by the wail of the warning siren from the fracking drill, which began to rotate – an ugly reminder of why we had all come here in the first place.
A Quaker meeting for worship closed the day, and 40 people – some Quaker, many not – gathered in a deep silence together as the rain began to fall.
On my journey home I reflected on the quiet power of our faith presence. Given that this week of action was filled with gentle determination, it seems like fracking companies like Cuadrilla had best prepare for the long haul – because the organisers of this resistance aren't going anywhere.
The No Faith in Fracking vigil is held on the last Friday of every month outside the gates of Cuadrilla's fracking site at Preston New Road. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details, or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.