Quakers and the Environment: a talk by Cllr Lin Patterson

Lin Patterson is co-clerk of Bath Quaker Meeting

Modern Quakers are a broad church. Quakers may not agree on what to call God, but we share a relationship with the Spirit we find in silence, deep within, which teaches us to follow some core values we call Testimonies. Our experience of God in silence calls us to act with integrity, truth, peace, equality, building community, living simply, which is a demanding ask.

Quakers were the first UK church to divest their funds from fossil fuels. Every decision we make is measured against our 2011 national Commitment to become a Sustainable Society. Our Bath meeting uses environmentally sourced energy. There is more we could do, and we will have to make the hard choices that entails, guided by God.

Lin Patterson speaking at the Mayor’s reception for the Bath InterFaith Group.

God’s love extends to all creation, to all beings, and is within all. Just as we are privileged as humans to find God within, animals and the creation are blessed with not even having to try. The beauty, the implicit order, the bewildering levels of reality of the universe, are matched by the universe within us, where God waits to be engaged with, even to converse with us, if only we know it.

But the human race is, at best, developmentally at the stage of a teenager, just realising, reluctantly, that there are limits and that there are necessary responsibilities. Sadly, as for any child, early trauma and damage can make it difficult to correct mistakes, or build a better relationship with the quiet voice within that responds, guides, generates trust, insists on trust, if approached humbly and naturally.

We all know the natural world is in crisis. Quakers acutely feel the urgency of this. We have asked ourselves whether our task is to help to birth, like a midwife, a more enlightened world, to radically change our economy to a more sharing one underpinned by justice, to change our self-seeking politics, to thereby kindle a new, more widespread, applied spirituality in the face of institutions built on greed and growth, or whether we will be called to be workers in the hospice of a terminally declining world, society, nature, as great multitudes of animals are dying, dying now, as the rain forests start releasing CO2, and ice sheets drip away.

Fortunately, we don’t have to know the answer to that question, because either way, the answer is the same. Either way, our only salvation is to learn, against all the odds, to build trust with each other, to reach out and find the joy, even in the face of defeat, in working for others, for life on earth. A Sufi mystic called God the “All Living”. We must align ourselves with that, we are part of it, and “he is within us, seek him not elsewhere,” as a Christian mystic said.

We applaud the work of other churches and the deep commitment of other religions. We need to work together more on this issue. We need to use our muscle to lobby for better policies, better candidates, and fairer distribution of wealth, knowing now that in less equal societies, all problems grow worse, not better. We can mobilise the infinite energy and love of God for good with the will and the unified desire to do so. Let’s.

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