Birmingham Quaker Pete Doubtfire reflects on attending a Church & Peace conference on behalf of Central England Quakers Peace Committee.
In May 2019, I attended the AGM and 70th Anniversary Celebration of Church & Peace, in Berlin. Church & Peace is a European ecumenical network of organisations committed to peace and grounded in Christian faith.
The conference began with an opportunity for people to share what was happening in their organisation or region. Those represented at the conference ranged from a contemplative order of nuns engaged in reconciliation work, to a group of French Quakers and others opposing the Eurosatory arms fair, via people working with marginalised groups in their communities, and those who lobby national governments and the EU on peace issues.
Saturday opened with the business part of the AGM, covering membership matters, finance and reports. At the end of the conference some people complained that giving over the whole morning of a weekend conference to this was too much – to which one attendee responded ‘if you think that took a long time, you’ve obviously never been in a Quaker business meeting’!
Having been staying in a leafy suburb of Berlin, on Saturday afternoon we decamped to a church in a more deprived area of the city. The Refo church is attempting to respond to local needs, including the lack of affordable housing and social divisions, by creating a community where people can live out their faith. Some church-members live on site, and others in their own homes, but everyone gets stuck in, with no formal priest or minister. They are flexible with their worship, having prayer meetings at different times of the week in community venues, and holding festivals and events in partnership with marginalised groups. Some food-for-thought for Quakers as we consider power and privilege.
The Refo church played host to Church & Peace’s 70 anniversary celebrations, with past and present members recalling key moments from the organisation’s history, followed by some platitudes from various dignitaries. Finally we looked to the future, with 6 speakers giving a brief introduction to peace work that we could learn from, covering climate justice, community work, creative activism, anti-nuclear campaigning and human rights. These final speakers had to give their presentations in a ‘PechaKucha’ style, showing 20 images and speaking to each image for just 20 seconds. This approach produced mixed results, but for the speakers who realised it meant cutting their presentation down to 20 key-points, it was very effective. Some people felt that giving the same restriction to the visiting dignitaries might have kept the event more to time!
On the final morning we had an opportunity to chose a workshop with one of the 6 PechaKucha speakers to hear about their project in more detail, and report back what Church & Peace might take away. We really valued maintaining a grounding in faith, even when reaching out. Throughout the weekend we shared ecumenical, multi-lingual worship, including lots of singing. Something else that stood out was a desire for more opportunities for encounter and creative sharing. So often, the most important part of conferences is the conversations and connections made over meals or cups of coffee. Again, something for Quakers to reflect on when organising our own events.
Before leaving Berlin, several of us went to join the ‘One Europe for Everyone’ demonstration (pictured above) in support of equality and inclusion, particularly in the context of the EU elections. It felt positive to round off the weekend with a display of solidarity across borders, languages and faiths. That, after all, is what Church & Peace is all about.