Friday, September 04, 2015

If not us, then who?

When I was in my early 20s I attended the Quaker Meeting in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. At one point they had a series of people talking about particular times in their lives. How many of these there were I've no idea, I now only remember two of them: Grigor & Diana McClelland talking about their time in the Friends Ambulance Unit in WWII; and Curt Gardner's mother who I can picture perfectly but can't for the life of me remember the name of, who spoke of escaping from the Nazis in Germany and Poland with her two small boys who were 6 (Curt) and 3 at the time.

Both tales left a really strong impression on me, along with those I heard in later years from other Friends who had been the FAU or who had been Conscientious Objectors, although the passing of time had left me somewhat hazy on some of the details and whose story did what appear in. So it was with much delight that I found Curt's book God just is: Approaches to silent worship on sale at the bookstall at Summer Gathering which included in it his retelling of their wartime escape.

Curt's book was doubly welcome as not only had he been someone whose vocal ministry I'd always got a lot from, he was (and presumably still is!) one of those gentle souls in the world who just make you feel better for having known them. I was aware when I knew him that he was going through a difficult time in life, although I had no knowledge of the details then, so it was nice in a way to find out more albeit +20yrs later on the other side of the world via a book! Reading the book, which is partially autobiographical, helped me get to know much better someone who felt like an old friend. Also I knew I was needing some help with getting enough out of our local entirely silent Meetings for Worship where the only vocal ministry tended to come from our cat or the sharing of something from Advices & Queries as we settled. I do enjoy the occasional totally silent MfW but right now, to paraphrase a Friend from Edinburgh, my heart not so much yearns for silence but speech! Curt's book gave me some very timely back to basics advice, which is helping.

For various reasons it took me several months to get through the book, not because it isn't an easy read, far from it. But because I'd get so far then take a while to digest that, and try to use it before moving on. This meant that I got to 'Interlude 2' where he talks about the war just in the last few weeks. I'd read that bit at Summer Gathering when I first picked up the book, but reading it again against a backdrop of endless refugees desperately seeking asylum in Europe put it into new light.

A lot of the stories I had heard of Friends work in WWII had not so much been about field ambulance work, although there had been some of that too, but of the resettlement of refugees in camps and communities across Europe. People displaced by war. Not just those who had been interned in concentration camps, but those who like the Gardner's had had to hit the road in the hope of finding a safe place to be. People fleeing fighting and tyranny, exactly as we're seeing again today by the overcrowded boat-full.

I've always been really proud of the contributions Friends made at this time, and the Nobel Peace Prize they were given for their efforts recognized the importance of it too. I realize the world is a very different place than it was then, there are far more international aid agencies working in the field, along with various UN operations. But I keep coming back to the question what can we as Quakers do to help this time around? What more can I do?

I'm hoping to hear answers, rather than silence.

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