We - representatives to Europe and Middle East Section (EMES) - were joined this year by Europe and Middle East Young Friends (EMEYF) and members of the Central Executive Committee of Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC). This mixed bunch of Quakers included: three-and-a-half-year-old Mira from Italy; a retired teacher from Switzerland, aged 96; Duduzile Mtshazo, Clerk of Friends World Conference, from Johannesburg; Nariya Khasanova, a Young Friend from Uzbekistan; Art Funkhouser, an American psychotherapist living in Switzerland; Oliver Robertson from Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) Geneva; Christopher Hatton, a British Quaker living in Hamburg who has done a stint with Christian Peacemaker Teams near Hebron; Stuart Masters and Lizz Roe from Woodbrooke; Nancy Irving, General Secretary of FWCC; Marielke Nieuwerth, a Young Friend from the Netherlands; and Martina Weitsch from Quaker Council for European Affairs (QCEA).
Friends from a total of 25 countries were present: nearly 60 representatives and others attending the EMES annual meeting; seven members of the EMES Executive Committee; 19 members of FWCC's Central Executive Committee; and 24 Young Friends. The main sessions were ably clerked by Rachel Bewley-Bateman from Ireland. We received reports from Marisa Johnson and Julia Ryberg, whose networking, ministry and outreach work is so valuable in nurturing small yearly meetings and tiny worship groups and enabling isolated Friends to keep in touch with other members of the Quaker family.
The gathering lived up to its title: Bring and Share - A feast of Quaker fare! The sharing began in "response groups" on the Thursday evening. We each shared our answers to four questions: How do I worship? Where do I get inspiration from? What resources do I use? How do I witness to my faith? In plenary sessions on the following day we heard Friends from a variety of traditions give their responses to these questions.
It was evident that we came from a variety of Quaker traditions right across the spectrum from evangelical to liberal. There are significant differences between us, in particular in the way we worship (programmed with sermons and hymns or largely silent "waiting worship"), in our understanding of the Bible and in our theology (ranging from evangelical to non-theist). Nevertheless, there was a sense of unity. We are all seeking to know - and doing our best to follow - the same Spirit.
The gathering was a joyful one. We had fun, especially on the Saturday evening when we entertained each other with music, songs, sketches, recitation of poetry and even some gymnastics: a Young Friend somehow climbed onto the shoulders of an older Friend and for a moment or two was standing on his shoulders. This was rather nerve-racking for those of us in the audience. Fortunately there didn't seem to be anyone present from the health & safety police. Two other Friends performed an amusing sketch poking fun at our Quaker ways. We do well not to take ourselves too seriously.
But we did get down to some serious business: reviewing the work of the staff of the section: Marisa Johnson (Executive Secretary) and Julia Ryberg (Ministry and Outreach Coordinator), receiving the treasurer's financial report and agreeing the budget for the new financial year. Neithard Petry took us through a summary of the section's finances. Money is tight and yearly meetings need to maintain their contributions, but there is no cause for alarm. Generous funding from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust is making it possible for the Ministry and Outreach programme to continue until the end of 2013. This programme is proving to be extremely beneficial, especially to isolated enquirers who cannot easily attend a worship group. The programme includes work in three areas: development of an on-line Quaker in Europe project in partnership with Woodbrooke; development of resources for various kinds of ministry; and cooperation with other Quaker organisations. The Quaker in Europe project has been run in French, Czech, Norwegian, Finnish, Dutch, German, Hungarian, Russian and English. A Companion programme is being developed to link isolated enquirers with more experienced Friends who have been prepared for this ministry and will use various means of communication.
Before breakfast it was possible to join in different forms of worship or to learn from Art Funkhouser about Jungian psychology and Quaker spirituality. On one day, later on, we could choose between informative sessions on the work of QUNO, QCEA or Christian Peacemaker Teams.
Of course, a lot of networking and informal discussion went on during meals and at break times - and on a long walk through the woods. Some of us stayed up for a while after the epilogue at the end of the day. On one night we joined a circle of Young Friends singing around an imaginary camp fire. The following night it was possible to play a game designed by Oliver Robertson to simulate a nominations committee. Players who accumulate too many onerous jobs are eliminated one-by-one. The player left at the end with the fewest/least onerous jobs is the winner. We encouraged Oliver to market his game to Meetings. It's fun!
On Easter Sunday morning each of the response groups presented - without using words as far as possible - their answers to the four questions: How do we worship? Where do we get our inspiration from? What resources do we use? How do we witness to our faith? With one exception, all the presentations involved singing. No-one can say that Quakers can't sing!
At the final plenary session it was pointed out that Easter is a family holiday in many European countries and some Friends like to celebrate Easter together with members of other churches. We therefore decided to avoid meeting over Easter in future. Next year, 2012, the EMES annual meeting will in any case be held during the
World Conference in Kenya in April.
Gordon Matthews and Marie-Helene Drouin