Eco Quaker Munster Gathering – 23rd April 2022

Fran Brady, Quaker representative on the ECI committee, provided this report:

On 23rd April 2022 the Eco Quaker Munster Gathering was held in Cork Meeting House, against the backdrop of the Loving Earth Project, an exhibition of textile panels created by Quakers to celebrate the earth and to highlight how the earth is endangered by climate change. Thirty-seven people attended.

The objective of the Gathering was to encourage those present to be active on issues of climate justice, loss of biodiversity and other environmental concerns within their Quaker Meetings or Churches as well as in their everyday lives.  

The Gathering opened with a period of reflection, when attendees could briefly share something about their environmental story.

One nurse spoke of 80,000 trees planted by a County Cork nurse to offset the huge environmental footprint of health services.

A Sabbath for the land every seven years and a Jubilee year after forty-nine years to give the land a rest was lauded.

The many and varied contributions set the tone for an inspiring Gathering, where three excellent speakers spoke on the topic: “From Disappointment to Hope: Actions and Responses to Climate Breakdown

Brian O Suilleabhan, Actor and Convenor of Eco Quaker Ireland Committee, charted the work of Eco-Quakers since the World Quaker Gathering in Peru called on Quakers to live out the changes needed to sustain the Earth as home to humans and the natural world.  Following on this call, Ireland Yearly Meeting 2016 asked Meetings to develop sustainability plans no matter how simple. Twenty Quaker Meetings, two-thirds of all Meetings or Worship Groups, prepared plans. A booklet entitled Responding to IYM 2016: Living sustainably and fairly on this earth was published then by Eco Quakers and in 2020 Quakers and Ethical Investment  was published. A survey of Meetings, early in lockdown, showed a willingness to be sustainable but a need for a blueprint. This revelation led to the researching, compiling and publishing, during 2021, of Regenerating our Common Home: Quaker Considerations for Restoration and Protection of the Environment. This book shows how our everyday activities can contribute to pollution, desertification, bio-diversity loss, extraction of fossil fuel and climate change. A step by step guide as to how to make a difference within and outside our Meetings, the book provides definitions and calculations for sustainability, carbon zero, carbon neutral and many other concepts. The final chapter is a case study of the eco-refurbishment of Cork Meeting House, which provided Eco-Quakers with a wonderful space for the Gathering,  

Andrew Orr, Anglican Priest-in-Charge of Youghal Union, Chaplain to Midleton College and Chair of Eco-Congregation Ireland spoke about Eco-Congregation Ireland, founded in 2005, to encourage and mentor churches and congregations along their sustainable journeys. ECI’s affiliated congregations are Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist Churches and the Society of Friends (Quakers). Environmental measures can be incorporated into all aspects of life: Spiritual, Practical, Community and Global. It’s under these headings that congregations are assessed for an ECO Award. A Gold Award has been initiated for congregations who accomplish exceptional environmental work after their initial award and who mentor another congregation. The gift of God’s creation is celebrated especially at the Season of Creation and Harvest Time while Climate Justice Candles raise awareness of environmental justice in churches and congregations. Andrew spoke about the challenges, and opportunities, of endeavouring to make buildings and land as sustainable as possible. Climate Stewards, a web-based tool, enables churches to measure the carbon footprint of different activities; energy, travel, food, waste, water and other expenditure.  The All Ireland Pollinator Plan, an initiative to aid bio-diversity and sustainable land use, is ideal for churchyards and burial grounds.

Farmer, Caroline Robinson, who has been growing food without chemicals for nearly quarter of a century, said it is humbling to work with nature and iterated that if chemicals are avoided land gets better and better. Her belief is that healthy soil results in healthy vegetables, rather than trying to feed vegetables planted in impoverished soil.  There is freedom and independence attached to growing food especially in the current world situation. Caroline and her husband produce local food for local people, making their food available at local Farmers’ Markets. In the small group discussions, and the plenary session which followed, food sovereignty, including indigenous food sovereignty, featured strongly. Indigenous crops grown over many years regenerated land rather than depleting it. Indigenous people have much to teach us about food and farming. Though climate scientists often overlook traditional knowledge, conglomerate farmers are devoid of the innate knowledge and wisdom gained over generations, which keep small farming systems in balance. Food conglomerates tend to homogenise food systems, reduce variety of crops and ignore natural harmony.

Andrew finished his talk with a quote from the Ecumenical Patriarch Batholomew of Constantinople: The real crisis lies not in the environment – which suffers the consequences of our actions –  but in the human heart. The fundamental problem is to be found not outside but inside ourselves, not in the ecosystem but in the way we think about, perceive, and treat this ecosystem.