United With Nature: A Historic Reflection on QEW

- Posted by Publications Committee in BeFriending Creation | 4 min read
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By Judy Lumb.

In 1987, I was sick in Belize, an isolated Friend. My Meeting for Worship was reading Friends Journal in my hammock. I learned to keep pen and paper handy because my version of speaking in Meeting was to write letters. When the notice of the creation of Friends Committee on Unity with Nature (FCUN) appeared in Friends Journal, I wrote the group a letter expressing my support and interest. I got a wonderful letter from Bill Howenstein, one of the founding members. I called myself a “corresponding member” because FCUN was kind enough to send me updates on their activities by international mail.

Then, in 1998, I was the recipient of a miracle healing at an indigenous ceremony in Belize, so I planned to go to Friends General Conference in 1999 and asked FCUN if I could attend their meeting just before. I immediately joined the Publications Committee and Population Working Group. By that time, the Internet had started so I could contribute by email.

At that meeting, I was concerned because there was talk of starting a new organization for Friends’ environmental activism, especially lobbying. Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) did not have the resources to devote to environmental legislation, and they didn’t have the staff or resources to expand their efforts.  FCUN had considered their role as focusing on the spiritual transformation required for our future. They said they would leave the activism to the Sierra Club and other groups. However, for many Friends their spiritual work leads them to act, and some felt the need of an organization to fill the gap between FCNL and FCUN. I have been a long-term supporter of FCNL and did not want them to sacrifice any of their work to take on environmental work. I thought it was not wise to start a new organization for lobbying when FCNL had developed such an effective lobbying effort in the U.S. Congress. I wrote a letter to the Editor of BeFriending Creation expressing these concerns.

Little did I know that a perfect solution was underway. Led by Ed Dreby and others of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, a small group of Friends did the grassroots work of visiting Friends Monthly and Yearly Meetings asking for them to respond to FCNL’s next priority setting request. These visitors focused on the basic connection between environmental issues and the traditional Friends’ concerns of Peace and Justice. This effort was successful because Friends responded to the FCNL request for priorities by asking for lobbying on environmental issues. Ed Dreby also led an effort out of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting to raise the funds necessary for FCNL to hire an additional staff person to handle the environmental work.

THE FIRST QEW

At the same time Ed led the effort to develop a Quaker Eco-Witness Committee within FCUN to respond to lobbying and other environmental activist work. We called it “QEW.” This work was funded by a group from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting to avoid depleting FCUN’s resources. One thing these funds covered was the Quaker Eco-Bulletin (QEB), which was a four-page insert in each BeFriending Creation. The idea was to boil down the information needed for lobbying for a given bill in Congress to four pages. We also published some we called ”thought pieces” concerning economics and environmental concerns. QEBs were published faithfully every two months for ten years (2001-2011).

By 2011, the two-month publication schedule was too long for urgent lobbying appeals and FCNL emails had taken over that purpose. Those 60-some QEBs are on the QEW website and continue to be relevant as background information <quakerearthcare.org/article/quaker-eco-bulletin-index>.

EXPANSION OF FCUN STEERING COMMITTEE

In 1999, FCUN was still a small committee and I suggested that FCUN get input from Yearly and Monthly Meetings about what they want from FCUN, like how FCNL does. The next time I went to an FCUN Steering Committee, meeting I was very pleased to see Yearly Meeting Representatives, who serve as a  connector between their local communities and the national network.

NAME CHANGE

For several years, Ruah Swennerfelt, the General Secretary for FCUN, had expressed her concern that, as she moved around among Friends, the name “Friends Committee on Unity with Nature”  was a big impediment to some Friends for a variety of reasons. Some thought we were pagan “tree-huggers” instead of Friends who were concerned about the care of God’s Creation. The name gave the impression that we were a small insular committee rather than part of a growing “religion and ecology” movement within a broad spectrum of faith traditions.

After several years of work on the name issue, the Steering Committee reached unity in 2003 that Quaker Earthcare Witness was more accurate and welcoming to other Friends. Since then, Quaker Earthcare Witness has been received much more readily across the whole breadth of Friends organizations, although some Friends remain concerned that the name change might result in less focus on our spiritual connection to Earth.

Judy Lumb worships with the new Belize City Friends Meeting, but is still a member of Atlanta Friends Meeting. Thanks to Louis Cox for his input.