In 2011 I remember sitting in the tent in sweltering heat awaiting the Swarthmore lecture, a lecture given at the annual gathering of Britain Yearly Meeting.
That year it was to be given by Pam Lunn, I had recently joined the team at Woodbrooke and was so grateful for the time to work alongside and learn from her. I couldn’t wait for what I hoped would be an invigorating lecture.
From the blue dot – an early image used in the lecture to talking about being grandparents of our communities it was over. I don’t find sitting in the same place for long periods at all easy so I remember being amazed that I had sat for over an hour, I also remember thinking that this was the kind of lecture that would be remembered, talked about and that something might change.
I got the train back with Pam later on and I remember thinking how quiet she seemed as I sat next to her yet her words from the lecture were still repeating themselves around my head.
Last year I ran a course looking back at this Swarthmore Lecture which I think some think of as the sustainability lecture, but as I read it back with fresh eyes it was about so much more than that; it was about who we are and what are values are, it’s about how these values can be lived in the world. It’s about love and compassion; it’s about work and working with others. So perhaps it is about sustainability if we take the widest understanding of that word.
Later that week, a minute formalised Britain Yearly Meetings commitment to a low carbon sustainable community and the following year the Kabarak Call asked Quakers across the world about their commitment to sustainability.
For some these commitments seem new, an emerging element of what it means to be a Quaker. For others, this is a written commitment of the witness of Friends over the centuries.
For me it’s about love – and the deepest meaning of love. What does love require of me? It does not require me to live in a way that is harmful to others, western entitlement and capitalism leads me to a live that is harmful to people and planet, but not love.
‘Live simply so others may simply live’
So what might the becoming look like?
Hearing the call to be a faithful community
Learning and being teachable
Sharing our stories and witness, of what we have done and our struggles and resistance along the way
Writing and teaching
Friends taking action individually (lifestyle changes and how we travel)
Friends taking action together
Looking at our property (insulation, technology, use)
Divesting and Investing
Listening to others and understanding their context
Taking political action
Being in worship together
Standing together and being in solidarity
This list is for me, what the becoming might look like. What might you add to this list?
At Woodbrooke we are hoping that each year we will take a Swarthmore Lecture and revisit it in the same way we revisited the 2011 lecture, Costing not less than everything.
In 2019, we shall be looking again at Jonathan Dale’s 1996 lecture, Beyond The Spirit of the Age.
If there is a lecture you would be keen to revisit and would be interested on offering a course, please do get in touch with us.