Friends across the country continue to grapple with a faithful response to the immensity of the climate crisis, and faithful responses have taken many forms. This is the story of a year of faithful seeking and acting by the New England Yearly Meeting Prophetic Climate Action Working Group (PCAWG). Our year together provided much spiritual fruit–and action. And we pray, that God is illuminating for us a path to faithful action in these times of crisis, and share this journey in hope that others may find light and hope within it.
At NEYM Annual Sessions in 2016, Friends had returned from Friends World Committee for Consultation World Plenary in Pisac, Peru, to deliver a challenge to us: that we commit to two concrete steps addressing global climate change within the year. By the end of our sessions, Friends recognized a group being led towards prophetic direct action on climate as one of those concrete steps. That group coalesced to become PCAWG (pronounced PEA-COG), which worked faithfully through 2016 to discern God’s will among us and enact it in the world. Looking back now, we see much in our journey that illuminates the Quaker way to powerful action.
We met first September 5, 2016 at Mt Toby (MA) Meetinghouse. After the rush of energy during Sessions, which included large gatherings brainstorming what the YM could do, we began with an investigation into prophesy. Prophesy isn’t about telling the future, but breaking through the numbness of our routines and calling our community to greater faithfulness and deeper relation with God. We were clearly called to a kind of prophetic acting and witness that springs from our authentic Quaker existence.
But we did not know what are we called by God to do?
So we gathered a larger group. Over 30 Friends gathered October 28th for a weekend retreat at Framingham. We worshiped, and felt moved by the idea of preparing the ground—helping the Society of Friends listen for and respond to the leadings of Spirit. We thought of our work as being the work of mycelium: invisibly working through the soil, nurturing plants and trees and only at some late stage blossoming into visible mushrooms. Grieving emerged as a central theme, and a group coalesced in Maine planned gatherings on climate grief first held at the Living Faith gathering in Providence.
But, we still did not know what we were being called to do.
Over the winter we felt abandoned by the spirit, or that we had lost our way, and no clarity arose. We waited, and continued to meet.
In March we gathered at Worcester, and many had the sense that this would be our last meeting if some way did not open.
But open it did. New Life arose, and out of a process of brainstorming, we clarified what we needed to witness to: the transformational power of God to reprioritize our lives and reorder the world. What resulted was a pilgrimage. We set off on July 9, 2017, on a seven day, 60 mile pilgrimage between the two coal plants in New Hampshire. With Radical hospitality from Dover, W. Epping, Concord, and many other Friends Meetings and churches along the way, it was a powerful experience joined by a wide range of Friends from across our Yearly Meeting, and beyond. This was a journey made by many more than the dozen people who walked every day. This was a corporate witness.
The pilgrimage concluded with a Meeting for Worship appointed by Concord (NH) Monthly Meeting which gathered over 50 people at the gates of the coal plant in Bow. Following worship in an act of civil disobedience, a smaller group set up an encampment blocking the train tracks that feed coal to the power plant.
Six days of walking and worship prepared the ground for us—allowed time to center in Spirit and connect. The fruits were love and trust that invited many into the bold work of the direct action on the coal tracks. We were invited to live up to the invitations of Jesus—finding deep within the willingness to give over our lives to whatever was to come whether arrest, condemnation or transformation.
The police never arrived and our time on the tracks was spent in Bible study, worship and deepening relationships. Let us be honest—there were rough edges. Disagreement arose in the group Sunday morning following worship stemming from a lack of a clear decision-making processes and issues of patriarchy and power. Taking the time to address the hurt was where we found the true work—the holy struggle of living into the beloved community.
One participant on the walk, Honor Woodrow, wrote a reflection following the final weekend:
I chose to join the pilgrimage because it was clear to me that it was not a “protest” but rather an opportunity to gather in the manner of Friends with a common concern and listen for how the Spirit might be leading us into transformation both as individuals and as a group.
On Saturday evening there were several Friends who heard a clear calling to sleep on the tracks in the encampment that they had built earlier in the day. Several others (myself included) had not found their way clear to risk arrest at that time…. I felt like what I needed was to sleep in my own bed, and I was eager to take a shower (after accumulating six days’ worth of sweat, bug spray, sunscreen, and pond water, I felt long overdue). So I made my way home where I showered and slept (which was glorious). When I woke up the next morning I returned to the tracks for a final time of worship before helping to dismantle the encampment.
During this worship it came clear to me that while it is nice to sleep in a comfortable bed, to have a clean body, and to be in my own space, the rest and comfort I am yearning for is actually found in worship with those who share a common expectation that the Holy Spirit might just show up among us at any moment—with all that we need.
I am bringing this awareness with me out of that time, and thinking about what it means for how I choose to orient my life and the decisions that I make about how to spend my time. Should I prioritize what feels most within my comfort zone, or risk being uncomfortable knowing that there is a possibility that I might find greater peace, connection, and rightness there?
I feel the resonance of the words George Fox wrote to his parents in 1652: “To that of God in you… I speak, to beseech you… to return within, and wait to hear the voice of the Lord there; and waiting there, and keeping close to the Lord, a discerning will grow… Oh! be faithful! Look not back, nor be too forward, further than ye have attained; for ye have no time, but this present time: therefore prize your time for your souls’ sake.”
Friends, we believe we are discovering new vessels for God’s work. We offer this as a story of our experiment—an experiment of a small group with a commitment to following Spirit—in hopes that it may inspire others to their own experiments. We have felt your love and your support this past year and we ask for your continued prayers as we discern where God is calling us to. And we long for you to “Go and do likewise” taking up your own experiments in what God may be asking of you in this time.
Prophetic Climate Action Working Group (PCAWG) was a working group under the care of New England YM Permanent Board that existed from 2016-18. The members included Alice Grendon, Brian Drayton, Jay O’Hara, Louis Cox, Peter Blood-Patterson, Ruah Swennerfelt & Wendy Schlotterbeck.