Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Australia Yearly Meeting notes....

It's been over a month since I last posted, and what a busy month it's been! I attended Australia Yearly Meeting in Adelaide, exploried Melbourne, came back to LA and connected again with the interfaith movement and my various writing projects! It's been an incredibly full life.... a fulfillment of what Jesus meant when he said, "I have come to bring life, and to bring it more abundantly..."

So let me "catch up" by posting observations about Australia Yearly Meeting (AYM), the annual national gathering of Australian Quakers.

AYM took place in Adelaide, a city several hundred miles west of Melbourne in South Australia. Over 300 Quakers from all over Australia showed up and I had a chance to meet and talk with many of them. Pictured here are some of the "weighty" and delightful Friends I met--Helen Bayes and Helen Gould, both of whom have given Backhouse Lectures at AYM; Gerry Guiton, a theologian/historian who has written several books; and also David Carline, an aborginal elder who has been a Quaker for many years; David Johnson (with the beard and hat), a geologist/theologian very involved with the Quaker Center, and Topsy Evans, formerly a relief worker with Quaker service.

I gave a summer school class on "Healing, Caregiving and Grieving in the Light" that went well. It was challenging to address this concern so soon after the death of my wife, but I received a lot of support from Australian Friends, who were very kind. I also learned a lot about the Frends Fellowship of Healing, an organization started in the UK which has not yet found its way to the US.
I was asked to write a report for the Australian Friend, which I will post on a future occasion. There was considerable interest and involvement in interfaith work among Australian Friends which I found very gratifying.

Adelaide is supposed to be the hottest city in the hottest part of Australia and I came at the hottest time of the year, but most of the week the temps were in the 80s and not too uncomfortable. It wasn't until the last day that the temp reached 100 degrees F.

On that day I "wagged" (an Australian word meaning "to play hookey"). Instead of attending meetings, I went to Brighton beach for a swim. Brighton beach is a perfect for swimmers, with immaculately clean water and hardly any waves (unlike Sydney, where the surf is huge and surfers abound). Brighton beach attracts families with kids, who all seemed very happy.

I also went downtown and visited Chinatown and the oldest mosque in Australia, built in 1888 by Afghan (Indian) camel drivers who came here to help with the camels that were brought here because of the climate. Many of these camels have gone feral, and there are now over 1,000,000 of them in Australia.

The Muslim community in Adelaide has also thrived. I was told that the imam of this mosque once rented a room in the home of Quaker family.

There is a lot of ethnic diversity here, with Greeks, Italians, as well as people from various parts of Asia. My bus driver was a Basque, and very friendly (like most Australians). He told me all about his family as well as about the city as he drove the city loop.
I enjoyed my brief visit to Adelaide and would love to go back and explore further.
Here are some of the highlights of Australia Yearly Meeting:

1) Approval of a minute in support of same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriages have been performed by Australian Friends for the past few years, but this is the first time the YM has come to unity on this concern. I'm glad that Australian Friends are in unity with Western unprogrammed Friends on this issue.

2) Support for the newly founded Australian Quaker Center in Canberra. This center was started a year ago, and is still in the preliminary stages. A million and a half dollars is needed to pay for the facility, and to insure that the center can continue. Please hold this concern in the Light!

3) Aboriginal rights. Probably the most troubling aspect of Australia has been its shocking treatment of aboriginal people. It was gratifying to see what Australian Friends are doing to address this concern in a thoughtful, heart-felt way, but clearly much remains to be done. Thanks to Friends like David Carline et al., I will go back to the United States with a renewed commitment to connect with and respect the native people of my own land, and to encourage American Friends to do likewise.

4) Environmentalism. I was deeply impressed by how Australian Friends are taking on this concern, both in word and deed. I am glad that Australian Friends are reaching out to British Friends to exchange ideas and hope that you will also form links with Quaker EarthCare Witness, the American Quaker environmental group. Friends world-wide need to communicate and work together to help build a global ecological movement. Thanks to skype video, such exchanges can take place cheaply and without making a huge carbon footprint, as I learned when a British Friend named Lauri Michaelis of BYM's Living Witness spoke to us via Skype during one of our morning summer school sessions.

5) Young Friends. I cannot say enough about how brilliant it was to invite Young Friends to give the Backhouse Lecture, and how brilliantly they rose to the occasion. The sharing among young and older Friends that took place afterward was honest, deep, and enriching. I hope that this idea can be imported to the United States and that Young Friends in my Yearly Meeting will be encouraged and empowered to share their wisdom and experience. It would be wonderful if a couple of Young Australian Friends could come to one of our Western Yearly Meetings and inspire us to follow your example.

6) Interfaith movement. I came to Australia to take part in the Parliament of World's Religions and to share my concern about the interfaith movement with Australian Friends. Many Australian Friends are involved in this concern, but a great deal more needs to be done. My sense is that the United States has gone a lot further than Australia in creating local interfaith councils and networks. Our task in the 21st century is to move beyond ecumenical work (important as it is) and and to build a vital and effective interfaith movement at the local and international levels. With our experience and skills in conflict resolution and consensus decision-making, and our lack of dogmatism, Friends can play a significant role in fostering this important peace-building movement.

Below is the report that I gave at Australia YM.

Report on Interfaith Work
delivered at Australia Yearly Meeting
by Anthony Manousos

In December, 2009, I came to Australia and to the Parliament of the World's Religion gathering in Melbourne as a representative of American Friends who have a concern for interfaith peacemaking. I serve on the Christian Interfaith Relations Committee of Friends General Conference. The primary work of the Christian Interfaith Relations Committee (otherwise known as CIRC) is to send Quaker representatives to the World Council of Churches and National Council of Churches. But CIRC was originally founded in 1893 to provide a Quaker presence at the Parliament of the World's Religions, which took place at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. If you are interested, I'd be glad to email you a copy of my take on this gathering which will be published by the Quaker Universalist Fellowship. In the interest of full disclosure, I should add that I serve on the executive committee for the Los Angeles chapter of the Parliament so I am bit biased.

My role in the CIRC has been to support local grassroots interfaith efforts. Since 9/11, I have been very active in local interfaith efforts in Southern California. I have also given workshops on interfaith peacemaking at national Quaker gatherings and at regional and Yearly Meetings.
It has been interesting to learn more about interfaith work here in Australia. The United States seems to be a bit ahead of Australia in interfaith work. Since September 11, most of the local ecumenical councils in California and many other parts of the USA have become interfaith councils. This has enabled Muslim, Jews, Buddhists and other to become involved and assume leadership roles. This has also made it easier for Friends as well as other non-Trinitarian Christian groups, like the Mormons, to become involved.

The Muslim community is much better organized in the US than here in Australia. In the US major Islam lobbying organizations like the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Council on American Islamic Relations are becoming increasinlgy influential and effective and are having a growing impact. The Muslim voice will, I hope, help to balance the Jewish voice that currently dominates the political scene in Washington, DC.

I'm pleased to report that President Obama is very supportive of interfaith efforts. He established an national interfaith council and invited religious leaders from different traditions to take part. One of these leaders is Eboo Patel, an Indian Muslim who started the Interfaith Youth Core, one of the most important interfaith youth programs in the United States. Eboo works with a young Evangelical Christian woman, which is a bit unusual since most older Evangelical avoid interfaith work. This collaboration between a young Muslim and a young Evangelical Christian is setting a very hopeful example for the next generation of Americans.

Much of my work in the interfaith movement has involved interfaith youth work. Drawing on my background as facilitator of a youth service program for the American Friends Service Committee, I have enjoyed facilitating programs in which young people of diverse faiths have come together to build understanding and friendship. Just prior to coming to Australia, I helped organize a conference at the University of Southern California exploring the legacy of Gandhi and its importance for our time. Young people and distinguished professors were invited to speak as equals during the plenary session, and young people also organized and ran their own workshops. One of my goals is youth empowerment and leadership development.

I also work on Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, which was founded after 9/11 with the slogan: “Religious Communities Must Stop Blessing War and Violence.” We are the leading anti-war religious group in Los Angeles.

In 2005 I went to Israel/Palestine with an interfaith delegation sponsored by the Compassionate Listening Project. I have edited a book about Compassionate Listening and have done workshops at Friends General Conference and at Yearly Meetings on compassionate listening and interfaith peacemaking.

Finally, I have been involved in organizing interfaith cafes using an approach developed by Kay Lindahl called “Sacred Listening.” This is modeled after Quaker worship sharing and is an area where I think Friends here in Australia could play a significant role in helping to foster interfaith understanding at the grassroots level.

(At the end of my talk, I handed out copies of my pamphlet "Islam from a Quaker Perspective" and various books that I had brought to give away to all the Australian monthly meetings: "Compassionate Listening," "A Western Quaker Reader," "EarthLight." I also gave away copies of "Friends Bulletin" and material from Quaker Earthcare Witness.)

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