Quakers do not have a creed, a statement that sums up our core beliefs, but for centuries we have used a short list of Advices and queries to guide us to question ourselves and discern how we are each led to act. Tellingly, they are offered 'for the comfort and discomfort of Friends' while we seek our own ways forward, listening for the inner Light.
Reflection and discernment are particularly important when it comes to sustainability. Whilst the challenges facing our planet involve all of us equally, our material and other circumstances differ. We are in different places on the journey to living more sustainable lives; 'all in the same storm, but not all in the same boat'.
Bristol Quakers created a set of advices and queries to try and cover the whole breadth of sustainability issues, from transport to poverty, and education to food, as issues can't be successfully dealt with in isolation. These concerns are entangled in wider issues of justice and equality and Quakers advocate for a just economic system that sustains people and planet. The aim of the queries is to challenge us about our own conduct, and how that sits with our faith, our conscience and our leadings. What, specifically, are we each being led to do?
Sustainability is a very broad concept. It encompasses individual, national and international action to rethink how we are all living on this planet. This may seem overwhelming, but in practice each of us may be drawn to focus on a different aspect. Some people may feel able to give up their car, others to reduce their use of non-renewable plastic. Others might feel led to join a campaign, such as 'Stop Ecocide'. And there is joy in this variety. "We cannot transform the world on our own, but we are not alone when we make our contribution" (Sustainability A&Q, 29). Telling people to do X or not to do Y at best changes their external conduct, but does not give people ownership of the key questions:
- How am I impacting this planet?
- How can we as a local community address the climate crisis?
- What practical or political action can we take to address climate justice?
We were not the first Quakers to think of compiling a targeted set of advices and queries, and we have drawn heavily on the work of others who have trodden this path before us. Earlier sets were drafted by various groups, including The Earth: Our Creative Responsibility, by a Quaker working group. And devising a 'green' set of advices and queries seemed an appropriate way to prompt deep reflection on these challenging issues.
Working together on sustainability
In 2011 the national gathering of British Quakers, Britain Yearly Meeting Gathering, held at the University of Kent, focused on climate and resources. We discerned what became known as the Canterbury Commitment for Britain's Quakers to become a carbon zero community.
The mobilisation of Extinction Rebellion in 2019 stirred Friends around the country in many ways. Some became directly involved, while many more started re-examining our collective witness to sustainability. It takes its place alongside peace, truth, equality and simplicity to encapsulate Quaker values in the world. Bristol Young Quakers participating in the School Strike movement pressed our Area Meeting to declare a climate emergency and to start working more actively together on sustainability.
Quaker or not, if you've read this far we hope you find a paragraph or two that speaks to you about the challenges you feel most strongly about. We hope it helps us all feel more empowered 'to be the change we wish to see in the world'.