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SPRING 1998: v3i1 INDEX

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SPRING, 1998: Volume 3 Issue 1

Friends Meetings and Churches as Training Centers for Peacemaking by Mary Lord

It happened as though on cue. Bette Hoover of the AFSC Middle Atlantic Region staff and I were leading a weekend workshop on the Peace Testimony for the Southeast Region of Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC). The room was filled with 30-40 Quakers, including several weighty Friends. Bette was leading the group on the first night and just starting to talk about living our peace testimony in a violent world. Suddenly, an angry neighbor burst into the Meetinghouse. He was a big man and he was very upset that someone had parked in the alley and blocked the entrance to his home. He was loud and verbally abusive, but not physically threatening anyone. An out-of-state Friend who had mistaken the alley for a driveway in the dark apologized and left to move her car. A local Friend who knew the neighbor accompanied her. The man left after hurling a few more insults and curses at the assembled Quakers. The car was moved and the conflict was resolved uneventfully. Bette turned back to the planned presentation, but many Friends were very upset by the incident and needed to process it.

As the group worked through the event, it became clear to Bette and me that many of these lifelong Quakers were very uncomfortable dealing with violence or the threat of violence. While believing in nonviolence and peacemaking, many felt defenseless in the face of threat and violence in the society around them. A number shared their discomfort at dealing with conflict of any type, and told stories of minor conflicts in Friends Meetings that had escalated or festered because no one knew how to deal with them. Friends tend to avoid or ignore conflict rather than try to resolve it. That night Bette and I restructured the workshop, recognizing the group's need for more basic concepts and skills. In a brainstorming session later in the weekend, I offered the idea that we should turn our Monthly Meetings and Friends Churches into training centers for peace and conflict resolution. There was a strong response to the idea. For the past year, we've been experimenting at my Monthly Meeting (Adelphi) with ways to make conflict resolution skills a part of learning to be a Friend.

Adelphi is a Meeting of about 250 Friends in suburban Washington DC, not far from the University of Maryland. We have a lot of young families, and half of the Meeting members and attenders are children and youth. Most of the adults are convinced Friends, so the children are virtually our only birthright Quakers. Adelphi Friends were interested in learning conflict resolution skills for daily life. Conflicts with a spouse, with children, neighbors, or co-workers were the highest priority. Like many Friends meetings and churches we have several experienced trainers among us. We've relied on the CCRC (Children's Creative Response to Conflict) model which focuses on community building and has exercises that are easily adapted to daily life situations. Jane Manring and Marcy Seitel, experienced teachers and CCRC trainers, worked with me to design and lead the workshops.

We've now run three courses of three sessions each, all of which have been fully subscribed with 20-25 attendees. For the week night sessions when people are tired, we learned it was best to focus on one skill a session: listening, needs analysis, and communicating (I-messages) and give plenty of time for practice. It's also important to Friends to leave time for worship and to address the spiritual values that underlie the skills building. Our most recent workshop featured educator Marty Burgess who has been doing research on violence and the brain. The more we understand about our own natures and inborn survival needs, the more effectively we can understand the violence within ourselves and respond effectively to conflicts.

The Pendle Hill bookstore has let us have books on consignment to sell to Meeting members interested in learning more. A spin-off book group has been reading Dudley Weeks' The Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution, a good basic overview written for the lay person. Several Friends have indicated they now want to get deeper into dealing with violence or potential violence. An AVP (Alternatives to Violence Program) training session is planned, which we hope will encourage more Friends to get involved in prison work and community violence projects. For now at least, we plan to offer two to three courses a year, and to integrate conflict resolution skills building into our approach to learning about Quakerism. An able committee does all the logistical preparation and planning, allowing the trainers to worry only about planning and leading the workshop. The work is jointly sponsored by our Peace and Social Concerns Committee and our Adult Religious Education Task Group. We hope to spread the idea to other Meetings and Yearly Meetings.

In December, about 20 people, mostly from Baltimore Yearly Meeting attended a weekend workshop at William Penn House on Capitol Hill on turning our Meetinghouses and Friends Churches into peace training centers. It was led by Elise Boulding, Kevin Clements, and me. Elise provided a framework with a discussion of the culture of peace, including the experiences of our families and Meeting communities as places that are and can be a peace culture. She then led us in a visioning exercise to encourage the imagination to create what our Meetings might be like. I shared the Adelphi experience and led a team-building exercise. Kevin Clements, New Zealand Friend currently heading the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in Virginia, provided an invaluable overview of what has been learned from peace and conflict research and practice. There was much enthusiasm for implementing ideas in home meetings throughout the Yearly Meeting.

Individual Quakers like Kevin Clements and Elise Boulding have been deeply involved in creating and developing the fast-growing field of conflict resolution and management. There is now a considerable body of research and experience on which Friends can draw. Individual Quakers and Quaker organizations have also developed and spread CCRC, Alternatives to Violence Project, Help Increase the Peace Program, and many other training programs that are active throughout the world. Many Meetings have trainers and practitioners in our midst. Our Meetings can better support and nurture a larger witness in our communities and our world by designing and conducting projects that help Quakers learn skills of peacebuilding that are useful in daily life. Incidentally, we may even learn how to work together more effectively across the diversity of Friend's beliefs.

For nearly 350 years, Friends have testified "to that life and power that [takes] away the occasion of all wars. ...[to] the covenant of peace which was before wars and strifes were." (See The Journal of George Fox, A Year in Derby Jail, Friends United Press, 1983.) Personal pacifism, the renunciation of violence and war has been a consistent Friends' witness since the Society was formed. It is one of the things which defines us publicly in the wider world. But believing a thing does not necessarily mean we know what to do.

Often Friends peace testimony has been expressed as nonviolent protest against war or injustice. That prophetic protest is still needed. But we are also challenged to show ourselves and others that the path of nonviolence is not only right, it's also pragmatic and practical. For more information on how to turn your Monthly Meeting or Friends Church into a training center, contact Mary Lord, 2623 Holman Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20910, 301/588-0626.

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