Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, Birmingham, UK
June 19, 2016
To Friends Everywhere:
After an eight year absence, the Friends Association for Higher Education again gathered at the beautiful Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham, England. Eager to explore the conference theme, Educating for Action, Friends from the United States, the U.K., Canada and Kenya were quickly called into action themselves, as torrential rains flooded Woodbrooke’s cellar, creating the opportunity for a bucket brigade team building event lasting well into the first evening. What a memorable start!
The program was rich in insights and variety. During the initial plenary, Gerald Hewitson reflected on the deep origins of Quaker action, urging us to heed our traditions so we may “…walk a clear path through this busy, fractious , contemporary world.” The following day, Jan Sellars explored The Labyrinth as a path for learning and for peace. Her session included instruction on drawing labyrinths as well as hands-on opportunities to explore finger labyrinths. That evening Esther Mombo described the influence of Friends and education on the evolution of women’s status in Kenya. As a member of the Board of Friends Theological College she expressed her hope that FAHE might soon hold its conference at FTC. Paul Rogers analyzed the causes and impacts of the “Irregular War” involving “Isis, elites and revolts from the margins,” focusing particularly on our flawed world economic system that is producing ever greater inequality fuelling Islamic extremism. Margaret Benefiel presented the final plenary reflecting on the role of spirituality in leadership, based on her experiences leading the “Soul of Leadership” programs offered sometimes in Boston, and sometimes at Woodbrooke.
Between plenaries, in concurrent sessions, we learned much from each other. Multiple case studies illustrating “Educating for Action” were presented, including reflections on the Quaker Leadership Scholars program at Guilford College, faculty development in conflict resolution for Rwandan teachers, and using Bible-based materials for promoting social action. Distinctive instructional methodologies, such as interdisciplinary teaching, the flipped classroom, creating learning environments, and making and breaking bread, were explored. Various approaches to peace education were examined in detail, as were individual orientations to teaching and learning, as these are affected by gender orientation and spiritual autobiography.
One session focused on the process involved in developing the latest volume in our Quakers in the Disciplines book series, Quakers in Literature. As a prelude to the next volume, a second theme of the conference, “Technologies of Change: Quakers, business and industry,” received particular attention. Biographical snapshots of several leading nineteenth and twentieth century Quakers prominent in the development of commerce in the U.K. and the U.S. were presented. Additionally, the Quaker orientation to accumulating personal debt was explored.
In the midst of all of this intellectual and spiritual bounty, within our Meeting for Business, Friends confronted FAHE’s real and serious financial challenges. To remain vital, indeed to continue to exist at all, we must substantially increase our membership and funding. It is our intention to reach out to younger Quaker scholars, and others who might join and strengthen us. This will include efforts to attract the few remaining colleges and universities with Quaker traditions that are not currently FAHE members, as well as establishing affiliations with many Quaker academic and religious organizations to promote new synergies.
The stories provided by the members of our Presidents’ Panel reinforced the fact that all of our institutions are facing financial difficulties. However, they also revealed the power of Quaker institutions to overcome serious challenges when committed to Spirit-led discernment within loving communities.
We are profoundly grateful to the director of Woodbrooke, Sandra Berry, our main liaison at Woodbrooke, Ben Pink Dandelion, and to all the Woodbrooke staff who welcomed us warmly and who cared for our every need. We have been deeply blessed to share time with such caring and attentive hosts in such a beautiful and inviting atmosphere.
We are already anticipating our June 2017 conference, at Guilford College.
In love and peace,
The Friends Association for Higher Education