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90 years of stories

Testimonials

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Elaine Bishop

Winnipeg Monthly Meeting

My journey to a Peace River jail cell started at Canadian Yearly Meeting 1988.  I shared that cell with Betty Peterson, Halifax Quaker Elder and Indigenous rights activist, and another, three women in a two-person cell.  Our twenty-four men and youth companions shared eight beds in three cells.  Peace River RCMP were not used to actions like the Lubicon resistance. 


The Lubicon Cree Nation fought for their rights since 1939.  Canada and Alberta considered them Treaty 8.  The Lubicon rejected that, never having signed Treaty.  After years in courts, denied a negotiated settlement, Lubicon decided to blockade their land.  They invited allies to join them.


Lubicon Chief Bernard Ominayak accepted CFSC’s invitation to attend Canadian Yearly Meeting in Lacombe, Alberta..  After his presentation and discernment CYM minuted support of the Lubicon and appointed Betty and me CYM witnesses at the action.  Jack Ross, Argenta Monthly Meeting, completed CYM’s team. 


Quakers agreed to staff the Nation’s office.  6 am until midnight we were surrounded by action.  We stayed at ‘Rambo house’, the name a teasing acknowledgement of Quaker peace testimony!   


The resistance started Saturday October 15.  Allies and media attended from around the world.  Four blockade camps denied access to Lubicon territory except for Lubicon and supporters.  By Tuesday the ground, and my small tent at Blockade 2, were snow-covered.  That morning helicopters landed at all blockades, took photos, then took off.  Tensions rose! 


Thursday sunrise RCMP arrived.  They read an injunction ordering us off the road.  Our response?  ‘This is unceded Lubicon territory.  You have no jurisdiction here!’  Blockade 2 was occupied by an officer in battle fatigues with submachine gun and officers with long guns.  I, sitting cross-legged mid-road, was picked up and placed under arrest.   


Court, flown in from Edmonton, convened that night.  The Chief instructed us to accept recognisances agreeing not to return to the blockade.  We were released and returned late to a huge celebration for the POWs (prisoners of war).  The next day Alberta’s premier and the Chief negotiated a settlement.  


We Quakers spent an extra week there to return to court.  Eventually charges were dropped.  Sadly the agreement with the premier was never implemented.  No justice for the Lubicon.


CFSC was enriched by this witness to our long-term commitment to Indigenous justice!  Later I returned as a voluntary service worker and had the gift of living and working with the Lubicon for four years.  Thank you, CFSC!!!

Sarah Chandler

Interior BC Monthly Meeting

Service on CFSC can be life-changing! The seed of a Spiritual leading that grows in one’s heart eventually begs for expression in some meaningful way. When that leading finds a home among Friends, service naturally follows. Through service, we are challenged. We grow, we change, we mature. We find community with others who share the same Spiritual passions. We are tested, personally, spiritually, emotionally, and yet we share a commitment to bring to life the leadings of the Spirit in ways that make a difference in the world. In solidarity with Friends working in service around the world and with our partners, we seek, see and experience transformation. Transformation takes time, beyond any individual’s term of service, and yet transformation does happen. We are transformed, situations are transformed.


Through CFSC, the Spirit finds willing hands to do the work on the ground and opens the way for further work. For me, it has been a blessing and a privilege to share in the relationships and the work of Friends in service through CFSC.


I served on CFSC between 1992 and 2016, serving for one year, plus 4 terms with Quaker Indigenous Rights Committee, and for 2 terms with Quakers Fostering Justice Committee (QFJ). I also served 2 terms on the Quaker International Affairs Program Committee, which was a separate program but came under the oversight of CFSC. She continues to serve as an associate of QFJ.

Peter Chapman

Yonge Street Monthly Meeting

I served as CFSC Co-ordinator from January 1994 to December 1999. Those were days when sizable federal government grants multiplied CFSC’s support for extraordinary partners in Mexico, Central America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. International program officers Susan Reesor and later Colin Stuart laboured to bridge the gap between our local partners’ reality and the accountability demanded by CIDA. Photographer Tim Hellum travelled to many of our projects, bringing back images that connected Canadian Friends with our partners’ dynamic work in sustainable agriculture, community health promotion, vocational training for landmine victims and more.
 
Rick McCutcheon was Coordinator before me, during the first Gulf War. Responding to terrible conditions left in the war’s wake, funds were raised to improve ambulance services in the city of Karbala, Iraq. But how? When I arrived at CFSC, the sanctions regime, costs and logistics appeared overwhelming. Then miraculously we learned that many of the ambulances in Karbala – ambulances inoperable for lack of basic parts – had been made at a factory in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. A few phone calls later, CFSC had secured generous help from new Nova Scotia friends, their Iraqi associates assessed what parts the ambulances needed, parts were ordered, packaged and shipped from Nova Scotia and finally delivered overland from Jordan to the hospital in Karbala by the Middle East Council of Churches. Soon the ambulances were on the road and at work.
 
This amazing spirit of pulling together was repeated during my years at CFSC, whether at the Quaker UN offices in New York and Geneva, in creating the Grindstone Cooperative Venture Fund, or through the persistent work of sub-committees on peace and national concerns, jails and justice, Aboriginal concerns, and international development.

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Peter Cross

Hamilton Monthly Meeting

In about 1983 I had been a long-time attender at Hamilton Monthly Meeting.  I wished to become a member of CFSC but was told I needed to be a member, not an attender.  After being encouraged by Frank Miles, I applied for and was granted membership in the Society, something I have felt fortunate for ever since,  and then on CFSC.  After about a year I was appointed Treasurer.  Ever since, with the exception of about a 6 year gap from 1989 to 1995, I have been attached at the hip to CFSC; either as a member or being on Finance Committee.


I served on the Quaker International Committee, which became something else, then morphed into the Quaker Peace Committee.  I was fortunate to serve with clerks Vivien Abbott, Isabel Showler, Margaret Ford, Carol Dixon, Leslie Robertson and Lana Robinson.  All were great clerks with their individual strengths and I learned something from all of them.  Over the years, I also met lots of great committee members who all became  friends.


Before I joined the Committee, it had had a project in El Salvador, named Escuela de Guelph (school of Guelph), originally sponsored through CFSC by folks from Guelph, ON.  On one of my early trips to El Salvador I visited that project.  It was at the peak of a mountain and was not easily accessible but with my wife’s cousin as chauffeur with his 4 x 4 we made it.  It was a fun and interesting visit.  
 

I continue fast friendship with a number of former CFSC members.

Rob Hughes

Vancouver Monthly Meeting

My legal practice has always been motivated by my commitment to human rights.  Although I took Aboriginal Law in law school, my passion for Indigenous rights was sparked afterwards by my experiences at an ecumenical young adult summer work camp at Kispiox, a Gitxsan community in northwestern BC in 1985.  What I learned from the people there had far more value than what I could possibly contribute in our project.  Later, through my relationship with my now husband, Allen, and his Heiltsuk family, my education about the plight of Indigenous peoples in Canada deepened. 

 

I became active in regional work with the BC Quaker Committee on Native Concerns and intently followed Jenn Preston's outstanding work promoting the the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for years before I was appointed to the CFSC Board in 2010. I am constantly amazed at the strong impact a small group of Friends has on the national and international stage in working quietly behind the scenes and networking with Indigenous partners and allies. 

The release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report in 2015 with its 94 Calls to Action was a national wakeup call.  The report proclaimed that the Declaration was the framework for reconciliation.  I remember in 2010 when the Prime Minister reluctantly endorsed the Declaration and reflect that now we have implementation legislation passed in BC and Bill C-15 introduced in Parliament.  

 

Coming off CFSC and continuing as an Associate Member, I am aware there are many ways  to still engage with the work of CFSC.  During the pandemic, I have been nurtured by the weekly CFSC meetings for worship and virtual programs.  I am heartened by the groundswell of local work that meetings and worship groups across the Yearly Meeting have undertaken.  Much remains to be done as governments must be held to account to follow through on their legal and moral obligations. 

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Joy Morris

Calgary Monthly Meeting

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware of the work of CFSC. My mother (Ruth Morris) worked as Coordinator from 1975-78. My father (Ray Morris) served as Treasurer at various times. Together, they wrote take-off lyrics for Gilbert & Sullivan’s “I’m called Little Buttercup” to encourage fundraising. (“Give to CFSC… Give ’til your funds have run dry!”) Mom liked to tell of the (non-Quaker) chicken farmer who was CFSC’s biggest donor when she worked there, who would come to the office and quietly drop off large sums in cash after selling his products at a farmer’s market. 

Mom’s heart and soul was tied to the criminal justice work of CFSC. She was deeply committed to working at a personal level, and participating in a Quaker program visiting the Don Jail led her to bail out guys who were waiting for trial and bring them to live with us if they didn’t have other places to stay. But she knew that helping individuals did not begin to address the real problem of a criminal justice system that addresses wrong-doing through punishment rather than trying to address the root causes that led to the harmful behaviour. This is why I’ve been a member of CFSC’s criminal justice program committee for the past four years: to participate in working toward a system of justice that is not systemically racist, classist, and harmful. We need to construct a justice system that recognises the value of every individual, by building communities that support each other, recover, transform, and reintegrate more strongly than ever after harm occurs. This isn’t an easy or short-term project, but deconstructing oppressive systems never is. And really, that’s the heart of all of the work that CFSC does.

John Prescott

Kitchener Area Monthly Meeting 

CFSC were really helpful in supporting the work in El Salvador of the Escuela de Guelph group.

 

This group had originally supported Central American refugees in Guelph but realized that most Salvadoran refugees were internal. The project was a school, a small health clinic, water projects and a women’s sewing cooperative, as well as a small herd of cows in 3 end-of-the-line villages in northern Chalatenango province, an area of intense fighting in the war.

 

Communications were initially poor although we obtained smuggled children’s drawings, videotapes, and some beautiful embroideries showing the lives of the people we were supporting during the war. CFSC helped us obtaining federal government matching funding for these community support projects. The support in Guelph for this Salvadoran project seemed miraculous, but the later addition of matching funds through CFSC’s help made a huge difference in what we could accomplish. Once the war was over, communications became far better.

 

I visited twice. We worked on the ground with American development workers from the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) who understood what was going on. Life became far better, a new school building/community centre was built, Plazuelas got its first outhouse, a women’s sewing cooperative started with our sewing machines, and a spectacular water system was developed in one village, which saved many hours of collecting drinking water from lower down the steep hillsides.

 

With the end of the war, and once our MCC workers left, interest in Guelph and our communications declined, so we thought it was time to stop, but we know from reports that the impact of this work continued.

 

Thanks CFSC!

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Lana Robinson

Cowichan Valley Monthly Meeting

My first experience with Canadian Friends Service Committee was in the summer of 2010 when I was able to serve my university internship with the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva, and the Quaker International Affairs program of CFSC in Ottawa. I had previously heard talks by CFSC staff and they were the inspiration behind seeking to do my internship program with QUNO and QIAP, and these opportunities were facilitated through CFSC 

Following graduation in 2011, I was nominated to serve on the Indigenous Rights Committee of CFSC, and soon found myself taking on the role of Recording Clerk as well. In addition to those roles, in the last nine years I have served as Personnel Clerk and as Clerk of CFSC. 

What I appreciate most about the time I have spent with CFSC is the way my involvement has inspired me to learn more: about Friends and our history, Indigenous rights, peacebuilding and the criminal justice system in Canada, more about the work Friends do in other places and with other groups. I have learned some of this as part of the work that I have been involved with while on the committee, but even more so in the ways I have become engaged with that work beyond those roles.  I have been inspired to take Indigenous language and history courses, attend workshops and panel discussions on the justice system, and advocate for peace in ways I would not have been led to do previous to my involvement with CFSC.  I have been given opportunities to travel and reflect deeply on what it means to be  Quaker in a world that desperately needs a prophetic voice for peace and justice, and have been able to share those reflections with others in new ways.  

As CFSC celebrates 90 years of work for justice and peace on behalf of Friends in Canada, we can all be inspired to look deeper within ourselves to find out what kind of service feeds our souls, and use that to attend to the hunger for justice and peace that we see in the world around us, and feel deep within us. Thank you to all the staff and volunteers who have served with CFSC over the last 90 years!

Rachel Singleton-Polster

Vancouver Island Monthly Meeting

Over the last decade CFSC has provided me with both a spiritual home and a place of professional growth. I formally began my involvement with CFSC in 2010 as a summer intern, though my family had been engaged with CFSC for many years prior to my even arriving on the planet! From this internship I learned hands on about restorative justice, Indigenous rights, and conscientious objectors, and it became clear to me that CFSC is an important actor in a time of immense social and environmental change. The work of Friends is always grounded in building relationships, on looking for the Light that shines in all, and ensuring that it is not diminished or reduced in any way.

At 90 years old, CFSC has been reflecting strategically on its direction - where are we going, and why? Each of CFSC's program areas is wrestling with these questions and how we make substantive change towards a more just and peaceful world. What I know from only 1/9 of CFSC's lifespan, is that the transformational changes that CFSC is striving towards take time, dedication, and hope - in other words, faith.                                                          

   

There's an old poster somewhere in the depths of CFSC's files at 60 Lowther Ave that says, "The

means are the ends in the making." From 1930 to today, this must always be true for the work of Friends. We must persist nonviolently and with love to create a more peaceful world.

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Jane Orion Smith

Winnipeg Monthly Meeting

The core of CFSC’s work is relationships. We’ve said that for a long time but its meaning is deeper than a few words can do justice.  It means knowing each other, across work tables and dinner tables.  Developing trust and mutual understanding. Being willing to listen when it's hard and being open to being changed. Speaking up when it's needed, trusting that together you can work through conflict and difference.  Being present when that is needed more than words or actions.  Stepping up when more is required of us.  Building and sustaining relationships requires openness, presence, patience, persistence, kindness, compassion, commitment, friendship, faithfulness, and fun.  And so much more.  When we bring our whole being to relationship, so much is possible.  Justice is a long game.  And at the core, we need each other.  In so many ways.  I learned so much of this while at CFSC - through good times and, perhaps more so, through challenging times. John Woolman talked about “Love being the first motion” in his leadings and social witness.  No sounder ground can be found today, hundreds of years later, in which to grow the communities our hearts long for, and to nurture that which we are capable of becoming. 

Monica Walters-Field

Toronto Monthly Meeting

Some 37 years ago while looking for Daycare for our first child, we found Toronto Monthly Meeting (TMM) and became convinced that the worship was grounded in egalitarianism and a philosophy of personal and communal responsibility for one’s relationships and Spiritual practices.

 

And it was here that we were introduced to CFSC as the centre where Friends did their collective Social Justice work. It was the centre where Quakers exemplified that not only do they rely on Spiritual practice but showed commitment to the outward manifestation of what the practice would be on the ground, in community and society.

 

Being nominated by TMM as a representative to CFSC with the leadership of Jane Orion Smith, led to forming a bond that would result in working as a board member and a representative on the committee doing personnel and employment work.

 

My future with CFSC later coincided with the hiring by CFSC of Jennifer Preston, a young Friend I had met at Camp NeeKauNis through our Friend Janet Nunn, and who I had got to know quite well.  Through Jennifer, I learned more about CFSC’s work with Indigenous issues.  Having met members of the community of Christian Island—the home of the Beausoleil First Nation—I felt called to learn about and work more on social justice issues that directly impacted such communities.  With Jennifer Preston’s urging and support and working with a group committed to social justice I joined the Quaker Aboriginal Affairs Committee, now renamed Quaker Indigenous Rights Committee. 

 

This was to be a continued commitment with CFSC, which included ten years attending the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.  I benefit from being close to the CFSC office, so I’m able to participate when and where I am needed.  Gratefully I have worked with and learned a great deal from all of the program committees most recently with the Criminal Justice Committee.

 

I recognize and am grateful for my 30 year partnership with CFSC, an organization with incredibly dedicated, knowledgeable and creative staff, led by the most able, forward thinking Jennifer Preston.  I have been inspired by the work of the CFSC Board, the leadership, the inspirational staff and committed volunteers that demonstrate daily what ‘love and justice’ can be on the ground.

Vince Zelazny

New Brunswick Monthly Meeting

The 90th anniversary of the Canadian Friends Service Committee draws my thoughts to the times in my life when I have been a server of others but have myself also been served; this is the gift the CFSC offers each of us who engages with it. Toronto Friend Keith Maddock expressed this in 1999 when he wrote about his many encounters as a outside volunteer meeting with incarcerated people:

The walls of the prison are constantly dissolving as relationships are formed out of little more than the mutual presence of two individuals who are open to the mediation of an Eternal Listener, if only for a short time. The spiritual life is a matter of being present in everything we do; with everyone we encounter.

This act of deep empathy is the central movement of the Quaker peace testimony. Empathy provides the strong backbone that unites and coordinates the efforts of members each of our three program areas: abolishing punitive approaches to justice and corrections, upholding the human rights of Indigenous peoples, and fostering peace in Canada and worldwide.

Keith R. Maddock, in Faith and Practice, Sec. 4.64, Canadian Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

One warm summertime, the Service Committee was delivering a three-day Alternatives to Violence Project workshop at a women’s centre in a predominantly Indigenous, urban neighbourhood. I was brought on to help lead the workshop. For me, a middle-class dad from the Maritimes, the learning was profound and the sharing around the circle delighted and instructed.

This outward movement of empathetic engagement has shaped our work for 90 years now. And onward into the future we’ll go!

 

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