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Quakers in Australia

NSW Regional Meeting - Reflections On the Australian Quaker Centre (J Madeline)

Some thoughts on the Australia Quaker Centre and alternative models - for discussion at NSWRM 10 April 2010  (Jenny Madeline, with input from some other DSLM members)

Extract from the YM2010 Minute (YM10.38) re the Australia Quaker Centre
 
"4. We ask the AQC Working Group to co-opt members for ad-hoc committees where needed that will consider alternative models and invite concerns and leadings from the wider Quaker community through Regional Meetings.
 
The two areas of consideration should be:
 
- The ethos and offerings of the AQC. We note this is a four-year perspective.
-  Possible models for the AQC structure, such as a mobile AQC, possibly with a small
   base or no base.”
 
The vision and dedication of the AQC Working Group is very much appreciated and it is wonderful to have this chance to participate in whatever way we can. It is recognised that the vision is about providing Australian Quakers with the opportunity for individual spiritual enrichment and renewal (flowing through to local and regional meetings). 
 
However, given the small numbers, and thin spread, of Quakers throughout this wide brown land of Australia, the preferred AQC model (involving the purchase of a permanent centre, e.g. Silver Wattle at Bungendore, NSW) seems to be too grand a vision.  It is questionable whether it is a prudent or justifiable use of very limited Quaker financial resources – with the possibility that it could become a burden to be borne by Quakers in future years.

 

Some specific concerns about the preferred model of a permanent centre
 
1.         It remains to be shown that there is widespread, enthusiastic support amongst Australian Quakers for a permanent centre (including the intention, and ability, to attend courses and/or live in community)
2.        A permanent centre will require substantial initial and ongoing financial support from Friends, and involve a degree of risk because of doubts about the ongoing viability of such a centre.  The AQC Working Group has already acknowledged that they would need to attract a number of external groups to the centre (from the beginning) to help cover overheads. A DSLM member, through his work, is aware that only one religious retreat/small conference-type centre in NSW covers its costs (and only just).  It is much more accessible than Silver Wattle.
3.        The Silver Wattle property, in particular, will require significant ongoing maintenance (not only the buildings and equipment, but also the larger property) which will require a considerable degree of expertise and expenditure.
4.        As well as the financial support required, significant Quaker resources will be needed in the form of in-kind support (Friends in Residence etc.)
5.        Although this is certainly not the intention, there is the possibility that the AQC will drain Quaker human resources needed for the support of Local and Regional Meetings (Meetings are already struggling to find Friends prepared to take on roles – e.g. Clerks etc.)
6.        There is the likelihood that some RM gatherings (e.g. the NSWRM Family Weekend 16-18 April near Wiseman’s Ferry, being held for the third year in a row) will have to compete with AQC events (e.g. Easter Family Camp: Songs of Peace, Stories of Hope 2 weeks before)
7.        Some Friends may also have to make a choice between attending Yearly Meeting and attending a course at the AQC, because of the significant cost of courses and travel.
8.        There is also the worry that funds that are currently made available for Quaker concerns, such as QSA, may be reduced because of the need to support the AQC.
 
 
Alternative models
 
It seems wiser, and more prudent, to work much more from the local/regional (and cross-regional) meeting level and take small steps that don’t involve a significant financial outlay or drain resources from meetings. 
 
One possible model could comprise the following:
 
A core AQC on the Road Committee (perhaps merged with Meeting for Learning – see below) which will:
 
a.      design a range of weekend, 3-4 day and week-long courses (with suggested course leaders)
 
b.      liaise with individual RMs, and networks of RMs (e.g. WARM & SARM; SARM & VRM; VRM & TRM; CRM & NSWRM; NSWRM & QRM) with a view to organising courses at suitable venues (such as the retreat centres and other venues that RMs already use for weekend gatherings) at suitable times of the year.  As with the current AQC program of courses, it may be possible to run two courses concurrently (either both at the same time (as happens at Woodbrooke), or one in the mornings and the other in the afternoons).
 
Some weekend courses (Friday evening to Sunday), following the "Woodbrooke on the Road” model, could perhaps be held at Friends Meeting Houses, with some accommodation provided by local Friends and/or at Meeting Houses which provide accommodation.
 
The use of FriendsSchool in Hobart (during school holidays) for weekend or week-long courses could also be investigated (with the possibility of some accommodation being available on site).
 
c.       The liaison with RMs could include discussion on the inclusion of local elders (&/or M&O/C members) in the overall course design and the possible role of local indigenous people.  There could also be discussion on whether there could be a role for Friends in Residence.
 
d.      There would need to be discussion about how course overheads could be covered (travel etc. for AQC on the Road Committee members, course leaders etc.) – either built into the costs for participants, or partly funded from other Quaker sources.
 
In the short-term, there may only be a couple of courses in two or three separate centres during a year.  If these involved two or three networks of RMs they would be much more accessible to Friends in those RMs (and contribute to the spiritual enrichment of those participating and also to their home meetings) – without the burden of the purchase and maintenance of property.
 
Although the AQC on the Road Committee would most likely consist of volunteers, if finance was available (from the Thanksgiving Fund?) there could be provision for short-term funding during the early design and implementation phase.
 
AQC and Meeting for Learning
 
It would be beneficial if the possibility of the merging of AQC on the Road and Meeting for Learning could be fully explored. There could be a number of different strands: the longer-term model of Quaker Learning retreats (attendance at two retreats 12 months apart, with a participant-specific programme in between), shorter-term courses, and distance learning (such as Quaker Basics developed by Sheila Keane).
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