In February, “Unite for Peace”, a group of (mainly) Christian peace activists affiliated with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, gathered in Derbyshire for our twice-yearly meeting. This weekend was particularly special as it was our tenth anniversary – an opportunity to step back and think about previous gatherings and what it is that keeps us together.
We all live in different parts of the country and have busy jobs, and some of us have families too. It’s an effort to take time out of our crowded lives to attend a meeting. We’ve all had experiences of being part of other groups that haven’t lasted, so what is it about “Unite for Peace” that is different?
It seems that there are a variety of reasons, but most of us value the opportunity to spend time with like-minded friends, where we can feel “at home”. As Sally and Mark Ramsey put it: “The best thing is having friends who have similar views, not only socially and politically but on a spiritual level too. It is easy to feel isolated and ‘out on a limb’ in society, or in the church at times, and this gives reassurance and a place to be able to sound out ideas and ask safe questions, explore ideas and life’s challenges in a supportive and familiar environment.”
Chris Cole appreciates the chance to take time out of the hectic whirl of our ordinary lives to reflect on issues that matter. “Coming away twice a year, gives us an opportunity to call each other to account for the last six months and set ourselves challenges for the next six.”
Over the years we’ve covered a wide variety of topics, from the political to the spiritual. Sometimes we have invited an outside speaker, and have enjoyed input from Milan Rai (Iraq), Becky DeCunha (Palestine), Lindis Percy (US bases) and more recently, Ray Gaston (Islam). But we are just as likely to sort out the subject matter ourselves. And as Chandra Morbey says, it can be empowering to find out about a topic and then share our knowledge with others.
When our children were very small, it was very difficult for me to get out to political events. So one of the things I’ve particularly appreciated about UfP is the fact we sort out childcare amongst ourselves, giving me some precious time to learn about important campaigns.
We’ve all enjoyed watching our children grow up to form deep friendships, and developing a programme to match ours. The Ramseys suggest that this “gives us an unequalled opportunity to show our children, both by example and by teaching, that life is a series of choices about the way we relate to others spiritually, socially and politically.”
Although UfP is generally an opportunity for us to recharge batteries and increase our awareness of issues, from time to time we join together in activism. When Norman Kember, a trustee of Fellowship of Reconciliation, was kidnapped in Iraq, we all took part in vigils up and down the country and were jubilant when he was released. It was thus a particular delight that he and his wife Pat joined us for our 2007 gathering, and the children enjoyed interviewing them for a special UfP newspaper.
And of course, like any community, coming together can just be a lot of fun. The children have great affection for a pirate ship near our Derbyshire meeting spot, and a tree in Berkshire. The grown-ups have been known to partake of the odd glass of wine at the end of the day, and highlights of socials have included Elly and Nick Metcalfe’s specially-designed board games, skits and cabarets.
On one weekend, we joined an anti-Trident demonstration in London. As we marched down the street together, I saw a friend in the crowd. “You look like a tribe” he said, and that’s how it often feels to us. As Sally Ramsey puts it, though getting ready for a weekend feels like hard work, arriving is “like coming home for Christmas.”
It is that sense of solidarity and community that will keep us coming back for years to come.