How does one catch a moonbeam, or a passing week of laughter, learning, sharing, healthy food, cleaning, walking in the hills, staying up late to chatter? As I reflect, my heart is full of sights and sounds of the week just passed and a welling up of gratitude for this oft-repeated event and especially to Graham Davey who has held it all together for over 10 years, making arrangements in the calm, measured way I have come to expect from Quakers.
This was my first full week of being there, and I found it quite a difference from “popping in” for a couple of days! It was our first visit to the Bilberry Hill Centre in Lickey, outside Birmingham, in a large Youth Centre, unattractive at first glance, but providing masses of space, single bedrooms, large communal areas and an easy-to-work-in kitchen. There is a group who attend the Summer Gathering year after year and it’s fun to watch their children growing up and contributing much to the Gathering.
New Friends came too and one person joined on the spot – that we love to see! At the first session we heard excellent talks from David Maxwell, Stephen Petter, Trevor Lewis & Graham about “Gandhi and: Interfaith, Social Justice, Education, Health, Simple Living and Non-violence” – putting us in the right frame of mind to take Gandhi’s thoughts and way of living into the week, however imperfectly. Main sessions thereafter were led by Susan Denton-Brown, along the following lines: understanding our sense of self and our roles in life; our spirituality and how we develop and express it; the wider community – helping create unity in diversity; transforming conflict through nonviolence; healing and sustaining Creation and the environment (with contributions from others too). Susan is producing a course for schools, based on scenes from the Gandhi film, not finished but already drawing interest from educators in the UK and abroad [see Projects page – Ed.].
The pattern of the day goes something like this: 7 am Yoga, led this year by Kala Gunness, 8 am Breakfast, 9 am a gathering of all for Silence, followed by thanking, information, difficulties, hopes for the day; 9:30-11:30, the main session (see above). Shramdana (giving work voluntarily) follows, and in teams we clean, tidy, hoover and cook a simple lunch of tasty soup, salad and fruit. The afternoons are for craft work, walking, taking the youngsters to play tennis or swim and, for some of us, resting! The Shramdana team prepare a delicious supper of, e.g. rice and a massive vegetable casserole, apple crumble, under the competent eye of Ken Scott, overviewing meals. And then we are ready to start evening activities around 7:30 pm.
There is much talent within the group, and we heard some fascinating accounts of a charity ‘Treelink’ which plants trees worldwide for social change and development; about shared community living to help bring healing to society; ‘Swaraj (self-rule) on Mars’ by a member of The Mars Society and how to plan in advance for a nonviolent way of life when the time comes for people to live there!; some moving poems, read by his father, from the son of Nat Sharma, who died prematurely; pictures of two Muslim weddings and a Montessori school in Leh, Ladakh, India; what the Life Style Movement is currently up to; a walk, against Trident, from Glasgow to London, undertaken by Bernie Meyer, also known as ‘the American Gandhi’, and his adventures en route; the Interfaith Seminary by recently ordained Interfaith Minister Mirabai Narayan; and much on the environment, global warming and the work of the Green Party to help right many of the wrongs. Each evening ended with Circle Dancing led by David Maxwell and a final 15 minutes of Silence.
On the last night, following tradition, we threw a sparkling Party, with many contributions of poems, songs, stories, card tricks, games and the young people performing a dance, a puppet show and a play, written and performed by them, about Gandhi on the train in South Africa and his assassination in Delhi. An evening to remember with delight.
Because the Bilberry Hill Centre is outside a residential area there is no collection of recyclable materials. We collected all food waste, cans and bottles, which were taken to the Woodbrooke compost bins and local recycling points. We produced relatively little rubbish and most of that was picked up on the Lickey hills during our walks!
I came away with memories crowding in on each other: conversations, light, serious and teasing fun; scientist Habib Ahmed’s dedicated sharing of carbon information for the next generation; Sarathi’s beautiful, illuminating smile; a window banner made by the young people: “Remember Hiroshima” and later “Nagasaki”; hugging friends; greetings / ‘au revoirs’ and promises of “next year” wherever that might be.
The GF believes this week is of central importance to its work and ethos, helping boost its funds a little, whilst at the same time being of reasonable cost to participants, and the selling of literature to those who genuinely want to know more about Gandhi: “man for our time”.