It was my first actual Quaker Concern for Animals Annual General Meeting.  Although being a member of QCA for (probably) 5 years I have never made the journey from darkest Wales to the metropolis for the AGM at Friends House.  But I made it this year, mainly because I had another meeting in Milton Keynes which got me well into England, expenses paid, with only a short and therefore cheaper train journey to London.   It was worth the trip.  It was lovely to meet the other QCAers: likeminded people who appreciate the spiritual connection with the natural world and other species. Friends who believe there is that of god in every living creature.  Likeminded in their shared concern for all species but, like any other Quaker gathering, diverse in so many other aspects including the theist/non-theist dichotomy.  It was good for me to be able to put faces and voices to email addresses.  The only Friend I had met previously was Thom Bonneville, the clerk.

The room we were allocated in Friends House smelt vaguely of new paint and gave a generally business-like impression.  Rigidly set out chairs and a large central table placed us in board room formation.  Nevertheless, the meeting, conducted in the Quaker business manner, managed to be both friendly and interesting.  Hopes that, following registration at Sufferings and a flurry of letters in The Friend would increase attendance numbers, were dashed and much of the meeting was focused on why this was and how we could encourage Friends to attend.  If, as Thom confirmed, our main objective is to bring more Friends to awareness of the importance of the lives we humans share the planet with, then we have a long way to go.

The meeting was planned in an interesting way with the usual reporting of events, appointments, budgets and financial matters and decisions, the previous year’s activities and minutes; then there was an open forum where free discussion took place.  I liked the informality of this and it took the edge off the corporate atmosphere of the room. How we might increase attendance was the main topic of this part of the meeting with veganism as the second major topic.  It kept coming up in the discussion, which makes sense, of course, because it is hard to say we love animals and yet cause them pain and suffering because of our eating habits.  And habit is all it often is.  However, the meeting recognised that we are all at different stages of the journey.   I am well enough aware that I have been stuck at a rather comfortable vegetarian, pre-vegan stage for more than a year now, reluctant to give up one of my comfort foods: cheese.  It reflects the truism that, as we develop a vegan consciousness we each of us have to take those steps for ourselves and make the necessary shopping and cooking changes.  In the afternoon there was a speaker from The Mayhew Animal Home in London, which was quite uplifting.

I came away from the meeting wondering if veganism is just a step too far for many Friends unable to break that habit of a lifetime and make the change that would save an animal from suffering, benefit their own health and sustain the planet by undermining the need for so many undesirable farming practices.  They may be animal lovers with caring connections to their own companion animals, they may pay their subscriptions because they generally approve of the aims of QCA but they can’t stand the discomfort of the guilty knowledge that a non-vegan diet encourages so enabling cruelty and suffering.  We, those of us who have not taken that step, may simply be avoiding the company of Friends who have and who might, most painfully, point out to us our hypocrisy.  Take it from me, it is uncomfortable, but I am a Quaker and have been challenged before and probably will be again.

In case you are wondering, Friends, I arrived home tired and grumpy after the long 5 hour journey to an ecstatic greeting from Cat, opened the fridge and shared some of the cheese with Cat.  So, not at the vegan stage yet but determined not to let my guilt prevent me from doing what I can to help QCA achieve its aims.


Liz McDermott

Lampeter Quaker Meeting