2021 marks 90 years since Canadian Friends Service Committee (CFSC) was founded. In preparation for our 90th anniversary, I have spent much of the last six months searching out and speaking with some of the Friends that have made CFSC’s work possible. Hearing these stories of triumph, persistence, and heartbreak has reaffirmed what I already knew… for many Friends, speaking up and acting for what’s right is not a hobby, it is a lifestyle and a spiritual calling. This is why, for CFSC’s 90th anniversary, we would like to celebrate the people who have made 90 years of Quaker service in Canada possible.
I asked Friends, “What does CFSC mean to you?” The responses I got were incredible: stories of projects that CFSC has worked on, lifetime commitments, and meaningful impacts. You can read some of these stories on our 90th anniversary website. You can also hear directly from some of the Friends who’ve served on CFSC by attending our Get to Know Thee, Friend event series each month, where we join together to hear the experiences of Canadian Friends. I wanted to share a few quotes with you now:
“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.”
—Sarah Chandler, Interior BC Monthly Meeting (https://90years.quakerservice.ca)
One thing that I learned early-on is that many people are unwilling to work on major social justice issues because of the time and commitment that is needed to make real change, but Friends are frequently led to address these important and daunting issues.
There were no expectations of a “quick fix” when Friends began working on prison abolition, or peacebuilding, or supporting Indigenous peoples’ human rights. CFSC was formed to be a steadfast and consistent force for social change and for 90 years, it has been.
Joy Morris is a great example of a Friend who has lived by a commitment to make change. Her work on prison abolition began with her mother, Ruth Morris, when Joy was a child. Joy continues to do this work as a member of CFSC today.
“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.”
—Joy Morris, Calgary Monthly Meeting (https://90years.quakerservice.ca)
“Service on CFSC can be life-changing!”
In her recent Get to Know Thee, Friend presentation, Rachel Singleton-Polster described the work of Friends and of CFSC as “quiet diplomacy.” It’s a term that I have heard used many times to describe the work of CFSC but I’m not sure I truly understood the meaning or value of it until I saw it in action. In 2019, I was a part of CFSC’s delegation to the United Nations for the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. I was in one of the meeting rooms in the UN when someone asked me who I was representing and I told them Canadian Friends Service Committee. Their response: “Ah of course, the Quakers.” I came to see over the next few weeks while I was there that CFSC was very well known by many people in the UN because people like Jennifer Preston, CFSC’s Indigenous Rights Program Coordinator, and other CFSC members and staff had been doing the “quiet work” of building relationships and supporting stakeholders and organizations there for decades.
Jane Orion Smith, former General Secretary of CFSC and member of Winnipeg Monthly Meeting, describes what CFSC does well:
“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 be changed. Speaking up when it’s needed, trusting that together you can work through conflict and difference.”
I can’t fit 90 years worth of stories into this article but I hope that you will visit our 90th anniversary website to read the testimonies and see the pictures of some of the Friends who have been involved in the work of CFSC. I also hope that, if so led, you’ll share with me and others what CFSC means to you. If you have photos of CFSC’s service work in action, or a story of your experience with CFSC, contact me.
Thank you to all of the people who have made Canadian Friends Service Committee possible over the past 90 years. Thank you to the donors who have gifted us with the financial ability to do this important work. Without you, none of this would have been possible.
Please consider giving CFSC an anniversary gift by donating to our 90 Thousand for 90 Years campaign. Your gift will help us to continue doing this important work for many more years to come.
Keira Mann is CFSC’s Assistant Coordinator, Programs and Events.