Russian Adventures: a conference

Woodbrooke combined logoOn 28-30 November 2014 Friends House Moscow held a conference entitled “Russian Adventures: Russia, Quakers and Civil Society”, at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre (Birmingham, U.K.).

Almost 50 people, both Friends and non-Quakers, participated. Highlights of a varied programme included the keynote speech by Sergei Nikitin, head of Amnesty International in Russia, and a Quaker Meeting for Worship in which Friends at Woodbrooke were joined live by Skype by Friends in Kazan and Moscow.

Here is an account of the conference by one participant, Rebecca Critchley:

In November last year I attended the Russian Adventures weekend at Woodbrooke. Friends attended the conference from far and wide, including America and Russia. Many had links with Friends House Moscow (FHM).

The work of FHM reflects the deepest values of the Society of Friends. It is run by an international board and is supported by two organisations: Friends House Moscow Support Association based in the USA and Friends House Moscow British Committee. FHM supports and funds projects in restorative justice, human rights, education and non-violent protest in Russia.

Quaker links with Russia began with George Fox when he sent an epistle to the Tsar. There were visits to Quaker meetings in England by Peter the Great and Alexander 1st, who later procured the services of Daniel Wheeler for help in draining the marshes around St Petersburg.

Quakers have a long history of providing help in Russia. Quaker relief work in Russia dates back to the 1850s in Russian Finland after the Crimean War and continued through the Volga famine of the 1890s, during the First World War, the revolutions and the civil war.  In 1921 alone, British and American Friends were feeding 212,000 people. They set up feeding stations, hospitals, orphanages, schools and cottage industries.

FHM in its current premises dates to 1996 but it is not the first base that Quakers have had in Moscow. Earlier a Quaker centre had been established in Moscow that was concerned with the coordination of relief work. This was forced to close in 1931 when Stalin came into power and Quakers were expelled from the Soviet Union.

After the death of Stalin in 1953 contact and cooperation with official soviet organisations were restored slowly. This became easier with the advent of glasnost and perestroika. Reciprocal seminars and exchanges were organised between scientists, diplomats, philosophers, young people and religious representatives.

The Russian Adventures weekend was an opportunity to explore all this shared history. The highlight was Meeting for Worship on Sunday morning when we were linked via Skype to Meetings in Moscow and in Kazan. Emotion ran high as the spirit led many of us to voice through an interpreter our mutual support. A lovely touch that made us all smile was the additional ministry from three cats at Kazan Meeting; they kept jumping up to the camera and joining in!

Hands (and paws!) across the World in Friendship.

Joint Meeting for Worship by Skype between Woodbrooke, Kazan and Moscow

Joint Meeting for Worship by Skype between Woodbrooke, Kazan and Moscow

 

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