If you want to make the world a better place, begin in a Brooklyn Friends School classroom.
The 2015 Middle School Peace Tree Ceremony, held on Friday, Dec. 11 in the school meetinghouse, took on special relevance this year amid the recent backdrop of violence, terrorism, bigotry and hatred in the world.
Middle School students demonstrated that they are cognizant of these issues, while firmly rejecting all forms of hate as a means of conflict resolution. They did so by decorating an evergreen tree on the stage of the meetinghouse with their hand-made cards and ornaments to express their concerns about the state of the world today. They were about the Black Lives Matter movement, climate change, the plight of the Syrian people, and the killings in San Bernardino, Colorado Springs, Sandy Hook and elsewhere.
There also were student messages of hope and resilience. One group of students wrote about what Quakers call “the light within,” completing the phrase, “My fire is lit by/when . . .” As one student wrote, “My fire is lit by music, because it is a language anyone can speak. It has the power to spark feelings.” Other students acknowledged their parents and the friends, family, and special people in their lives who bring forth goodness and light. Another student group honored the life and lyrics of folk singer Woody Guthrie, whose music continues to be heard at anti-war demonstrations all over.
Middle School teacher Marna Herrity is a Quaker and member of the BFS All-School Quaker Life Committee and the Care Relationship Committee of the Brooklyn Monthly Meeting. In the weeks before the event, she helps to organize the students and teachers in each Middle School advisory group to discuss the Quaker peace testimony, choose a theme or activity, and make ornaments to place on the tree representing their learning. Every advisory is called to the meetinghouse stage to make a presentation that underscores the expectation that “our city, our nation, and all people in the world today need us to work toward peace, toward equity and justice for all.”
Here are some of the messages shared at the ceremony by student leaders:
Quakers are known worldwide for their Peace Testimony – their belief that bearing weapons and killing others is wrong. The Peace Testimony grows out of the Quaker belief that there is that of God (or goodness… or truth…) in every person, and therefore no person should be purposely killed. The earliest known public statement of the Peace Testimony was made in 1661, in a declaration to Charles II, King of England: “We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretense whatsoever; This is our testimony to the whole world.”
- Every year Quakers in New York State’s Yearly Meeting take the time to develop “queries” – open-ended questions they want people to reflect on. We want to share TWO QUERIES that are particularly relevant to the Quaker Peace Testimony:
- Query Number 4 – Are love and unity fostered among us? If differences arise, do we endeavor to reconcile them in a spirit of love and truth?
- Query Number 11 – Do we foster reverence for life? Do we strive to find, to understand, and to remove causes of misery and suffering? Do we, in loving concern, extend assistance to those who need it?
- Our query for today’s ceremony is “What can we learn from the words, the images, and the ornaments that are shared today, and how can this knowledge lead us?