Speaking Truth to Power
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 24th August, 2008
This morning I went to Meeting for Worship at Quaker House, Brussels, for the first time for several years. When I visit ‘the capital of Europe’ these days, it’s almost always during the working week, for meetings — and indeed I will be at the European Parliament for most of the coming week, to sit in on a Group Week of the ALDE (Liberal) Group and a seminar on religious fundamentalism. But I was glad I stuck on a weekend beforehand (even though I was thus unable to accept a TV slot back in London yesterday!) so I could catch up with some old friends and to see what has happened to the Quaker centre in whose creation I participated over 30 years ago.
In the 1970s a number of us who were members or attenders of the Religious Society of Friends (as the Quakers are formally known) and were working in Brussels developed a ‘concern’ to have an office in the Belgian capital, to monitor what was going on at the European Commission and other European institutions, as well as NATO (which also has its headquarters here), to report back to Friends worldwide and to lobby on issues on which we felt the Quakers had a particular message. This latter activity was called historically ‘speaking truth to power’, though unlike George Fox and William Penn, few Quakers today would use such language to describe it. This concern led to the creation of the Quaker Council for European Affairs (QCEA), of which I was the first Secretary, and which still thrives today, working on a whole range of issues from conscientious objection to energy security and terrorism.
QCEA still has its base in Quaker House, a glorious building in the Square Ambiorix, just a stone’s throw from the European Commission. If I recall accurately, we bought it for sixty thousand pounds. I’ve no idea how much it is worth today (in London it would be several million pounds), but that is not the point. It is not the value of the historic building itself but the value of the work done inside that counts. Having been absent for so long, it was great to be back.