Sunday Workshops

1. Meditation as a sustainable energy

At a time when many people working in social and environmental justice experience exhaustion, burnout and despair, this workshop will explore how the practice of meditation can support our work and ensure it is sustainable and life-giving in the long-term.

Activist, author and meditator Donna Mulhearn will facilitate this timely discussion with two busy fellow-meditators, Doctors for the Environment campaigner Dr. Sujata Allan and former QLD MP and Cabinet Minister, Rachel Nolan. The workshop will include time for discussion and Q&A with the panellists. 

Dr Sujata Allan (panellist) has been meditating since a young age, having grown up in a family of Tibetan Buddhist practitioners. She currently works as a GP registrar and is involved in environmental activism with the group Doctors for the Environment Australia, which works to raise awareness of the health impacts of climate change and fossil fuels, and to advocate for a healthy sustainable society.
She is interested in the interconnectedness of meditation, ethics and activism and is also involved in an ‘engaged Buddhism’ movement with the Sydney Buddhist Centre, using meditation and the awareness of interdependence to inspire environmental and social justice activism.

Rachel Nolan (panellist) is a former MP and Cabinet Minister, having been elected as Member for Ipswich at the age of 26 in 2001 and serving as a Senior Minister – for Transport, Finance, the Arts and Natural Resources.
After leaving politics in 2012, she travelled extensively, walking the Camino and parts of the Israel Trail and undertaking a (near) overland journey from Ireland to Indonesia.  She now writes for The Monthly, is an Adjunct Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Queensland, sits on boards and owns a cafĂ© in Ipswich, her home town.

Activist, writer and speaker Donna Mulhearn (facilitator) was a human shield during the war in Iraq and returned several times as an aid worker, human rights observer and researcher focusing on the impact of toxic weapons on the Iraqi community. She is a journalist, former political adviser and currently setting up a small retreat centre and permaculture property in the Blue Mountains. Donna is active in peace, human rights and environmental issues and recently spent time at the Pilliga Coal Seam Gas protest and Leard Forest blockade. Featured on ABC’s Australian Story program, her book, Ordinary Courage, a memoir about her experience as a human shield, was published in 2010. Inspired by the ‘Peace Prayer’ of St Francis of Assisi, Donna describes herself as a 'Pilgrim and Storyteller." She practices a spirituality of action and contemplation which includes Christian Meditation, labyrinths, playing the celtic harp, living simply and the odd act of nonviolent civil disobedience!
2. “Listening to the Earth - Interfaith Voices on Meditation”
Facilitated by the Faith & Ecology Network (FEN), this workshop will bring together three people from different faiths to share their experience of meditation and how it relates to ecological awareness and action (three faiths in the first morning session and three different faiths in the second afternoon session). It will include time for questions and interaction. Participants will be from Aboriginal, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim faiths.

The Faith & Ecology Network is an interfaith network of people connecting faith with ecological awareness and care.

 3. Emotional Responses to Ecological Crises
"Do we have the courage to face the realities of our time and allow ourselves to feel deeply enough that it transforms us - and our future?" - Chris Jordan.
As we awaken to the various crises facing the habitability of the planet, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. For most of us, the more we learn about the problems, the more we experience a range of uncomfortable emotional responses: anxiety, anger, guilt, dread, betrayal, grief and powerlessness. What do we do with these and how do we handle them such that they don't end up paralysing our ability to meaningfully contribute to addressing the crises? How can we help others to respond well too? This session will seek answers that are grounded in both eco-psychological insights as well as Christian thought and practice.

Byron Smith (presenter) is completing a PhD in theological ethics through the University of Edinburgh on emotional responses to climate change. He is Assistant Minister at St George's Anglican Church, Paddington. He frequently speaks and writes about ecological ethics, especially for Christian contexts. He has authored a number of scholarly articles and book chapters, is a climate consultant for Common Grace and has joined in creative peaceful direct actions against new coal projects. Byron lives in a community house in Paddington with four adults, two children, a rabbit, two worm farms and a beehive.

4. Eco Justice - Campaigning, Advocacy and Direct Action

This workshop will explore where the rubber hits the road in terms of different types of activism.  From mass rallies to divestment campaigning, from meetings with political leaders to nonviolent direct action, it will look at some of the theory of activism as well as opportunities to get involved in current environmental campaigns.  This interactive workshop will be facilitated by Miriam Pepper and Thea Ormerod with input from other environmental activists.   

Miriam Pepper (facilitator) is passionate about faith and ecology/the environment, and has been on a journey working with churches, other faith groups and community groups in taking action for more than ten years. She is the Uniting Earth Ministry Consultant with the Uniting Church NSW/ACT Synod, a researcher with the National Church Life Survey and a fellow at Australian Catholic University.

Thea Ormerod describes herself as a Catholic Christian, grandmother of seven, climate activist and social worker. She has been involved in social justice issues for over thirty years, mostly focussing on global poverty, trade injustices and developing country debt. She is currently the President of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change.

5. Laudato Si – Going Deeper

This workshop will offer a deeper exploration of the contemplative beauty of Laudato Si and dialogue to engage with the challenges it presents to us.
Facilitated by Catholic Earthcare  Program Manager Simon Habel
 Simon Habel (presenter) is the Program Manager for Catholic Earthcare Australia. He is an environmental and a not- for- prot professional, with over 25 years’ experience across both government and non-government organisations. He has 20 years’ experience working globally on biodiversity conservation for organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the South Australian Department of Environment and Heritage and as Head of Conservation at Adelaide Zoo. During this time he helped develop and manage an Integrated Conservatioon and Development Project (ICDP) in Papua New Guinea involving WWF and Exxon.
He led delegations to the United Nations convention on trade in endangered species and was an advisor to the Australian and Vanuatu governments on species trade on separate occasions. Simon also managed the Adelaide Botanic Gardens.  Most recently he was the NSW/ACT Regional Leader for the National Energy Efficiency Network (NEEN), a project of Catholic Earthcare Australia. Simon grew up in the US of Australian parents and attended Flinders University for his undergraduate science degree and Adelaide University for his Masters in Environmental Studies. Simon is married with four children and lives in Sydney’s Northern Beaches area.

6. The Aboriginal Gift – Ecology, spirituality & community  
Despite loss of land, language, law, ceremony and social structure, Aboriginal spirituality has persisted into modern times as a core of values, attitudes and practices.
How can Aboriginal perspectives on ecology, spirituality and community enrich other Australians? Exploring the themes of ‘Dadirri’ mysticism, community living, reverence for life and land and celebrations and spirituality, senior Dharug man Chris Tobin and writer, researcher and scholar David Tacey will discuss how Aboriginal wisdom can be a gift for all. 

 Chris Tobin is an Aboriginal man from Western Sydney who resides in the Blue Mountains. He is one of the Darug people, who are the Traditional Custodians over much of the Sydney region. Chris is employed by NSW National Parks and Wildlife service as an Aboriginal Discovery Ranger providing cultural talks and presentations to school and visitor groups to the Blue Mountains for the past 15 years.
Chris was one of seven elected representatives of his people to sit down with the State government to try to work out an Indigenous Land Use Agreement as part of the Native Title process for the Darug people.
Chris is also a practicing artist and runs an Aboriginal Art camp up in the Blue Mountains each Saturday morning for people to meet up and share art and culture around a camp fire. His passion is sharing the stories of his country and its people with those that have an interest in learning more gentle and sustainable ways to live upon on the earth.

David Tacey grew up in central Australia alongside Aboriginal cultures, and has a life-long interest in indigenous issues. He is Emeritus Professor of Humanities at La Trobe University, Melbourne, and Research Professor at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, Canberra. He is an interdisciplinary scholar and public intellectual who has written extensively on spirituality, religion, mental health and eco-psychology. He is the author of fourteen books, including Edge of the Sacred; Re-Enchantment and The Spirituality Revolution.

7. What is eco spirituality and how do we live it?

Paradigm shifts in our understanding of how everything began (the Big Bang), the nature of stuff (quantum theory), how Earth works (plate tectonics), and the web of life (evolution and ecology) have shifted us from a static to a dynamic worldview. How we think about God is deeply affected by this, so what might a transformed spirituality look like?

Eco spirituality reflects the biological and spiritual web of life. This workshop will explore the essence and some of the essential elements of this web from aesthetical and practical points of view, using works of art, poetry and photos. The influence of different cosmologies including the new universe story on images of God, eco- spirituality and theology will be opened for discussion.
Linda Chapman (facilitator), Panel: Deborah Guess, Valda Dickinson and Br Kevin McDonnell

Dr Deborah Guess (panellist) is an academic working in the area of ecological theology. She is an Honorary Postdoctoral Associate at the University of Divinity, Melbourne and teaches Christianity and Ecology to postgraduates. Deborah has been practicing and teaching Christian Meditation for over twenty years. She also has a practical interest in sustainable living and grows fruit and vegetables on her garden-farm in Warburton based on permaculture principles.

Valda Dickinson RSM (panellist) “Early in life I was awakened to the Spiritual. While my images of God and ways of praying have changed and evolved, the early seduction has remained.
“Over the years, I have been privileged to share the spiritual journey with a rich variety of people including my religious sisters, tertiary students and staff at ACU, school and community groups throughout the world, refugees and asylum seekers in Africa and Australia. This has sharpened my awareness of differences and the deeper unifying meeting places among diverse social, cultural and religious traditions. It has helped me to keep a spiritual focus in the midst of a normal, busy life with its joys and challenges.
“My formal education includes: PhD, BA (Hons) (Macq), Bachelor of Theology (SCD), Masters in Spirituality and Culture (HNU).”

Kevin McDonnell (panellist):  “In my teens I had the good fortune to find my first fossil, a Triassic fern-like plant, and also to read The Gospel Story by the ‘two Ronnies’, Ronald Knox and Ronald Cox, two British priests and bible scholars who were ahead of their time in interpreting the New Testament. The first ignited a life-long passion for the Earth and the extraordinary story preserved in its rocks, and the second an equally strong passion for studying the Bible. These two strands of my life have now come together in a way I never expected, with the world-wide surge of interest over the past 20 years or so in eco-theology and creation spirituality.
Along the way I have taught science in schools, been encouraged by my religious Brothers to obtain a BSc (UQ), MSc(Hons) and PhD (Macq), done geological research in the Sydney Basin, been involved in administration and adult education, and started a Catholic Bible College in Johannesburg, South Africa. In my latter years I enjoy sharing with others the journey we are on towards the Mystery that is the source of all interconnectedness, and the source of hope for transformation of the whole of creation. I also enjoy bushwalking and lots of other things.

Linda Chapman (facilitator) Linda is the Rector of the Anglican Parish of Moruya, an Oblate of the World Christian Meditation Community and a Spiritual Director following her time at the Mary McKillop Centre, Sydney. She established Open Sanctuary, a place of contemplative ecumenical gathering and creation spirituality, on the NSW South Coast at Tilba Tilba.

Linda has given expression to her passion for nature through her involvement in the Diocesan Commission for the Environment, teaching eco-theology and as a committed campaigner and speaker. She nurtures the Christian contemplative way, leads retreats and dialogues with other faith traditions

8. Voices from the Pacific  

This workshop will reveal first-hand how climate change is already affecting the low-lying islands of the Pacific. Maria Tiimon from Kiribati will explain the dramatic impact rising sea levels is having on the fragile environment and way of life of Pacific Islander communities.
“Our Land is so important to us; we rely on our land as our main source of living. We get our water, foods and medicine from our Lands. If we lost our Lands our people in the Pacific will also lose their identity. We must find ways to reconcile with our environment and save our cosmos.”

Maria Tiimon (presenter) is a Kiribati woman. She now resides permanently in Australia, and works as Pacific Outreach Officer for the Pacific Calling Partnership at the Edmund Rice Centre in Sydney. Her role includes raising awareness in schools and communities of how climate change is affecting Pacific islands and building a strong relationship between the Australians and Pacific Islanders in order to work together to combat climate change.

Maria has represented the Pacific Calling Partnership at international meetings and conferences where she has been able to present the human face of climate change. She was a member of the PCP delegation that went to the UN Conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December 2009, Cancun in December 2010 and Paris 2015.

9. What matters in living sustainably? Where Quakers testimonies meet permaculture principles  
We want to do something about global warming. Our hearts are engaged through love of the Earth and the beauty and life she offers us.  However so many don’t know where to start.  Is it with paper bags, is it with insulation? Should we plant a tree? How can we know where it matters?
Quakers testimonies i.e. living our beliefs out in our everyday lives provides a starting point for thinking about the issues.  For example if we start with Peace we look at violence in all its structural, social and military forms and then live out alternatives.  Then continue through the other testimonies Integrity, Simplicity, Community and the Environment.  And now we have the branches.  From here, it can still be difficult to know which path to take.  So the Permaculture Principles beginning with three ethics:   Care of the Earth, Care of People and Share surplus to your needs, start to refine our thinking and actions.   Permaculture takes us from these three principles through a series of steps to guide actions which restore forests, soils, watershed and species.  It is sad that we don’t know how to do this naturally, but we don’t.  Yet, when we learn how to, it feels completely natural.
With this comes the quietness and eyes required to observe, to think, to wait, to intervene where it matters.  Many actions and thoughts come into perspective.

So this beautiful marriage of Quaker testimony and Permaculture Principles takes us into a way of being creative, sharing inhabitants of Earth instead of consumers.

Rosemary Morrow is an internationally renowned Permaculture teacher. She trained in agricultural science at Sydney University, rural sociology at the Sorbonne in Paris, development at Reading UK and horticulture at TAFE but, after spending time in Africa, she realized there needed to be a better alternative to conventional agricultural practices. She found this in the ethics and integrated applied science of permaculture, and has been teaching permaculture ever since. She is the author of numerous publications including The Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture, which has been translated into 7 languages, and The Earth User’s Guide to Teaching Permaculture has been translated into 2 languages.

For almost 40 years Rosemary has worked extensively with farmers and villagers in Africa, Central and South East Asia and Eastern Europe. Rosemary has especially dedicated much of her efforts to the people of war-torn nations such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and East Timor, and to communities experiencing the serious effects of climate change like the Solomon Islands, and the effects of the GFC, like Spain and Portugal. She found the Quaker testimonies which are required to be lived out by all Quakers:  Peace, Simplicity, Integrity, Community and Environment were best put into practice for a small footprint and sustainable living through permaculture principles.
10. Climate conversations: changing personal and social stories for action on climate change.

When it comes to climate change, how do we move from silence to speech, from denial to discussion, from distance to immediacy, from isolation to solidarity and from hopelessness to empowerment?
People are able to talk endlessly about the weather. Yet for some reason it’s surprisingly hard to have good-quality conversations about the climate which connect with our deepest identities and values and which empower action. This workshop aims to provide practical tools (as well as insights from psychology, sociology and theology) for dealing with difficult discussions, sparring with sceptics, and conversing in church about climate change. 

Ben Thurley (presenter) is married to Lyndall and has two boys, Gabe (12) and Jake (7). He’s been working with Micah Australia for the last four years, first as Political Engagement Coordinator and now as National Coordinator. 

Before that, Ben and his family lived and worked in Nepal as Advocacy Advisor with United Mission to Nepal and with TEAR Australia.

Holding degrees in Arts, Education and Theology, Ben is passionate about encouraging and equipping Australia Christians to stand and speak up for justice and peace and is part of the Lalor Park Cafe Church community in Sydney's west.

11. Voluntary Simplicity in Action

How do we work towards a lifestyle that nurtures all in the Earth community without sacrificing human convenience? How can we respond to an overwhelming, all-pervasive “growth economy” which demands way more than Earth can give? Drawing on the work of Charles Eisenstein, Naomi Klein, Samuel Alexander and the practices of Rahamim Ecology Centre, this workshop will encourage participants to share and hear about examples of De-growth: simple living with Earth in mind, nurturing reciprocity and fulfilment without the “martyrdom”.  

Sally Neaves (presenter) After 13 years in global-issues resolution education in International Schools in Asia and Australia, Sally now combines her background in theology and ecology to facilitate eco-spirituality programs for adults and school groups at Rahamim Ecology Centre, Bathurst NSW, a demonstration permaculture site and ministry of the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea. Her recent publication, An Ethnography of EarthSong, documents the emergence of Eco-Spirituality in the context of Catholic religious institutes in Melbourne.

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