Quaker Voluntary Action

From 12 to 19 September 2015, Bernie Plaister of Canterbury Quaker Meeting attended a Quaker Voluntary Action ‘working retreat’ held in Freiburg, Germany. Below is his report.

Eleven of us arrived by train,from different parts of UK, for a week’s retreat in Freiburg, Germany, staying at the Black Forest Hostel. The theme of the retreat was Truth, Transformation and Living Sustainably. We were welcomed by local Friends at a Meeting for Worship on Sunday and shared lunch.

Quaker Voluntary Action: the group assembles in Freiburg
We had many different thoughts and skills, soon becoming a very supportive group in all activities, from shopping, preparing meals, to being there when someone need to talk things through.
German telephone boxes are painted yellow
We visited two community gardens, which I found very informative. We had hoped to do some work on both gardens, but unfortunately the weather precluded us working on the first. The second trip, to a forest garden, was most interesting, and the story behind it showed how a small initial group can grow and make a difference, even if there is some local hostility.
A forest garden in the Black Forest, Germany
Tours and talks were given on the ‘green’ initiatives in Freiburg. We were also given an introduction to up-to-the-minute technology for ‘green’ energy production.


Evenings were spent talking over what we had learnt and seen in relation to the retreat’s theme, and also about our own Quaker practice.
I came away from the retreat strengthened in my spirit and enthused to proceed further, if possible, in ‘greening’ our Meeting.

Quaker Voluntary Action is an independent Quaker charity, the mission of which is to provide practical opportunities to put faith into action and to develop new ways of volunteering that meet the challenges of our time. It aims:
  • To offer support and encouragement to Quaker Meetings in translating their concerns into action
  • To witness to the value of volunteering and foster interest in volunteering in projects with practical outcomes
  • To develop our links across Europe and provide opportunities for Friends to meet and work together
  • To provide short-term opportunities for practical volunteering combined with personal spiritual development
Quaker Voluntary Action organises weekend, mid-week and week-long working retreats in Britain and abroad. Venues include Quaker Meeting Houses and Swarthmoor Hall (the home of George Fox and the cradle of Quakerism). The retreat in October 2015 will be to Ramallah, Palestine/Israel. Retreats offer a balance of practical work in the grounds with time for spiritual reflection. Accommodation is either at the venue itself or staying with local Friends. Participants cook and eat together, sharing relaxation time and informal evening activities. Practical tasks are not arduous and can include gardening, decorating and light maintenance. Guided retreat sessions, group worship and personal quiet time are woven into the rhythm of the day which ends with an evening epilogue.

Freiburg is known as an “eco-city”. It has attracted […] solar industries and research; the Greens have a stronghold there (the strongest in any major German city; up to 35% of the overall city vote, in some neighbourhoods reaching 40% or more in the 2012 national elections). The newly built neighbourhoods […] were developed and built according to the idea of sustainability. The citizens of Freiburg are known in Germany for their love of cycling and recycling.