Sunday, December 09, 2007

The passing of a Peacemaker 

Most of you probably never heard of Steve Williams, but you should.

Steve and his wife Sue were the Resident Friends at Quaker House Belfast during the most explosive stage of the recent Troubles. They created an island of calm in which people literally violently opposed could start to make some kind of other contact. To the end of his life Steve was quietly discreet about his dealings with such people as Gerry Adams and various Loyalist Paramilitaries…

Someday the work of such quiet background peacemakers will be recognised and properly celebrated.

Steve and Sue also worked in other trouble spots such as the Caucasus regions of the former USSR. An account of some of their work is in their book ‘Being in the Middle by Being on the Edge’.

Steve died very suddenly at home this week in Milton Keynes. Celebrations of his life will be on Friday 14th December again in Milton Keynes.

As a way of summing up their approach to their work, here is what Sue wrote about Quaker peace work in 1988…

Establishing pacifist credentials has taken us collectively a long time, and entailed quite some suffering. How can a group without hierarchy or creed demonstrate that it will not participate in war and 'fighting with outward weapons'? Only when individuals, one after another, across time and space, live out their convictions, so that choices made in different situations still seem to come together as a pattern. Amazingly, we are now widely known as people who will not fight in wars. Not only this, we are almost as widely known for having intervened in wars to try to alleviate suffering on all sides...

Beyond the general notion of pacifism, the situation here has lent a special urgency to our reputation for harmlessness. By this I mean that, as a Friend, I am not only unwilling to serve as a soldier, but unwilling to take up arms in my private capacity. This may not sound like much, but it puts me in a special relationship to political leaders here: they believe that I will not kill them. And they don't believe that of everyone they meet. More to the point, they accept that I don't want them dead, even when I disagree with them. And this too is something they cannot take for granted. It is surprisingly freeing for all of us. I'm sure they don't want to kill me, either.
So I feel free to agree with them sometimes, disagree sometimes, without worrying about who else I agree or disagree with in the process, and taking for granted that neither of us wishes to kill the other.

(QFP 28.37)

We will miss Steve in the troubled years we have ahead. He and Sue followed the Quaker advice to ‘Live Adventurously’. (Advices and Queries 27). A hard and sobering example to follow.

Steve, thank you for your life.

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