Eye of the storm – The Northern Gateway Pipeline

By Sharon Montgomery, facilitator

The inaugural meeting of Eye of the Storm took place at Knox United Church on Thursday, Nov. 8.  The intention of this noon-hour discussion group was to address the controversy created when the United Church General Council rejected the continued development of the Northern Gateway Pipeline.

When that motion came from GC41 in August it caused consternation and strong feelings amongst United Church members in Calgary.

When Moderator Rev. Garry Patterson addressed Calgary churches during October, he was bombarded with questions and accusations about unfairness and impulsive reactions.  This meeting at Knox presented people with an opportunity to express their frustrations and ask questions, in a search for better understanding of why the United Church categorically rejected the Northern Gateway Pipeline.

The Justice Ministry at Knox United decided to call this meeting  the Eye of the Storm, because of Knox’s geographical position in downtown Calgary.

Like the eye of a storm, the centre is calm, and enables a wider view.  When in the centre, a person can assess the breadth and depth of the surrounding confluence.  The Knox poster invited ‘truth and respect and creativity into discussion.  We want to look at the big picture, be true to our role as stewards of the earth and support our fellow creatures.

This appeal resulted in 22 people coming together to talk, listen and learn.

The group was diverse, several with experience in the oil and gas industry, all with strong convictions and broad knowledge.  We used first names only, in order to encourage people to speak truth from their heart, mind and soul, rather than reflect a business or political affiliation.  Each person had equal opportunity to speak within the three smaller groups, following principles and process described in Peace and Power: Creative Leadership for Building Community, by Peggy L. Chinn.

One significant feature of the process is a rotating chair, so that the chairperson was the person currently speaking.  Hand signals were used to indicate agreement or disagreement and a desire to speak, and the chair passed to whomever was recognized as next to speak.  This process differs from lectures or panels.  In the Eye of the Storm, all people in attendance have equal power and equal opportunity to speak.  Thus, respect for diversity is integral to the process.

After 30 minutes of small group discussion, the participants contributed to a list of concerns and thoughts.

From a broad range of viewpoints and opinions the main points I noted were:

  • An objection to the ‘categorical rejection’ by the United Church, which did not appear to consider opposing  information, and closed debate.  This is unlike the United Church.
  • Why are we shipping a product that cannot be cleaned up?
  • How do we effectively organize to stop the Northern Gateway Pipeline?
  • We need tighter environmental regulations.  Is that possible under the current provincial or federal governments?
  • How can technology affect the risk?
  • How can we best share information? (several people offered websites for reference)
  • What about developing Canadian refineries rather than shipping bitumen?
  • What is the impact on aboriginal communities?

Feedback since the meeting has offered a few points to ponder.

Given the wide gap of knowledge between the attendees, it might be helpful to suggest a common reference for everyone to read prior to the next meeting.  Several people noted the websites suggested by others.  In addition, I wonder just how well attendees understood the reasoning behind the motion at GC41.  We quickly moved to general concerns related to the Northern Gateway Pipeline, and may not have explained the intent of the GC41 motion which was to support B.C. First Nations communities (most of which are opposed to the pipeline).

If you wish further background information, visit www.gc41.ca; www.ucobserver.org, or www.kairoscanada.org to read Ethical Reflections on the Northern Gateway Pipeline.

At the conclusion of the meeting, people shared what they got by attending, and stated if they wished to continue meeting.  Fifteen of 22 people asked to be contacted about a future meeting, with a desire to explore more fully the bigger picture.  We want to move to a higher (deeper?) level, and continue to talk, listen and learn.  We decided to meet again on a Thursday noon-hour, in a bigger room.  The main question people wish to address is:  What is Sustainability?  Who defines it?  How does the church’s  definition differ from the oil and gas industry?  From governments?  What is our place in the mix?

The next two meetings are Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 and Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013.

Those who left their contact information will be notified about these events, which will be held in Knox Parlour, seating  people at round tables.  You are encouraged to attend and bring others.  This is a flexible group with neither fees nor pre-requisites.  Drop-ins are welcome, and attendance at one session does not indicate an obligation to continue.  People who attend require only interest and desire to speak, listen, and learn.  Bring Your Own Lunch. Knox Church provides tea and coffee.

Pre-registration is not necessary, but would be appreciated so we know how much coffee to prepare.

Register for the next meetings at 403-269-8382.

I will continue to facilitate these noon-hour sessions for the present time.  I am excited and encouraged by the attendance and involvement of so many knowledgeable people.  It was superb to hear the exchange of information and ideas, and to see the growth within and amongst us.  I felt that Spirit was blessing us as we talked.  May the blessings continue.

For further information, or to comment, email Sharon at shmontgo@telus.net

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