Where next for Quaker gatherings?

 

Recently I’ve noted an uptick in conversations about how we will gather as Friends longterm going forward.  That’s not surprising – the “emergency” of having to jump onto zoom or decide what to do in the wake of the virus is waning.  We know more about how to keep each other safe, and the advent of vaccines has been helpful for many.

 

What new obstacles might me encounter?  What new opportunities might we find as we move into this new shape of gathering?  As I listen to the concerns of many, I am struck by how being agile and flexible, and attending to the needs of our own individual meetings, might hold an answer.

It seems like those meetings who have a clear sense of what they are led to do, and a center of who they are led to be – are having an easier time with discernment.  The technology is often the easy part – but the bigger questions about outreach and membership and what is gathered worship (and where can it happen?) seem important to think about first.

I’ve thought often about a time pre-pandemic when I had to think about our parameters for worship.  While planning for a large Yearly Meeting gathering, there was a concern for where we would hold the opening worship.  Some Friends wanted a very quiet room, off to the side, where we could be assured of deep silence.  Others felt this was the perfect time to be in a public place, with a public witness of worship with Friends right in the center of the the campus.  Both of these these experiences and locations had spiritual merit.  How would we choose?

Quakers seem to me to be a people of process. We have a tradition of listening deeply, considering what we hear, being open to new paths, and retaining what is still called of us.  How are we using that skill to listen for what is required of us now?

One of the gifts of traveling among Friends is that I am introduced to many modes of gathering in worship and fellowship and service in communities.  Saying “we Quakers do this” seems very tricky to me sometimes!

There are meetings that switched to zoom, and are still there have not returned to any in-person worship.

There are meetings that stayed open in-person in all but the worst parts of the pandemic, with open windows and folks masked and sitting 8 feet apart.  They may not have had internet, or did not feel unsafe based on their sense of risk at the time.

There are meetings that had weekly tech discussions, purchased and learned about complicated equipment to discern how to be a blended meeting, and worship takes place both in a meeting house and online. They hired tech help.  They created new volunteer positions.

There are meetings that use a different version of technology every week to create an experience – maybe they started with a simple phone connection, now they’s added a camera, or a microphone.

There are meetings that have gained new members from all over the world – and welcomed back former members who had moved away and can now join virtually – but probably rarely if ever “in person” again.

There are meetings that are encouraged and enlivened by this new activity, this ease of gathering, this accessibility for many.

There are meetings that are exhausted.  Sometimes the burden of a hybrid meeting set up falls to those in the meetinghouse. Meetings that we already struggling to find volunteers have been stretched.

There are meetings that have lost attenders in a move to zoom.  Parents, kids already “zoomed out”, physical learners and those who need in person engagement. Will they return or have they found other spiritual homes?

In some ways these questions do not seem new for the Religious Society of Friends.  They just seem to be happening in response to a more universal moment in time.

What has been your overall sense of this time for your meeting?

Many of these current conversations are happening in a Facebook group I manage:

Quaker Gatherings: best practices and creative explorations

Come check it out!

 

 

 

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A view of “the great people to be gathered” – worship at Britain Yearly Meeting

In 1652, George Fox journeyed towards the north-west:

As we went I spied a great high hill called Pendle Hill, and I went on the top of it with much ado, it was so steep; but I was moved of the Lord to go atop of it; and when I came atop of it I saw Lancashire sea; and there atop of the hill I was moved to sound the day of the Lord; and the Lord let me see atop of the hill in what places he had a great people to be gathered.

This week I’ve been attending Britain Yearly Meeting via zoom. I’ve been deeply grateful for their planning, their framing and clear directions, and inclusion of various Friends in various physical and geographical spaces.

Yesterday was the gathering’s large meeting for worship.  It was an intentional, multi-location gathering. Some Friends were in the traditional main gathering space, which Quakers in BYM call “the Light”. Others (like me!) were in our homes all over the world.

A third group of attendees delighted me.  They were meetings of many sizes, gathered  in various locations, all using their own single connection as a group  to the wide body.  As I scrolled down on my phone I saw group after group, sitting in expectant waiting.  Here’s a  description from Paul Parker, BYM recording clerk: “the extraordinary experience of All-together worship on Sunday morning, with 78 meetings joining from their meeting houses, 250 Friends online, several hundred in Friends House, the Young People’s Programme in Hemel Hempstead, and many Friends worshipping together with us all in spirit. “

This was for me a new experience in gathering.  In most large gatherings I’ve been involved with at this point, it’s been assumed that there is one “meeting place” geographically, folks in a room.  There are then other folks that zoom in as individuals.  See diagram 1: All the connections center those physically located in the Quaker meetinghouse.

 

Not this morning at Britain Yearly Meeting worship (afternoon for them!)  Here each zoom window showed a group of Friends, each in their own worship gathering, their own local meeting or worship group.  How does this shift change how we think about gathering?  See diagram 2: All the connections center around those physically located in varied spaces – including Quaker meetinghouses and other small groups/individuals.

In addition – there were even more groups worshipping at the same time, in their own groups and homes, not connected via zoom at all.  Some other helps I noticed:

** Even in unprogrammed worship, the clerk had the authority to call on Friends, and direct microphone spacers to them in the Light, or ask the tech hosts to unmute folks with a raised digital hand who might have a message to offer.

** Behind the clerks table was a large screen with tiny zoom boxes.  I don’t think anyone there in person could make out individual faces, and there were over 200 zoom boxes at times, more than could be displayed on a single screen.  But it seemed to me that it was a constant visual reminder for those in the room or the rest of the body, gathered together and located in different physical spaces.

** The clerk in meeting for business would often tell Friends “we have time for more ministry” or “we have time for one or two more messages”.  The body was kept informed of time limits.  Discipline was required of everyone, and expectations were laid out in advance and very clear.

“and the Lord let me see atop of the hill in what places he had a great people to be gathered.” – Im seeing this in a new light today.  I do not think that Pendle Hill was THE place to gather on that day.  Or any day. George Fox didn’t see it that way either – he was shown “all the places”.  Maybe I saw them today too.

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A mover and a Quaker (not Shaker)

Yesterday I had the honor and gift of accompanying in prayer a group of faithful individuals, being sentenced by the state for their faithful actions.  You may read more about the details here.

One particular moment stayed with me after that day.  The judge, in his efforts to explain his decisions, told us that Friend Jay (one of the four participants on trial) was obviously the “mover and the shaker” of the group – i.e. an instigator and responsible for more of the actions, and therefore the fines.  I have some factual insights that would disprove that – but the phrase and its implications – and what I heard in that moment, has remained with me.

Friend Jay’s not a “mover and a shaker” – he’s a mover and a Quaker. And some of this is a silly play on words – but for me it reminds me of the greater motivation in all of this.

The actual Shakers (this is not what the judge meant of course, but this is what I heard) were a religious sect that had an astounding successful presence right down the road from Concord (where we were at the time) in Canterbury, NH.  They were innovative – the first group to bring wired electricity to the area.  They were community builders – they took in orphans and unhoused folks, gave them food and purpose and a family if they chose to stay.  They were spiritual – they made everything they did about being attentive to God.

The Quakers were not the Shakers.  I’m often confused with that group, by folks who just think old-timey bonneted religious extinct folks are all the same.  So where did the Shakers go?  As part of their long term plan to increase their numbers, they required all members to live a segregated life, away from the world, in their communities.  They would interact in small ways with the locals – but membership and belonging was defined by being not a part of “the world”.  They also were celibate – so they did not produce their own community members and future generations.  This didn’t work out long term.  There are a few Shakers left, but not many. Quakers did this too in some ways in our history.  We called it not being “of the world” and spoke of a “hedge” dividing us from all the other folks of other religions who didn’t act like us.  We built our own schools and communities to provide for our own membership.  Our plain dress, and plain speech showed a physical separation from those around us.  Being peculiar was a religious call, not just being a little weird.

But back to Friend Jay, the Quaker-not-Shaker. What did the judge get wrong?  Here’s what I saw yesterday, and throughout these actions.  Jay experienced a clear call from the Divine.  It wasn’t neat and pretty – sometimes it fit the wider movement, sometimes not. Jay tested this leading with his community.  Both West Falmouth, and then Portland Meeting accompanied Jay in this process.  He may not have always been led to follow the laws of the land – but he was required to follow the discernment of his oversight committee and they multiple Friends he prayed with and sat with and listened to God with. Jay didn’t act alone.  Sometimes it was with others on a bridge, and a lot of folks praying for him after they heard about it on social media, in NEYM committees and lots of places.  Jay wasn’t in this for personal free publicity.  I had to bring that up – the judge and the prosecution kept asserting that “free publicity” was a motivating factor.  I’m sure in some secular ways it could be.  It was not here. His support teams (and the actual publicity teams of various organizations and news outlets) made sure of that.   Jay’s actions were not determined by possible outcomes.  Thomas Merton (not a Quaker) says “we are not called to be effective – but be faithful”.  That does not exclude wonderful, successful positive outcomes.  But the call is to do the work, and let God change hearts, or do the other things we can’t see.  Jay was called to do his piece. He cares deeply about results – this is an emergency.  But he trusts in the One who can do more than any of us humans can.  We Quakers partner with that One. Jay’s actions were always led by Love.  This is what is so hard about all of this.  That Divine love requires love of our neighbor – and that includes the law enforcement folks, the coal train drivers, the judges, they system that is failing us.  We do not have to love the system and human failures.  But we are required to embrace and encourage the love and that-of-the-divine in everyone in each moment. I find that harder sometimes than the big actions – the work of our hearts.

We Quakers also believe that this access to the Divine – peace, love, goodness, benefit to all – is not limited by being named a “Quaker” or being “religious”.  You know who else did all that stuff I observed Jay doing?  The others in this movement.  AND yes, the three other folks on trial – AND all the folks who donated time and money and prayers and food and the little things that made it possible for these folks to do their powerful part.

The judge at one point referred to their actions as seeming to be of “the privilege of having the time and wealth to be a nuisance”.  A hobby of political action and attention-getting, if you will.  He missed the point.  He dismissed the actions of so many, the upswell of love and all the little ways known only to God and to those who speak them.  The people who are called to save us all. (photo of trial support, by No Coal No Gas campaign)

An ironic note: the judge graduated from Haverford.  He noted that perhaps his Quaker education there, and Jay’s at Earlham (both small Quaker colleges) was different.  I agree. 😉

I also noted, in our debrief afterwards, a sharing from the whole community.  We wondered in sadness about the systems of law that fail so many.  This experience exposed us to how others in our world are treated – not just by destroying their clean air and water and living environment via climate change – but by removing their very humanity and dignity.  The judge reminded us that the defendants were “good people” – not like the “drug addicts and thieves” he saw so often in court. I am exactly like those drug addicts and thieves.  Beloved by God all the same.  So is the judge.  To have that conversation, and hear the defendants worry about the judge’s well being and humanity in this system, was also very “Quakerly” to me!  Walking humbly, in love and mercy, is required at all times.  What a gift it is to be with a community that demonstrates that experientially.

Resources to learn more:

about Jay’s climate actions and a little lobster boat

about the Climate Disobedience center and their ongoing work

local NH actions through the eyes of another faithful minister/reporter, Arnie Alpert

More about Quaker support committees

 

 

 

 

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Not Bowling Alone.

In 2000 Robert Putnam wrote an important book – Bowling Alone. Putnam talks about social capital, asserts some theories about how we connect in communities, and what drives us as humans. If you are someone who thinks a lot about community (in religious and work and secular settings) like me, this is fascinating work.

David, my dear spouse and my partner in life, is a bowler.  He began in middle school, and has been in bowling leagues (with his parents and friends) basically his whole life.  He’s been in his current adult bowling league (and all of its forms) for over 28 years!

What do I observe about this group?

It has fluid yet consistent overall membership, based on a clear and common goal.

They bowl!  They don’t exchange recipes or study chess. Folks know what they are getting involved in, with dues and rules and a schedule and clear objectives.

People are supported at whatever level they bowl at.  The bowling rankings give you a handicap.  This allows someone like David (a pretty adept lifelong bowler) to bowl on a team with a relative newcomer.  As long as that person is willing to follow the basic bowling rules of the game, their score is weighted to challenge them but not overwhelm while they are learning and having fun.

Social opportunities are varied, organic, and at times slightly more organized.  They always have at least a very basic shared theme of “bowling”.  A few times a year they have a potluck dinner – before and during bowling. At the bowling alley.  Once a year is a catered bowling banquet with music.  It has fun games and awards based on the year’s bowling scores. It rewards beginners, new bowlers, oldest attenders, pretty much anything you can celebrate.

It welcomes varied physical and mental abilities.  This surprised me at first.  I didn’t know bowling was possible if you were in a wheelchair (it is!).  This league has folks from all walks (and rolls) of life.  It is fully accessible as long as you are willing to bowl.  And the game of bowling itself has accomodations for physical limitations. The league meets in an accessible public place, with good parking.

Folks figure out how to get each other to/from bowling league.  The group meets on Sunday nights.  My husband drives two folks every week who need a ride and come from Lawrence.  He doesn’t have to drive lots of folks, just these two.  He accepts that is part of the agreement of bowling in a league for him.

There are organized “field trips” a few times a year beyond the bowling alley in Lowell.  Folks compete in a few state tournaments, and there’s a banquet.  Those always also have a bit of bowling – they are not just getting together to visit.  There is always a clear sense of what this group is formed by and focuses on.

 

 

Other people are welcome to watch (spouses, kids) as long as they can follow the clear rules of bowling.  No walking on that special floor in regular shoes, no running around, no drinking alcohol if you are underage.  You can hang out and watch, but don;t get in the way of what the folks are gathered to do.

So….how does this relate to your Quaker meeting?  This bowling league has outlasted a number of area churches, with no signs of stopping. We live in a world where lots of folks can participate in community online, or locally through work our hobbies.  What does a Quaker meeting provide that keeps folks returning and nourished and supporting of all in the community?

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A Tale of Six Rivers…..

The dawn of the digital age among Friends has brought some new ways of thinking about many of our tradition’s practices.

One of these I see as most impacted is membership.  What does it mean to the Quaker definition of “membership” to no longer be constrained by geography?  Or is geography and a physical location still important?

 

Here’s some recent advice I heard from an interview with Pastor and theologian Eugene Peterson:

We go to a small church. When I was a pastor of a congregation, people would leave and say, “How do I pick a church?”

And my usual question, my usual answer was go to the closest church where you live, and the smallest. And if after six months it’s just not working, go to the next smallest. [laughs] ….you have to deal with people as they are. And you’ve got to learn how to love them when they’re not loveable.

In 2019, my family moved to Methuen. Massachusetts.  Still within driving distance of my Quaker meeting in the Boston area.  Soon after that – the pandemic hit – and we were not driving anywhere for awhile and all on zoom.  Worship on zoom has always been a struggle for me.  I believe in it, I think it is a much needed and great option for folks who cannot travel to a Quaker meeting. My teen cannot participate due to anxiety and screens.  So what holds a community together when the group is meeting electronically?  Quakers are finding many options – some of them I’ve mentioned before.  Our meeting held worship on Sunday morning, and committee meetings.  There was not much other space to be informally connected.  Some meetings started informal outdoor potlucks and gatherings.  Others held “game nights” or other social events on zoom.

One realization that emerged for me was my lack of connection to the physical place where I lived with others in my meeting.  My “news” was never about the same happenings as other folks more local to the place where we used to physically meet in Cambridge.  My former meeting has been caring for a worship group called “three rivers” – even though the group meets online, with folks from all over, the name and grounding refers to a physical space – the Neponset River, Charles/Quinobequin River, and Mystic/Missi Tuck River.

Driving around downtown Lawrence (as I do, every day) a new thought rose in me one day – I have three actual rivers also in my daily life.  “My” rivers are the Merrimack, the Spicket, and the Shawsheen.  My daily travels often follow and cross one or more of them.  Those rivers were the lifeblood of the native peoples here, and then the immigrants who built the mills and communities that still are here today.

After some discernment, and over a year of attending the Lawrence/Andover Meeting (we meet right down the street from where I now live! ) I felt clear to transfer my membership to this local meeting.  We are  6-8 folks most weeks.  That includes a few members who now live in Texas, and join us each week thanks to zoom and our hybrid worship set up.  The worship is nourishing and I am grateful for the opportunity to be present with others in the same physical space.

I am learning what “local” means in this season for me.  Our meeting is partnering with local aid groups.  Members of our meeting witness each week with signs on street corners at the local arms manufacturer, and the town square – speaking to our direct neighbors.  We rent space from a local church, and have relationships with them and other local communities.  My teen attends the public school in the area.  We are local doctors and teachers and service workers in the greater Lawrence area.

My meeting participates in a “river cleanup” here in Lawrence each year. We joke about keeping our small section of the river (the one were are assigned to each year) clean of debris.  It’s a big job. It can’t be done without all of us in the wider community.

I still visit many meetings online for worship.  I’m getting back to traveling among Friends in person as that ministry unfolds in this meeting in this time. But what is most important for me now is the lessons of community.  It’s not just what Peterson says – dealing with and learning to love those in your community.  For me, the community is larger than the members of the meeting. It’s also the local place I am lucky enough to call “home” right now.

How does this impact my thoughts around community and “membership”?  Even though I could attend mostly any meeting anywhere, for me in this time grounding in my own geographical communities’ concerns and joys seems to be where I am called.

 

 

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Creativity and listening in all spaces (even the internet!)

Quaker Meetings and Churches finding new ways of being together.

Part one: overview

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.” – Steve Jobs

In the past few pandemic years, I as a Friend have been in many situations where immediate response was needed, and long term plans were formed.  The amount of change, especially for Quaker meetings (who historically take a long time to decide even small concerns) has seemed at lightning speed.

 

I’ve noticed a few underlying aspects of some meetings and groups that seem to have helped.  When a meeting has a clear sense of its purpose, its primary reasons for existing, and the needs of it members, the resulting necessary changes seem almost “easy” in hindsight.

An example: before Friends start rushing out to research types of microphones to purchase for the hybrid worship that everyone is doing – what does your worshipping community feel about access to messages?  Sound quality in general?  If your meeting has discussed for years the concept of a hearing assist system, without any implementation – why will this new audio process go more smoothly, or quicker?  Why is being able to hear messages and each other a priority now that we are all racing to zoom, when it was not for long time attenders already in your community?  And if you are in a meeting that did prioritize listening devices, or amplification, or whatever worked – how do those needs simply transfer to new equipment, like a different kind of microphone, or linking devices to a zoom output?

The meeting I am now a part of  is “small” by our standards – 8 folks at most usually present.  On zoom, in person, a little bit of both.  Zoom technology electronically limits after meeting conversations to one person speaking at a time (as any good conference software will do!).  There can be no “side conversations” around the coffee pot, or moments of introduction and learning happening as Friends are simply randomly gathered informally.  Some meetings on zoom now hold community “chats” at other times to create community.  Some meetings open up small zoom rooms for folks to choose where to go, and chat.  Some meetings put folks in random rooms, in more/less formal “get to know your neighbor” groups.

Back to my meeting… the eight of us stay in one zoom/hybrid space.  We share and talk and take turns.   To us this seems welcoming and natural.  Why?  Well – before the pandemic, this meeting always had a post-meeting dinner potluck, where we all sat around one table.  The habit of sharing conversation with folks, one at a time, was already established.  It worked for this group.  So on zoom, or in a hybrid meeting – it still does.  Community fellowship and conversation can take many forms. Once your meeting decides what is the right way to communicate – then it’s time to find the right structure to support it. 

One of the wonderful gifts of traveling among Friends is seeing this variations.  It is such a lift of the Spirit for me to see folks attending to the needs of their communities.  It’s hard work!  But part of being in relationship.

I’ll be sharing more reflections on adaptations and openings in this time with examples from meetings I visit.  Thank you for following along!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ministry report 2022


I have written a report of ministry .  I guess this is more than a year – and what is time during a pandemic?

I have a few new wordly changes on the horizon, and I am grateful for the Joy I have found in prayerful exploring them.  So much in on pause and in flux in the world, and I am grateful to carry this call.

 

 

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Serotinous Cones and the Flame.

Yesterday in some devotional reading time, I learned about Serotinous Cones.

Jack pine has developed what is called a serotinous coneSerotinous cones are covered with a resin that must be melled for the cone to open and release seeds. When a fire moves through the forest, the cones open and the seeds are distributed by winds and gravity….  When lodgepole pines grow, especially in areas that are prone to forest fires, their cones are tightly sealed. A layer of resin and woody tissue sticks the cones’ scales together. The seeds are locked in tight, and the cones can’t open unless they’re exposed to VERY high temperatures like the type of temperatures that fire provides.

There are trees that need fire to reproduce. It got me thinking about stress, and love, and Holy Flames of transformation.  Of course, the obvious default of being grateful for “firey” moments when they happen.

But what if we knew we were serotinous kinds of people?  What if the only way I’m able to have learning “stick” is to have it released in the fire of transformation?  And what does that look like?

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the Enneagram these days.  In my past, I took a test, it said I was a “2” and I kinda thought it made sense and that was that.  In the past year, the assessments always say I’m a 4.  If correct (I suspect it is) this makes me appreciate the fire as well.  I wonder how I react in unexpected moments of transformation.  This week I showed up to a group gathering where I had to be vulnerable – after months of reports and discussion and prayer around past experiences, and new challenges.  Just showing up for me was in itself a victory of sorts.

But it didn’t “get me anywhere” in a linear sense.  I’m still without support for a confusing direction.  What to do?  I think I have to trust I’m oozing spiritual resin all over the place.  Who knows where those seeds of possibility will land.

Saying “yes” to just the small next thing is hard.  But that’s just where I am right now.  And the learning is very very deep and real. And hot.  very very warm….

 

 

 

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It’s time to flip our meetinghouses. Again.

I am by trade a teacher – former in employment – always on my heart.  There was a movement a number of years ago – I must admit I’m not sure where it stands now, to create “flipped classrooms” The basic concept was to center the rote learning and and standardized content delivery as the “homework” – and more efficiently use the student-teacher shared time for creative explorations and individualized instruction.  The “flip” was controversial – the success of the  “sage on the stage” model of learning (rather than “guide from the side”) was ingrained as fact, and there was considerable reluctance in risking change to a new model.  For those creative educational communities that experimented fully, it was often successful.

I’ve been thinking about this monumental shift in terms of pour Quaker meetings, especially today.  It appears we have shifted from weeks and months of debate about use of technology in many meetings, to an immediate shift to Zoom and other platforms.  A virus has forced us to rethink connecting in this time.  Many Quakers have adjusted to the basic technology – but long term questions remain about the viability of this medium, and how it might support our faithfulness in new ways.

Here in the United States, as the country considers reopening permissions in certain places, there are many factors still to consider.  In a community filled with people with higher risk factors for illness – even with official permissions it will be hard to include children, elderly, etc in our gatherings.

In a recent video conversation around churches – Bruce Reyes-Chow offered an interesting take.  What if rather than saying “when we get back to in-person worship we will do these things again” – we just assumed this video gathering is the new way to “do church”, for at least a year or more?  What is the rush to get back to what was? Is this a time for innovation and experimentation?  Can we just relax and lean into a world that is being reshaped around us, and be responsive and accept this as the new tool for these times?

This comment was the “aha!” moment for me – and reminded me of the pushback to flipped classrooms in terms of significant change and risk. We Quakers, I believe, have been here before.

The first Quakers of long ago were very clear that the Spirit could arrive to any of us, at any time, without mediation by clergy or need for a “steeplehouse” (church).  Much of the preaching was disruptive in those spaces, and was encouraged firstly by Friends sitting in prayer in fields and homes.  The learning happened experientially out in “the world” and the meetings for worship were time to reflect, to grow, to hear messages from the Lord rooted in the human faithful experiences of those gathered.  The disruption at the churches was just a reminder to the culture and to others that access was “out there” in the world, carried in the hearts of each one of us, and not in the building, the preacher’s learning and training, and the rituals.

So here we are in 2020.  We love our history.  We love our beautiful meetinghouses.  We have our special seats on our favorite bench, our tried and true potluck recipies, our 40+ years of service on committees, week after week.  We know each other.  We have an understanding about rules of engagement (often unwritten, just understood).  I wonder if culturally we have fallen into exactly the habits and comforts that those early Friends rejected?

All that gathering, our own sense of created ritual, is now turned upside down.  There’s no more “going to meeting” in that way.  And yet, our direct access to the Spirit, discerned and supported in community of worshippers, is still happening.  Sometimes it’s on zoom. Sometimes it’s in small home groups.  Sometimes it’s in conference calls, or on the couch with our own extended families. 

I hope we don’t lose the gift of having our routines disrupted in this way.  A deep re-examination of where the Spirit meets us, and how we learn and grow and are invited into transformation is happening in unexpected places.  We’ve “flipped” the encounters back into the day to day, the streets, the Life all around us.  We used to say it was never about our buildings – now it’s another clear invitation to lean into that understanding.

Some of those spaces of support will be digital.  Some will be in social media.  Some will be with our next door, not-Quaker neighbors. Geography will matter less, as we gather to share experiences and worship with those from all over the world.  We will have a shared sense of Spirit – but very wide and varied human experiential perspectives.

(Photos of “The Meetinghouse” – 2017 , Mark Reigelman, Kennedy Greenway)

 

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God’s digital table and welcome in a time of much Zooming for the Church

I wrote this letter to my meeting, but it’s for anybody for whom it might be helpful.  Zoom is both a great gift – and yet another way to create exclusion.  It’s our choice to be attentive.

Dear Friends,

In the past week, I’ve had the gift (and hard work?) of assisting the congregation of the First Parish United Church with holding their first virtual Annual Meeting in the history of the church. For those who don’t know – an “Annual Meeting” is similar to our “Yearly Meeting” – it is a time where folks gather to do the business of the church, budget for the year, approve nominations, hear reports, etc.  They also vote – so this Quaker had to learn how that works!  Running lots of zoom tutorials, and working individually to answer questions taught me some things that seem relevant to mention in terms of our Zoom experiments of late. 

In addition, in the past few weeks I’ve had a number of conversations in which Fresh Pond attenders of our worship noted my participation – everything from “I wish I could see your face, and not just an avatar (picture) of you, or “you were there last week” when I was not present at all.  My answers to those questions might be helpful for everyone.

Digital Access to meetings (and other things of course) is not standard.  You do not have access just because you have internet, or a computer.

For the past months (the whole time we have been meeting online except for the past few days), I have been using a Chromebook.  Even with the latest updates – it tells me I have “high CPU usage affecting the quality of the meeting” – most importantly, it seizes up and I cannot see anyone or hear messages until I turn off my camera and let zoom catch up.  Sometimes it completely disconnects me from the call.  This is unique to chromebooks, but varies via brand.  It happens every 17 minutes or so on mine!  SO the only way for me to participate on that device is without showing my screen.

Easiest solution for me (and many people) is an app on my phone.  There also – I am unable to see more than 4 people on my screen at a time (I can swipe).  I cannot raise my hand for meeting for business to get the clerk’s attention.  I can use some of the chat and other functions – but they are in different places than the rest of folks, and sometimes respond differently.  MOST people (statistically) access the internet via phone.  Many do not even own a laptop or desktop. That is the default device in many churches (of demographics different than ours) for access.

I am generally spending about 5-6 hours a day minimum on zoom.  Zoom fatigue is a real concern.  So again, simply listening on my phone app, with my screen shut off and muted, is the best option for my mental health (and let’s face it that’s what I need worship for in part!).

In addition – I guess we allow folks to call into our meeting on a landline?  That’s a toll call in many places.  Westport Meeting has instituted a policy that their members who call in by landline phone can submit their phone bills for reimbursement.   In one case, a Friend had just given up because it was an expensive toll call, and she had no tech device to help her (or no people to visit and help during covid – that’s hard!).  She had been “missing” from meeting for two months.  This is a HUGE drawback of zoom – and they have no incentive to pay for landline connections for their online digital platform – they want to push folks to digital.

My greatest learning experience of joy has been finally getting my 80 year old mom online. I bought her a chromebook and shipped to her, and had to teach her in calls over her land line how to set it up.  I had to teach her the what moving her fingers on a touchpad felt like.  What i meant by “cursor”. At times I had to make comparisons to typewriters of her youth.  What’s a typewriter?  hmmm.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle I have encountered in helping folks learn more about these devices is our own ability to choose the narrative of “I can’t, it’s hard, this is uncomfortable”.  I have a great advantage in having had years of encouraging beginner musicians who sounded “terrible” when they started. Of course!  Sometimes parents would tell me they couldn;t believe how patient I was with all the squeaks and honks.  I told them “I only hear potential”. Maybe I need to practice that more with adults – and my mom when she honks and squeaks about her frustrations with her chromebook.  By the way – she’s now online, watching her church services on youtube, emailing with a gmail account, reading the papers and ordering library books online.  The first time she logged on to a zoom call and saw our family staring back she cried.  TOTALLY WORTH IT.  And it took probably 30 hours of calls.

So.. this week I finally purchased a new Macbook (expensive).  Last evening at M&W I could actually see everyone!  AND that might not happen in worship – I’m still pretty zoomed out, and sitting on my porch with my phone on my chest listening for you and God seems the best path of digital participation. But, it was a huge reminder for me in my struggle to gain access to worship how we all can continue to be vigilant about asking the questions about who is not at the table, and would they like to participate and how to we make it the right size for everyone – which is different for everyone.  Even a digital table.

Hope some of this is helpful.  Thank you to all in our Meeting who are reacting every week to this zoom experiment on behalf of our community.

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