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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