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:
Come check it out!