Experiments in Meeting for Worship:
Plain, Virtual and Blended
Conversation Circle Summary
F from its inception, Quakerism has been an experimental faith, and the disruption of these times has opened a profound experiment in Meeting for Worship. Some find online worship inclusive, allowing Friends otherwise separated by distance, disability, or disease to gather in the Spirit. Some find a technologically supported connection to be intrusive and uninspiring, preferring ‘plain’ worship, whether outdoors, in a well-ventilated indoor space, or in solitude. As Friends increasingly gather face to face indoors, we find ourselves in a new phase of experimentation: how to marry virtual with in-person worship in a manner that is inclusive, yet not intrusive, and support meetings to discern their leadings for plain vs. blended worship.
In this conversation, we hope to evolve our understanding through shared experience. Join this ‘spiritual potluck’ by bringing one piece of wisdom: whether an experience, a story, question, or challenge. We will focus on the spiritual experiment, the experience of technologically assisted and plain worship, discerning how Meeting for Worship may change as a result. Next month, we will host conversations on technology and methods for harnessing electronics to facilitate gathered, covered worship.
What is your experience of virtual, plain and blended Meeting for Worship?
What is bringing meetings together? What is pulling meetings apart?
How can we refrain from judging one another due to leadings for plain vs virtual or blended worship?
How can meetings come together in discernment, in faith that the Spirit will open the way?
How can Friends meetings provide opportunities for online, in-person and hybrid worship without splintering the community?
TUE: Sita Diehl (Madison WI, NYM)
THU: Cameron Hughes (Goose Creek, BYM) and Andrew Wright (Durham, NCYMC)
Virtual allows Friends to join worship despite distance or other limitations:
- Moving to a different state in 2019, I left the meeting where I’d grown up and raised my children. COVID causing zoom worship was a blessing for me. Now both meetings are hybrid and I trade off going to worship. Sometimes I go in person to my local meeting, sometimes by zoom.
- Personally Zoom with captions enabled me to follow spoken ministry without depending on anyone else.
- Our meeting welcomed into membership a couple who now live in Egypt. They were regular attenders some years ago before living abroad. With that membership, we knew were committing to hybrid meetings. The meeting easily reached unity around this decision.
- We are a small meeting and hybrid has enabled us to include attendance from those who are unable able to come to meeting due to distance or health issues. It has also allowed us to provide Meeting for Worship to Friends in our region whose meetings have not “survived” Covid. We have not had any objections to Zoom, although sometimes technical “fiddling” during meeting can be distracting.
- We have several members/attenders who have moved out of town or spend summer elsewhere. So, we tend to see Zoom as a way of staying in connection with treasured Friends.
- We have new “remote” member members and when they were accepted as members, we made a commitment to continue as a hybrid Meeting.
- We have hybrid worship with in-person worship at a member’s property, outdoors. We no longer have our meeting house as the lease expired during the pandemic and we are looking into building a new meetinghouse. However, many people are grateful to Zoom and we have at least a couple of people who have joined us from out of state. I feel Zoom has allowed many in our meeting to attend more consistently.
- Our meeting is clear to continue hybrid so as to include people who are far away. We currently have about 20 each First-day – about 2/3 in person.
- Zoom is another form of worship/sharing/invitation and a freedom for those who are unable to be in person for any reason. It’s here to stay and glad for it – diversity and safety for some.
- Zoom has allowed members of our meeting who are no longer able to drive to attend worship, it is separate from in person meeting. The meeting room has a big screen in the front of the meeting room for those of us far away.
- An additional plus of zoom meetings is that folks with limited hearing (a growing number in our meeting) can hear much better. A disadvantage is the need for more volunteers and additional cross-communication among Ministry and Counsel, tech folks, First Day School, etc.
- Members of our care committee, bring a device to visit isolated Friends in person during Meeting for Worship, allowing the Friend to join on screen.
- Our TinyCat library…the committee is working to develop a way to get the media out to Friends! https://www.librarycat.org/lib/HFMLibrary
- I really enjoy having access to both virtual and in person meeting for worship. just the other weekend I had an unexpected trip pop up and I was going to miss our Meetings Book Sunday celebration. I thankfully was able to log on and join in virtually and was still able to give a speech.
- Lockdown: rapid use of Zoom but some could not join because of scruples about ‘electronic worship’ or inability to use the tech. Much appreciation but missing those who were not with us while noting that immobile, immunocompromised and distant Friends were able to find inclusion.
- Our Meetinghouse is old, and we do not have Wi-Fi or other advanced equipment. Mostly we are in-person now but use a conference call number and a portable Bluetooth speaker for the few long distance or sick Friends. I have been inspired to announce at the beginning of the Meeting who is on the call to help people feel more connected.
Covered and gathered worship online
- It’s surprising how gathered virtual or blended worship can feel. It’s not surprising that Friends have very different perspectives on this!
- Whether online or in person, the deepest feeling of worship always came when I felt held in a coherent community unit that enjoys shared values / interests / practices together. Children’s meeting has a different feel from worship with a pop-up community in an online retreat, but both are deep instances of intentional community.
- Is a Meeting a body of intentional persons, or an ineffable quantity which includes this?
Preference for plain worship
- I find it easier to come with heart and mind prepared in person rather than on Zoom. I think the short 5-minute drive to meeting helps to prepare me to center and worship.
- Before Covid: A few Friends looking for a more “settled: silent worship mostly did not come to Sunday Meeting but met Wednesdays.
- Hybrid introduced as infection rates went down. Tech has improved but some still find that very unsatisfactory.
- Lest we forget the importance of ventilation in our meetinghouses and churches: ACH – air changes per hour – is a number every meeting may be helped by determining to keep in-person worship safer.
- Our meeting house has recently completed renovated our HVAC system. We now have a very quiet state of the art system operated on geothermal and solar energy.
- NY Times review of air purifiers: https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-air-purifier/
Positive views of blended worship
- We have some new attenders who are only able to join meeting for worship on Zoom, and I am so glad to be getting to know them in the brief community time we hold in the Zoom room prior to blended worship. When I attend worship in person, I miss being in the Zoom room. When I am in the Zoom room, I miss being with the Friends who are worshipping in person. But I am grateful for our new, larger community of Friends.
- A very positive of Zoom for forums and other Friends’ gatherings is that we record these sessions and make them available on our website.
- In my region, when new spin-off Quaker groups form (or once-strong meetings fade) they become known as ‘worshipping groups’. All worshipping groups are attached to a meeting, which holds the meetings for worship for business. Children’s Meeting meets in separate room (usually) for 3/4 of the time, so it is a little like its own worshipping group, as well.
- I use one monitor with gallery view, and one monitor with speaker view, which seems to help.
- My yearly meeting is utilizing zoom well, I think. It means that our annual sessions can be extended for a full week, instead of only a long weekend. We have workshops, business, forums on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. In-person sessions began on Thursday and continued through Sunday. I was in-person, so I didn’t experience worship as a hybrid. The plus was being able to include people who couldn’t travel. We did have a few families show up, but only a few. Serving families and their children is difficult for them and us, who are providing the children’s program.
Meetings with plain and blended worship:
- Our meeting holds 2 meetings on Sunday, the early meeting is ‘plain’ with no technology and the later meeting is hybrid with some Friends in person and some on Zoom. There are also mid-week worship groups that are either online or in person. We are still working on giving those on Zoom a sense of inclusion in blended meeting for worship. We use a microphone for messages, but sometimes we forget, and it’s hard to hear messages from people who are online. But there is a sense that this is a time of experimentation in the tradition of Friends, that we will learn and come together over time.
- We are still experimenting with ‘blended’ worship because we’re working on how to help the people on Zoom and the people in the room to have a spirit led experience. It has been hard for Friends in person to hear those on Zoom and vice versa.
- Our Meeting currently runs two Meetings at the same time, one upstairs, one downstairs. One is blended, the other is plain. The mode alternates by week, since no one wanted to be excluded from the main Meeting Room. Right now, we get 10-15 people in each in-person space, and around 30 on Zoom joining the blended space.
- Our meeting went Zoom for about 18 months. We lost some regular attenders because they were “zoomed out” due to remote working via Zoom. Others were able to attend even though they lived far away (e.g., D.C. and Colorado). Nashville has two other opportunities for worship and connecting: Tuesday Evening Quaker Conversations (with a topic, but conversation often strays far afield), and Thursday Morning Worship (30 minutes, followed by a check-in). Both of these are Zoom-only. Well received by attenders, I think. Nashville seems to have focused on what we have, and not as much on what we have not. We anticipate retaining the hybrid format at least for the foreseeable future.
- We have had some debate in our Meeting as to whether we should continue hybrid. I have personally found it very helpful to have the option, particularly when I have been ill, traveling, or had no childcare (our Meeting just recently started a children’s program). We have several older members who appreciate not having to travel, particularly when the winter weather was so poor. We also have a few attendees who are out of state. Some elders in the Meeting, however, have expressed concern regarding how the hybrid format will affect that Meeting spiritually long-term. At this time, I think the energy is moved towards continuing hybrid, as the benefits seem to outweigh the concerns.
- Audio has been a huge challenge for hybrid!
- Our meeting has begun hybrid meetings for Learning between our 9 and 11 o’clock meeting, with individuals sharing their spiritual journeys and after 11 o’clock meeting about testimonies. These have helped people get to know each other. We have 2 First Days of hybrid meetings and 1 First day of separate. Making decisions can be energy draining and the fact that this experience is being shared around Friends helps share this burden/opportunity.
- We’ve been able to continue committee meetings, Bible study, women’s group and lots of small groups using Zoom. This has allowed those who are immuno-compromised to be active and not nearly so isolated. Being able to choose what type of worship is most rewarding is also wonderful.
- We are having threshing sessions to help discern ways to move forward…We have silent worship at 8:30 am, and hybrid worship at 10:00 am. We film most presentations that follow 10 am worship and share those via our private website to help provide on-demand access. We have an ad hoc tech committee that is focusing on improving sound within the meetinghouse. Living on an island, we especially recognize the value of inclusivity for many who can’t worship together in person.
- Our people on zoom have trouble hearing the in-person people. Some on our committee come up with additional restrictions on people in person, like making people in person stand on an x and talk into the Owl. I don’t like the restrictions on our in-person people, and I don’t see an improvement for the zoom attenders.
- Our meeting is small, but we have been meeting virtually throughout, with one in person meeting. Zoom isn’t the same, but we’ve had some success: good business meetings, creation of a weekly worship sharing group (for nearly 2 years). The birth of a worship group under our care and some WONDERFUL new folk.
- Our meetings for worship are mostly blended. We have 2nd and 5th as separate meetings where we don’t have to close the windows and pull the blinds to project a zoom page.
- Our zoom attenders were over 75 people but have dropped below 25 over the past few months. Our people in person have grown.
- Our meeting has hybrid meeting plus one separate month each month. We hold zoom and in person separately. Some members dislike electronic stuff in the meeting house
- Sense of my meeting is that Zoom has maintained our community and we are comfortable with hybrid.
- Our meeting is holding an in-person “no-tech” meeting for worship, with masks and other precautions. We’re also conducting a separate meeting on zoom, at the same time. My husband and I are worshiping with the zoom meeting, because of our concern for the high community transmission of the virus in our area.
- Are there resources/advice for specific technology equipment for meetings? Here’s the tech manual which is kind of parallel to the “Guidance” document, written by an audio engineer and designed for accessibility by ‘less’ tech Friends. https://chiefwiz.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Hybrid-Meeting-Design-Handbook-v2.3.pdf
Are meetings splintering around plain vs online or blended worship? How can we come together?
- My Meeting has splintered. It feels less fraught at the moment because we do blended Meeting for Worship for Business. But we are still splintered and divided with the plain people wanting no tech in the Meeting House, apart from the business meeting.
- It has been divisive, and the ad hoc committee that was formed to try to reach unity on use of tech ended up being laid down without coming close to unity.
- Two perspectives–For the last 6 months I have been facilitating reconciliation work for a Meeting divided for some years by deep conflict. This time of physical separation I believe has deepened feelings of frustration and anger. There is a deep fatigue, even exhaustion in the Meeting, which has been made worse by Zoom.
- My own Meeting has been extremely cautious about any in-person gatherings, especially for worship, and there is a lot of pickiness on the listserv about what Worship & Ministry is stating about what we are doing. As a whole, I think the Meeting has become more fragile and pickier about what’s happening, how it’s worded. There are also those who won’t come to Zoom, and others who can’t (or feel they can’t) come in person. (We have only one meeting on Sundays). So, this I believe is creating discomfort–but at this point not division.
- Worth noting that this is not the first concern, nor will it be the last, that has splintered and reformed the paths of Quakerism…
- The answer might not be the same for all Meetings, either.
- As an attender who began attending Meeting for Worship over Zoom, the online technology benefitted me greatly. I would not have come to know the Quakers otherwise. However, I have noticed that there seems to be a significant portion of the membership who do not attend in person (perhaps due to fear of Covid infection) but also do not feel comfortable with online meetings. How can we bring these folks back into worship?
- How do we mean by ’together’ and ‘meetings’. in the second query? What is “Together” in each of our perspectives? Query: What is bringing meetings together? What is pulling meetings apart?
- Once we have started hybrid meetings, is there any way to stop them?
- Will likelihood of sense of a coming split change over time as we work through the differing urges, as for example shoots of Quakerism have begun to tug apart and re-merged in the past, or will this be more subtle shift, or will we pull apart entirely?
- Our Meeting feels fragmented post Covid. Most Friends are in a blended worship, so split between in person and on Zoom. Then those who are technology averse meet in a different room at the same time. So as others have said, our sense of connection with each other is frayed
- We are a large meeting and are committed to hybrid worship, though it doesn’t work for all. However, there is tension between some who are far away and insist every meeting activity be hybrid, in the name of inclusion, and those who are in person and are exhausted trying to make this happen.
- Ours is a small meeting and have had some strong resistance to technology as part of worship. So, we are meeting separately – some folks in person and others on zoom. We have lost members – not so much because of zoom as the pandemic in general as well as aging etc. We have had gathered meetings both on zoom and in person since covid. We have also had new folks join us, both on zoom and in person. We are looking for additional opportunities for folks to connect on a personal and spiritual basis.
- As a small meeting, we are concerned about our capacity to go hybrid successfully.
- Concerns from our meeting include the children, the quality of worship, taking care of those who won’t/can’t come to in-person meeting, our capacity for providing a hybrid meeting, the guidelines we developed for beginning in-person meetings.
Participation of children and families:
- Friends who have children or are teachers do not attend online. We miss these families.
- We had a family, early in the pandemic, who bemoaned that they couldn’t join on Zoom because of the kids. It was pointed out to them that when they were muted, it didn’t matter whether their kids were there or not, or quiet or not. They attended regularly from then on, on a sofa, sometimes with kids on their laps, sometimes not.
- We’ve been using Zoom 2+ years. The biggest negative is the negative effect on the children and members who have children.
- Our meeting was virtual for over a year and has been blended or hybrid for almost a year now. First Day School functioned separately with a few “tweens” but otherwise we have seen no families. One with a rising teen son come so he can offer childcare, but that’s been it.
- Let the kids run the chat!
- We have had a children’s program in person and outdoors as much as possible throughout the pandemic. We have been back full time in-person for children for some time.
- I have been co-facilitating a group of 6 Quaker parents from England to California that was organized by Emily Provence and various YMs. Using zoom for those connections has been wonderful. Zoom works very well. I do find it harder to center, but I treasure the connections that it makes possible.
- Big question is how to decide about reopening. First Day school started online with packs of activities delivered to households but now all are in basement of meeting house.
Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business:
- How are we to have inclusive Meeting for Worship for Business?
- Once we reopened about 6 months ago, we went hybrid and get about 15-20 in person and 5-9 via Zoom. We have a continuous problem, predating Zoom, of not enough children to maintain an active Children’s program – typically 2-4 young folks attend regularly, sometimes none. This problem is not a Zoom issue, though.
- In our meeting, I’m not aware that we ever followed a serous process of meeting in worship with attention to business to ask whether we thought, as a meeting, whether we wanted to embark upon these technological adjustments.
- We did not explore whether to bring our business online, either. Thus, any who involved themselves only during plain meetings would feel closed out, and process has not felt developed yet.
- Our business meeting is zoom only because it is too hard to recognize people on zoom and in person equally.
- I worry that the sense of connection that underlies Quaker business meeting is difficult to find for my meeting when we are not in person.
Opportunity for Social Connection
- We have “lanai time” after 8:30 in person worship and before 10 am hybrid, which allows Friends from both groups to “hang out” for a short time.
- There’s worship, and there’s socializing. The in-person protocol is to walk into the silence, which is already there, Zoom seems to be more chatty with transitioned with “it’s time to begin worship.” We haven’t figured out how to be social with each other blendedly. I worry about finding ways to meet all needs-the NO ZOOM and the I love hybrid.
- We’re starting some groups for “Friendly Get-togethers” – outdoor picnic events with about six people per group. I think this will be great for restoring our human connections.
Gratitude and Closing Worship
- Being the Church Online, Blog by Kathleen Wooten
- Best Practices in Hybrid Worship, David Coletta, Tech Ministry, QREC Pre-Conference Workshop, July 29, 2021
- Guidance for Meetings, Emily Provance
- Exploring Hybrid Worship Models, Compilation from Lake Erie Yearly Meeting, May 2021
- Hybrid Worship and Gatherings, Nia Thomas, New England Yearly Meeting (NEYM)
- Pendle Hill’s Hybrid Worship Experiment, July 22, 2020
- Hybrid Meeting Design Handbook V2.3, Richmond Shreve, Newtown PA Monthly Meeting
- Quaker Gatherings: best practices and creative explorations, Facebook group facilitated by Kathleen Wooten
- A view of the great people to be gathered: Worship at Britain Yearly Meeting, Kathleen Wooten, May 31, 2022