What could an ongoing Quaker community which met online look like?
Since March 2020 I have been meeting for worship online. The Pendle Hill daily worship allowed me to maintain a daily discipline of “set[ting] aside times of quiet for openness to the Holy Spirit”. It introduced me to two long-lasting weekly discussion groups, Friends for LGBTQ Concerns, and people I consider friends with both Fs. I find the Woodbrooke zoom worship deep, and also warm and friendly, often with chatting afterwards. I like zoom worship with my local meeting. Not everyone does. Some find blended meetings more difficult than wholly online meetings.
Each area meeting and local meeting will have to make a decision about whether to continue with blended meetings. I hope the risks of Covid will lessen so that it is not a reason for people to stay away from meetings in person. I know meeting for worship for business is possible online, and feel it is second best to meeting in person.
Reasons besides covid for wanting to worship online would continue. Perhaps someone is far from their nearest meeting, or sick, or frail. There are lots of reasons why someone might have an hour for worship but not want to travel- a single Quaker in a family, someone with a baby. Someone might want a daily time of quiet with other Quakers, and few LMs have even one midweek meeting for worship.
I want a group of Friends committed to offering online meeting for worship daily for whoever wishes to attend. Now, Woodbrooke provides this, together with FWCC. Woodbrooke is an educational charity, and has financial and legal considerations affecting how it runs these meetings. I want a meeting with a business meeting I can attend. I want to be part of making decisions for the meeting, and to take responsibility for it.
I want this recognised by Britain Yearly Meeting, which would require Friends with a concern to request minutes to be sent to Meeting for Sufferings.
I envisage such a meeting having a small core of committed Quakers, and a ministry of welcome. We would welcome Friends from all over the UK who might for any reason want an online meeting for worship, on Sunday or any other day. We could provide access to unprogrammed worship in English for the whole English-speaking world. I have already worshipped online with Friends from the US, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, France and Germany.
We would have a strong commitment to outreach and online visibility. We would hold regular discussion groups for people new to Quakers, and for Quakers generally.
We could be a Friend’s main meeting, or a place to drop in as needed. We would offer pastoral support.
Would we admit people to membership of BYM? I consider membership is a muddle. Some people want membership soon after committing to Quakers, some are not members after years serving in pastoral care. Some want to retain membership though they no longer worship with us. I would want the online meeting not to be able to decide formal membership to begin with, and for this to be reconsidered later if people sought membership with us and could not attend a local meeting. I am pleased if people consider themselves Quaker, or tell others about Quakers, which does not require membership.
Taking responsibility for safeguarding would need consideration. What risks would we have, which an in-person meeting would not?
God is in everyone. Quaker worship is one way to meet God within, but far more people are seeking God than are in Quakers. It is much easier to click on a zoom link and keep your camera off than to walk into a meeting-house. The silence has blessed me so much I want to share that blessing.