An online Quaker meeting

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.

8 thoughts on “An online Quaker meeting

  1. The 11 am Thursday Woodbrooke worship felt very different from my Palmerston North meeting for worship, mainly because ours is a “blended” meeting where Zoom is an additional means of attending. The Meeting microphone is not muted, while those of Zoom attenders are muted during worship, except when ministering. The mic sits on the table in the centre of the room and is quite sensitive, even picking up the tick of the wall clock. Being able to hear the silence adds a dimension that felt missing from Woodbrooke. Just my very personal take. Nevertheless, once a week meeting for worship is not enough for me so I’ll no doubt Zoom into further Woodbrooke meetings and perhaps wider afield.

    In my region there have only been 2 periods where worship has been only via Zoom – six weeks in April 2020 and 2 weeks in August 2021. Some meeting worshippers were originally uncomfortable with Zoom, feeling that they were being spied on, but that seems to have settled down. The meeting room camera is mounted on the wall and its field of view covers the entire circle of chairs. One of the chairs has been replaced by a table on which is placed a screen (currently a laptop) so that to those present, the Zoom attenders are part of the circle.


    • It was good to see you, even if, having interacted on blogs since 2014, it was hard to think of how to start conversing face to face. I have not attended my local meeting in person since February last year, by choice. There have been blended meetings, but masked, and without coffee. But our microphone does not pick up, or Zoom does not transmit, the traffic noises from Euston Road, a busy four-lane highway through North London running past two of London’s main railway stations. It is something to do with Zoom settings- you can set it for original sound, which is better for music, or otherwise, filtered because it is designed for meetings and to transmit voices.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sitting in Zoom is a different experience than sitting in the physical presence of others, where I feel their hearts and spirits comingling. No way around that. Without that shared togetherness, vocal ministry is much more difficult. Still, I appreciate those mornings when I don’t have to drive an hour each way to the meetinghouse.


  3. I think blendeds should stay; ours brings the 2 types of meetings together once a month. Personally l find Zoom for business matters better, but Zoom MfW rather lacking in spiritual feeling, though l pop in now and again to our Area MfW see people l miss otherwise


  4. I have only just come across this, so please forgive the delay in replying..
    COVID has changed many things, which is scarcely news, but we need to look at why people view these changes so differently. What do different Friends “get out of” Quaker meetings? For some, a meeting house and physical presence seem to be essential, for others on-line worship brings the Quaker community into our homes and enhances the experience. Can someone do a psychology PhD on this?
    Compare with the NHS. There has been much fuss about on-line consultations during the pandemic, and people not being able to see their doctor or nurse in person. Yet before COVID, a firm called Babylon Health set up on-line GP services which had to be paid for, and found a good market. (It was unpopular with GPs for a different reason, joining Babylon meant leaving your NHS GP, which meant that GPs lost generally healthy and affluent people who were in effect subsidising the care of those with difficult medical problems).
    Different solutions for different needs? But first we have to dispel the notion that on-line is second best to in-person (or vice versa) , and accept lovingly that both have their strengths.
    And can we stop calling in-person “face to face”? I can see your face much better on Zoom than in a meeting house. Also I can see my own. “Would some power the giftie gie us/to see ourselves as others see us”. It has, and now I know if I am looking grumpy or miserable!


    • Welcome, Friend. Thank you for commenting.

      Doctors ask patients to appear without makeup. They can hardly see our complexions on video, but do not want to catch or spread covid. My GP practice is only offering consultations by phone, weeks ahead, so people clog up A&E. On line I see you but do not smell you, cannot touch you, cannot even look you directly in the eye. It is different. It is tempting to go to meeting for something comfortingly familiar. I go to experience reality and God. I benefit from many more meetings a week than I used to.

      I agree “in person” is a better term. Online folks have used the words cyberspace and “meatspace”.


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