COVID-19 Inspired-Quaker Meeting Online with Babies, Dogs & a Moving Car
[Note: while the original version of this essay kept individual identities anonymous, I have since updated it to remove the identity of the specific Friends Meeting out of respect for their privacy and sacred space.]
A few days ago I decided it was time to do my best to keep myself and others safe and to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Being homebound, early this morning I was feeling sad that I had to miss Meeting for Worship with Amesbury Friends Meeting.
But then Divine intervention through Facebook showed this in my News Feed:
A virtual Meeting for Worship sponsored by a Friends Meeting that I had visited! I’d been to this Friends Meetinghouse for a workshop but had not joined them for worship. Until today.
Online Quaker Meetings were not completely new to me. In 2018 I heard about an Online Mid-Week Meeting for Worship offered by a meeting in New York state. I got in touch and asked if I could join and was kindly sent the link. However, something came up, I didn’t end up joining that week’s virtual worship and never got back to it.
So today March 15, 2020, I logged on to Zoom an hour early so I wouldn’t miss it. I was doing graphic design work on my computer when I suddenly heard a voice say “Are you there? Can you hear me?” It was time.
I didn’t have my web video camera set up so I was identified by name only. It was lovely to see a live broadcast of each Friend who did have their camera turned on. I saw a number of familiar names and faces.
I have to admit I was a bad Quaker and spent a lot of time during worship looking at the screen (and grabbing screenshots knowing I would write about this experience)
Many Friends sat quietly in front of their screen. Some with eyes closed. Others looking at the screen.
One mother breastfed her child intermittently and the family beagle showed up in front of the camera a few times.
Another family joined — a man, a woman, and a small child whose eyes were wide with wonder seeing the grid of moving faces.
One Friend joined the virtual worship while riding in a car (presumably the passenger seat). She held had her phone or iPad on her lap and aimed up allowing us to see her serene face as well as her sunroof where blue sky and clouds went zooming by.
A few elders were on couches and more than one blanket was draped for warmth and comfort.
We Quakers do our best to make our meetings accessible for those with physical challenges as well as those who are hearing and visually impaired. But this online meeting was much more accessible to all.
40 minutes in, a Friend unmuted for the first vocal ministry. She shared her appreciation of how this Friends Meeting had adapted to the pandemic crisis so quickly. (yes, records for Quaker decision-making speed were surely broken) She went on to say that this is not a time for Friends to contract and get smaller but to expand and use technology to reach out to those who may be isolated or fearful.
Another Friend spoke a few minutes later - (paraphrased)
“How can we be in a place of “Yes?” So often we are saying no because our Quaker process isn’t designed for quick decisions. Our virtual retreat this weekend was awesome. And this virtual meeting allowed so many to attend- some from afar who don’t usually worship with us. A dog. Someone in bed. It’s such a big “Yes.” I’m so grateful for that.”
I looked at the screen — 33 Friends were together for online worship!
Then a cat joined. This kitty was not camera shy and seemed happy that her mother didn’t go off to the Meetinghouse today.
One screen showed a woman with a child for the first half of the meeting and then a man alone for the second half. At Rise of Meeting, during announcements, one Friend apologized that the meeting wasn’t able to provide childcare but was happy that the family attended.
Then a Friend stated, “This Meetinghouse is old…it’s been through a Cholera epidemic and others. We got through that and we will get through this.”
Listening to her, the tears welled up in my eyes as I felt the power of a loving community during times like these.
I did an online search to find out the age of this Meetinghouse and for information about the Cholera epidemic. I found out that the building was constructed in 1806, and that the last Cholera outbreak in the U.S. was in 1910.
A Friend announced that the Ministry & Counsel Committee would be planning the next steps, coordinating upcoming virtual meetings, and making decisions about how the various committees will meet and how pastoral care will be provided.
I’m grateful to have had this wonderful option, to not only worship from my home but to join Friends at another Quaker Meeting.
I love expanding my Quaker network and I love that Friends from far and wide can now be more closely connected.
Every crisis has it’s opportunities and the power to bring people together in miraculous ways.
Today offered an opportunity that wasn’t previously available.
And last night I witnessed one of the miracles when Senator Ted Cruz retweeted Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.