This week I attended my first ever online meeting for worship. To my slight surprise it was a warm and spirited experience.
In line with the government's advice for those with a cough or temperature to stay home, I'd been in self-isolation since the middle of the week. I sent my apologies to Quaker Friends saying I wouldn't be at meeting. When it emerged that meeting in person might not work for others either, we decided to try meeting for worship online.
The person who typically hosts sent out a link for the online platform Zoom, which we clicked on to join together in a virtual room. People could also join using just a phone. We weren't too precious about starting at an exact time and waited until we were all there, and shared news with one-another as we each arrived. I set myself up with a copy of Quaker faith & practice, Advices & queries and the Bible in front of me. Having some physical reminders of the meeting room laid out seemed to help. Our host then gave a short introduction and we sank in to silence.
The stillness gathered quickly, and I found myself reflecting that even in 5 days at home, I had struggled to maintain any kind of prayerful silence for more than a few minutes. Joining with others though gave me the discipline. As is so often the case, before long someone shared almost exactly these thoughts in ministry.
Another piece of ministry was a little hard to hear, but quoted from Advices and queries 10:
"Come regularly to meeting for worship even when you are angry, depressed, tired or spiritually cold. In the silence ask for and accept the prayerful support of others joined with you in worship. Try to find a spiritual wholeness which encompasses suffering as well as thankfulness and joy. Prayer, springing from a deep place in the heart, may bring healing and unity as nothing else can. Let meeting for worship nourish your whole life."
Having the book there in front of me meant I could just read it rather than needing to ask for it to be repeated.
Towards the end the children joined us. After what seemed like a very short time, the meeting for worship ended. I found that especially given the period of isolation, I appreciated the connection even more than usual. Before moving to notices we made requests to hold people in the Light, including healthcare workers and those who are unwell.
I realise there is no spiritual reason for online meeting for worship not to work. Upholding people or meetings from afar is a well-established practice and online meetings for worship have been developing through Woodbrooke and Friends World Committee for Consultation among others. Nevertheless, I still found myself surprised by the strength of the experience.
At the end we shared how it was for us technically. If we were to do it again, we might spend some more time testing the sound, and perhaps plug in a microphone. With any more than the six or seven people we had, we might also ask people to mute when not giving ministry to prevent feedback or background noise. We also benefitted from one of us having access to a Zoom subscription (the free version times out after 40 minutes). Some Quaker meetings might want to carry this cost (£11.99), or try a different platform.
Before leaving we also started wondering whether this might be an option we could offer in normal times too. The Spirit, it would appear, does not seem overly concerned about whether we gather in person or online.
Online meetings for worship are held regularly by Woodbrooke. Find details of how and when to connect at www.woodbrooke.org.uk/online-mfw.
Email QLadmin@quaker.org.uk for guidance on holding your own online meeting for worship.