Thoughts on online meeting for worship
16 March 2020 by Tim Gee
This page contains updated guidance for Quaker meetings on Coronavirus. This guidance was substantially changed on 18 March 2020 from the previous version. Please read it in full. Later updates are marked.
Our sense of community does not depend on all professing identical
beliefs, for it grows from worshipping together, knowing one another, loving
one another, accepting responsibilities, sharing and working together. We will
be helped by tried and tested Quaker methods and procedures, but the meeting
will only live if we develop a sense of community, which includes children and
adults alike. If all those who belong to our meeting are lovingly cared for,
the guidance of the spirit will be a reality.
(Quaker faith & practice
As the coronavirus situation develops, Quaker meetings need to consider how best to keep members and attenders, employees, and building users, informed and protected. Because of the current social distancing and self-isolation advice, much of this support will need to take place without meeting in person.
Below are responses to some 'Quaker-specific' queries.
No. In line with the latest government advice, meetings should not gather in person while the current stay at home guidance is in force (currently until 13 April 2020). The government has stopped public gatherings of more than two people who don't live together.
Quaker worship doesn't need to happen at a particular place or time. Quakers could arrange to all sit worshipfully in their homes at a prearranged time (not necessarily Sunday morning) in order to worship with each other at a distance.
BYM and Woodbrooke are working to support Friends to set up online worship for their local communities. A guide to joining and holding online worship is now available on the Woodbrooke 'online worship advice' page. This includes detailed instructions for those less used to using computers; some online meetings will have telephone access too. If you have queries about holding online worship, or experience to share, please email email@example.com. Woodbrooke is expanding the times and days of its online worship (offsite link) which anyone may join.
Meetings could also arrange a telephone conference that all worshippers could join: more details are in this teleconferencing leaflet (PDF).
Generally yes. Government guidance states that places of worship should close, but they may open for funerals attended by immediate families. Where a meeting house is hosting essential voluntary or public services, such as food banks or homeless services, it may remain open for this purpose.
Weddings and other Quaker meetings for celebration may not take place while current stay at home guidance is in force (currently until 13 April 2020). Funerals may take place, but may only be attended by immediate family. We are encouraging families planning funerals at this time to consider holding memorial meeting for the deceased at a later time
We will to provide further guidance to meetings on funerals in the coming days at www.quaker.org.uk/funerals.
Loving care is not something that those sound in mind and body 'do' for others but a process that binds us together.- Quaker faith & practice 12.01
We don't know how long this will go on, but we think meetings should be prepared for the current restrictions to last for several weeks or even months.
It is especially important for meetings to consider how they will remain a community during this time. Do overseers, elders or all Friends need to contact everyone in the meeting regularly? Is a 'telephone circle', where everyone is responsible for contacting one or more Friends daily or weekly, feasible? Hearing another person's voice can be much more powerful than reading words on a screen. Maintaining contact may be particularly valued by those less involved with the meeting, and help to reaffirm their connection with Quakers.
At BYM we are working really hard to support meetings at the moment; we welcome any ideas on how our Quaker communities can be upheld. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions. Please be aware that messages sent to this email address are being shared between BYM and Woodbrooke.
Area meetings have responsibility for the spiritual and pastoral care of their local meetings (as detailed in Quaker faith & practice 12.06). At this time, they may give support by organising some of the above initiatives for meetings that struggle to do so themselves, or by connecting multiple local meetings for worship.
A decision was taken on 17 March to close Friends House and Swarthmoor Hall until Monday 20 April. This follows public health advice about people avoiding meetings and unnecessary travel, and working from home where possible.
BYM is still functioning and staff are working from home, where possible. We are operating as a virtual organisation, with colleagues keeping in touch daily and having a primary focus of supporting our Quaker communities in their worship and witness. However, there is a chance that staff sickness, or getting used to new ways of working, will have an impact on some programmes – if so, we'll appreciate Friends' understanding.
Some staff, particularly those whose jobs are about running Friends House or Swarthmoor Hall, will not be able to work during this time. We are committed to paying all staff salaries, whether or not they are able to work.
Britain Yearly Meeting has postponed the 2020 Yearly Meeting Gathering. The ongoing public health situation with the COVID-19 pandemic makes it impossible to bring 2,000 people together for this event. Please see the press release for more information.
Britain Yearly Meeting is following public health advice. We have cancelled all major events taking place in March and April (Quaker Youthwork Conference, QPSW Spring Conference, AM Trustees Conference, Meeting for Sufferings, Quaker Life Representative Council). All participants have been informed. We will keep the situation under review for future events. We are still intending to hold Yearly Meeting Gathering on 1-7 August as planned.
Meetings of committees before 20 April will either be cancelled or take place virtually. Committee secretaries will contact all committee members to update them.
Quaker communities are open and welcome everyone. Some of our members and visitors are at particular risk, including the elderly and people with underlying health conditions. So that we can care for each other, we all need to take care.
Some of us will be particularly worried – perhaps due to existing health conditions, issues at work, or close connections to people affected around the world. Some Friends will need to self-isolate, and some may contract the disease. Although it's not sensible to visit those who are unwell or self-isolating, there are other ways to support people – on the phone, by email, with practical help like running errands or bringing food to their door, and through prayer.
The spiritual welfare of a meeting is greatly helped if … its members take a warm personal interest in one another's welfare. The pastoral work of the Society is specially committed to the overseers, but our members generally should not allow themselves to feel that they are relieved from responsibility. In the greater events of life … it is our duty and privilege to share in one another's joys and sorrows; and sympathy thus shown is a potent means of binding us in closer fellowship. (Quaker faith & practice 10.17)
For more advice and guidance on supporting the spiritual and pastoral life of you Quaker community visit our eldership and oversight pages.
These websites provide advice about actions to take in order to prevent the spread of the disease, and situations in which people should self-isolate. Quakers and Quaker meetings should follow this guidance in relation to most activities.
Image: © 2019 Mike Pinches
16 March 2020 by Tim Gee