Thoughts on online meeting for worship
16 March 2020 by Tim Gee
This page contains guidance for Quaker meetings on Coronavirus, current as of 13 May 2020. Quakers are still worshipping online, and from their own homes. And we welcome new people. All our meeting houses are currently closed for worship in line with Government guidance.
Government advice can be found at:
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 10.03)
As the coronavirus situation develops, Quaker communities need to consider how best to keep members and attenders, employees, and building users, informed and protected. This information draws on UK and devolved government guidance. It highlights the parts which are relevant for Quaker communities and for meeting houses. It will help Quakers continue to thrive as spiritual communities and stay safe.
Below are responses to some 'Quaker-specific' queries.
No. In line with the latest government advice, meetings should not gather in person at this time. This includes meetings in public and in private homes.
Quaker worship can happen anywhere at any time. Quakers could arrange to all sit worshipfully, separately in their own homes, at a prearranged time (not necessarily Sunday morning) in order to worship with each other at a distance.
BYM and Woodbrooke offer support to Friends setting 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. Please direct queries or experience to share to email@example.com. Woodbrooke has a variety of opportunities for online worship (offsite link) most days of the week which anyone may join.
Meetings could also arrange a telephone conference that all worshippers could join: more details are in this teleconferencing leaflet (PDF).
All Quaker meeting houses are closed (with the possible exception of funerals, see below), in line with government guidance. There are exceptions where a meeting house is hosting essential voluntary or public services, such as food banks or homeless services. Official guidance should be sought.
Facilities such as nurseries may begin to open in June. Meeting houses which host nurseries should be working with the provider and local authorities to prepare for this.
Places of worship in England may be able to open in July, depending on the progress of COVID-19 suppression. This will be with careful attention to social distancing, hygiene and other public health measures. Meetings should begin thinking about their plans for resuming in-person worship and how this can be done safely. We hope to share more guidance on this later in May.
Government legislation permits the holding of funerals in places of worship, if certain strict measures can be put in place. Pease read our funerals guidance to be clear on what this requires. No other worship or activities may take place in Quaker buildings with the exception of essential voluntary or public service.
Funerals may also be held at a crematorium, or at a graveside. All Government guidance on attendance and social distancing must be followed. There are different rules on this in England, Scotland and Wales – follow the links at the top of this page.
We encourage families to keep funeral attendance at a minimum. Consider holding a memorial meeting at a later date when gatherings are permitted.
More details, information and ideas are on our funerals page.
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 know that we will be living with restrictions for many months. Some people in our communities are likely to remain in a high degree of isolation for a long period.
It is especially important for meetings to consider how they will remain a community during this time. The eldership and oversight page on this website contains advice for everyone involved in spiritual and pastoral care. There is also a suggested model for organising pastoral care at this time.
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 and acted upon by both 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.
Both venues are closed until at least the end of July. Plans are being made for how they might later re-open, in ways that are safe for staff and building users.
BYM is still functioning with a core team of staff working from home, continuing to support Quakers across Britain in their faith and witness.
However, with the continued closure of Friends House and Swarthmoor Hall, BYM is unable to generate any trading income. Around two thirds of the organisation's staff are being furloughed under the Government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. We are taking this step to protect jobs and to make sure we are able to serve the needs of the Quaker community, both now and long into the future.
There is an article about the decision to furlough staff.
Britain Yearly Meeting has postponed the 2020 Yearly Meeting Gathering. The Coronavirus 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 in-person events taking place to the end of June; some are being run online. We are also running additional events and activities for all ages. Please see our events page to find out more.
Meetings of committees are taking place online, or postponed. Committee secretaries will keep committee members updated.
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 & practice10.17)
For more advice and guidance on supporting the spiritual and pastoral life of you Quaker community visit our eldership and oversight pages.
Britain Yearly Meeting has no public health expertise. We suggest referring to relevant sources for further information:
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.
16 March 2020 by Tim Gee