Sacred spaces and places in the age of ZOOM

In this age of mandatory social distancing to try to reduce the spread of COVID-19 religious groups are among those who are looking for alternatives to meeting face to face. Many are using videoconferencing apps like Zoom to connect people with each other.

For years many of us tried to use Skype, which didn’t always work so well. Fortunately the Zoom videoconferencing app has been available since 2013. Zoom was founded by Eric Yuan, who was inspired to develop the software while, as a student in his native China, he took 10-hour train rides to visit his girlfriend and was looking for an easier way to “visit” her. 

Zoom is easy both to setup and use. I’ve rarely encountered problems when using Zoom. A basic version of Zoom can be used free of charge.

Over the past year my Quaker meeting, Bear Creek, has used Zoom on several occasions. One was to connect widely scattered Friends to serve as a support group.

A couple of other times we used Zoom for the discussions we have prior to meeting for worship, something like adult Sunday school.

Our meetinghouse is in the countryside just north of Earlham, Iowa. A number of members live close by, but others have to travel some distance. Some regular attenders live 40 miles away. That is especially problematic because one of the issues the meeting has long worked on is reducing our carbon footprint. We hoped using Zoom might decrease the number of times people had to travel such distances. Although people were willing to try Zoom, the enthusiasm hadn’t been that great so far.

This weekend our Midyear Meeting was scheduled, which is held at our Bear Creek Friends meetinghouse. Because of the coronavirus, we decided to use Zoom meetings instead. A committee of Friends did a lot of work to provide instructions and practice sessions for those not familiar with Zoom.

While it seems perfectly reasonable to hold discussions via Zoom, we all wondered how things would work for meeting for worship. Which, as you might know, is a gathering of friends who sit quietly (in silence) for about an hour, listing for a message from God, or the Inner Light, or whatever term you use to describe spiritual messages.

Fortunately, it did work this morning. I think being able to see each other helped a great deal. Some people did share a spiritual message. Afterward several people remarked on the (good) quality of the meeting.

One person spoke about the magic of Zoom gathering the videos of each of us, putting them all together, and sending them back to us so we could see the gathered meeting. And suggested in a similar manner the Inner Light of each of us was gathered together and the composite sent back to us.

One remarkable thing about our Zoom meeting for worship was that a picture of the empty meetinghouse at Bear Creek was shown on one of the video panels. Friends often remark about the spiritual feeling they experience in that meetinghouse. That connection to a sacred place allowed us to create a sacred space for each of us, wherever we were geographically.

Following is the Ethical Transportation Minute approved by Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) in 2017.

Radically reducing fossil fuel use has long been a concern of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). A previously approved Minute urged us to reduce our use of personal automobiles. We have continued to be challenged by the design of our communities that makes this difficult. This is even more challenging in rural areas. But our environmental crisis means we must find ways to address this issue quickly.

Friends are encouraged to challenge themselves and to simplify their lives in ways that can enhance their spiritual environmental integrity. One of our meetings uses the term “ethical transportation,” which is a helpful way to be mindful of this.

Long term, we need to encourage ways to make our communities “walkable”, and to expand public transportation systems. These will require major changes in infrastructure and urban planning.

Carpooling and community shared vehicles would help. We can develop ways to coordinate neighbors needing to travel to shop for food, attend meetings, visit doctors, etc. We could explore using existing school buses or shared vehicles to provide intercity transportation.

One immediately available step would be to promote the use of bicycles as a visible witness for non-fossil fuel transportation. Friends may forget how easy and fun it can be to travel miles on bicycles. Neighbors seeing families riding their bicycles to Quaker meetings would have an impact on community awareness. This is a way for our children to be involved in this shared witness. We should encourage the expansion of bicycle lanes and paths. We can repair and recycle unused bicycles, and make them available to those who have the need.

Ethical Transportation Minute
Approved by Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) 2017

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