Since face to face meetings are not safe until the pandemic is under control, many groups are meeting virtually, often using videoconferencing software. I use Zoom to connect with the Infant Pulmonary Function Lab I recently retired from in Indianapolis while I am in Iowa. We work on new ideas for the software I wrote for the lab. The video capability allows me to see the software in the lab working, opening and closing valves, etc.
Zoom works by accepting video from each person (black) and then combines them all into one image. That composite image is sent back to each person on the call (red). Any audio is also shared with everyone.
This past weekend was the scheduled date for the Midyear Meeting of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), which is held at the Quaker meetinghouse of Bear Creek Friends meeting, in the countryside near Earlham, Iowa.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it was not possible to meet face to face this year. That was very disappointing, since we look forward to being together. As our presenter said, a Quaker meeting is a gathering of people who are friends with each other. Another term for Quakers is Friends, or the Religious Society of Friends.
As an alternative we decided to use the Zoom teleconferencing app to connect us with each other. We knew this would be challenging for many reasons. Many members are older, which generally means it is less likely they are comfortable using software such as Zoom. We were grateful several Friends took on the responsibility of organizing the Zoom sessions, and helping Friends learn how to use Zoom, including several practice sessions.
Quaker ways of worship are not bound by custom or ritual. We are called to find space to listen to the promptings of love and truth in our hearts, wherever we might be. God is found in a forest, field, prison, house or car as much as within the walls of a church. Nothing is set apart or sacred because everything is sacred.A Quaker’s guide to online worship and meetings, Britain Yearly Meeting
When it comes to online meeting for worship, Friends meeting online are perhaps like those on the hillside of Firbank Fell, creating the church community in a space that is available.
Quakers’ experience in Britain and internationally is that worshipping together online can be deep and spirit-filled, with ministry springing from a gathered stillness.
“Now there were many old people who went into the chapel and looked out at the windows, thinking it a strange thing to see a man preach on a hill, and not in their church, as they called it; whereupon I was moved to open to the people that the steeple-house, and the ground whereon it stood were no more holy than that mountain…”(George Fox, Firbank Fell, 1694)
I think many of us wondered how Zoom would work during our meetings for worship, when we sit quietly with each other for about an hour. Sometimes someone is moved to share a message with the meeting.
During a meeting for worship this weekend, 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, creating the sacred space that connected us.
In the last post I wrote about something I observed during meeting for worship. Many people speak of feeling a spiritual presence when they are in the Bear Creek meetinghouse. Many of us feel it is a sacred place and is one of the reasons Quakers from other meetings enjoy Midyear Meeting at Bear Creek.
One of the video panels on our Zoom screens showed the empty benches in the Bear Creek meetinghouse. Several people mentioned enjoying seeing that image. It occurred to me we were making a sacred connection to a sacred place across our geographical distances.
That made me think there is a special way Zoom can be used for faith communities. As I try to show below, there are the usual connections between people in the Zoom meeting, the red and green lines below. In addition, when people of faith are meeting, each person also has a connection to the divine, or at least hopes to make such a connection (blue, bidirectional line). The connection might be through a sacred physical space or otherwise. There is then the opportunity for a person sharing their spiritual message with the others in the Zoom meeting. A Zoom meetinghouse.
Many Quaker meetings are using Zoom because of the pandemic. One of the most enriching I’ve found is FCNL’s weekly virtual meeting described below.
FCNL’s offices are temporarily closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but you can still join our virtual events. Every Wednesday, we will be holding virtual Witness Wednesday Silent Reflections from 5:15-6:00pm EDT. Join our virtual events by phone or videoconference using our communication platform, Zoom.Zoom: fcnl.org/ww-stream
Photos at Bear Creek Meetinghouse outside Earlham, Iowa. Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)