Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Online first-timers

posted by kathz

I've been wondering what it's like to attend your first Quaker Meeting online - and how best to welcome newcomers to an online Meeting. This post doesn't have easy answers but it does attempt to give some advice on how a newcomer might approach an online Meeting for Worship.

If you came to your first Meeting for Worship before lockdown, you were probably welcomed at the door. You might have been given a leaflet about what happens in Meeting. Even if you arrived a little late, there would still be someone on the door. You would have the opportunity to ask questions - and then there would be a chance for more conversation and questions after Meeting, usually over tea and biscuits.

Online Meetings can't do this. There might be a short opportunity for chat if you get there early - but there will probably be a fair number of other people, making conversation difficult. And if you're a little late - or quite a lot late - as may easily happen with a tricky internet connection, you are plunged straight into the experience of being silent while seeing the faces of strangers. And faces seen on the internet rarely seen as friendly or approachable as faces encountered in real life.

But you may still want to join an online Meeting for Worship - and you would be very welcome to do so. I'm going to make a few suggestions about how you might approach it. These are based on my own experience and they are not the only possibilities.

First of all, once you have got through the technicalities and arrived, try to settle into the silence. It won't be complete silence. There are always other sounds. You may, if you're lucky, hear birdsong. It may be traffic, voices from outside or a dog barking. Take these sounds into the stillness with you.

Being in Meeting for Worship is often about listening - but that doesn't mean straining to listen. It's a kind of openness to what may come. Don't worry if your thoughts wander or if worries come to mind in the stillness - perhaps that wandering or coming face to face with a worry is what you need to happen. Let it be there and try to rest in the stillness you are sharing with others.

Don't worry if you become restless or if you lose a sense of the stillness. This happens to all of us from time to time. Gradually take yourself back into any stillness you may find. Try to be comfortable despite the technological apparatus.

Someone may speak - it's what we call "ministry" - and this should be because they feel led by the Spirit to do so. Ministry isn't for the individual alone but for someone else or some others in the Meeting. It may respond to your needs. If it doesn't, think it possible that someone else in the Meeting is helped by what is being said. And if you feel an overwhelming urge to minister, try to do so clearly and briefly (remembering to unmute your microphone before you speak and to must it again when you have finished).

Online Meetings usually have an opportunity for conversation at the end. You may welcome this or wish to reflect on your own. Choose whatever is right for you. 

Many Meetings, like Beeston, have gone online for the first time and Quakers are still getting used to the experience. Woodbrooke Quaker College in Birmingham have been holding online Meetings for a long time and have added a number of new times. These often include Quakers from other countries and in different time zones. They use Zoom and Adobe Connect. If you want to find out about their Meetings for Worship, click on this link.

You may also enjoy hearing what some young Quakers have to say about Meeting for Worship in this short video. 

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