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Quakers and Zoom: How Videoconferencing Came to Quaker Worship and Whether It’s Here to Stay

What happens when Quaker worship goes online? 

On this episode, we tell three stories about Quaker worship in the Zoom era.

From Pendle Hill’s daily worship, which exploded in popularity during the pandemic, to Fall Creek Meeting in rural Indiana, which never used Zoom, to what we can learn from the Amish… we explore how Quakers are coping with this new era of interconnectedness, and whether zoom screens in the meetinghouse are here to stay.

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Download the transcript and discussion questions.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How did this episode challenge your views on the use of Zoom for worship?
  2. Max Carter talked about the Amish practice of putting technology on probation. In what ways can you do that with the technology you already use?

Max Carter  

A core value of Quakers in worship is that in the silence, as we center down, we may be open to God’s revelations, that God may speak directly through us. This was taken so seriously by early Friends, that when we centered down in worship, and someone was moved of the Lord, to share the message God had placed on their heart or in their, in their soul, that in those old quietus plain dressed Quaker times, that person would either rise or sometimes fall to their knees, and take the hat or bonnet off, and recognition of the authority of God. And in the old quiet display, culture, everyone else rose took their hats and bonnets off, turn their backs to the person and bowed in humility. Before the fact that God was speaking to this person. It was taken that seriously. Now, the question would be if we bring in video cameras microphones into a meeting for worship, does it impact how a person receives the message from God and chooses to share it?

Various  

Thee Quaker podcast: story, spirit sound.

Jon Watts  

I’m Jon Qatts.

Georgia Sparling  

And I’m Georgia Sparling. Welcome back to the country, Jon. Good to have you back. It’s great to have you back from Australia.

Jon Watts  

Good to be back. It’s nice to be back in the same timezone with you. But now you’re on the road. How is how’s New England going?

Georgia Sparling  

Yeah. My New England trip is going great. So far, the humidity is much lower than in the South. So yeah, but anyway, what are we talking about today?

Jon Watts  

We’re talking about Zoom. So so I have to admit that this topic was not at the top of my list when we started doing story brainstorms for the podcast. But as I travel around, sharing a vision for Quakers to boldly step into the 21st century, and especially internet media, you know, this is a conversation that seems to be at the forefront of people’s minds.

Georgia Sparling  

I mean, you’ve said a few times Zoom isn’t really your thing, though, right?

Jon Watts  

It’s right. It’s not. Zoom is not my thing. I’m, you know, I’m I’m into Internet tools like YouTube and podcasting, you know, publishing platforms. But I honestly know, next to nothing about Zoom. In fact, that should probably be a disclaimer for this episode. You’re not about to get a technical rundown of the software.

Georgia Sparling  

What is it about Zoom that Quakers are so eager to talk about, then?

Jon Watts  

I think it has something to do with how rapid the shift has been, you know, like five years ago, it would have been unheard of to have a big screen TV and a meeting for worship, at least in my branch of Friends.

Georgia Sparling  

Um, yeah, I mean, I’d say probably 15, 20 years ago, that was the case in like, the churches I grew up in. For Quakers, was it not allowed to have a TV?

Jon Watts  

Yeah, well, I don’t know about not allowed. But it just, it just wasn’t done. Like, you know, we’re all trying to sit in stillness and listen for the Spirit. And something like photography, or a phone ringing or something like that might be considered a distraction. In my wedding last month, for example, we didn’t have any photography during the ceremony. I think that was because we wanted to prioritize everyone being able to be fully present and not be distracted by like, How do I look right now? Is the photographer, you know, pointing the camera at me stuff like that.

Georgia Sparling  

Right? So a big television screen a camera and A/V Technician.

Jon Watts  

Right. Yeah, that’s a lot. You know, some some Quaker meetings have had controversies about like, whether putting flowers on the table in the center of the meeting room would be too much of a distraction.

Georgia Sparling  

Several degrees removed from a TV screen. Yeah. I mean, we have, yeah, the church I grew up in had a flower ministry.

Jon Watts  

It sounds fun.

Georgia Sparling  

So what shifted the tide then to having TVs in so many meetings?

Jon Watts  

Right now, you know, just a few short years later, the standard has changed. Wherever I go, whatever meaning I walk into, you can pretty much assume that they have a hybrid meeting for worship, which means, you know, some portion of the participants on that Sunday morning are calling in from Zoom, they’re on a TV screen. So this is where I wanted to start today’s episode, you know, how did we get here? How are we as a religious society handling this sort of sudden shift, certainly sudden for Quakers? What are the advantages of inviting this new technology into our worship space? What are some of the drawbacks? And, you know, what is what does the future look like? Is this a flash in the pan? Or is it here to stay for the most part? But first, for those who maybe haven’t experienced it before? And might be new to the idea of this style of quiet waiting worship? Is it even possible to do over Zoom?

Ann Jerome  

Well, I actually have a story about this.

Jon Watts  

So that’s Ann Jerome, a Quaker in Florida. She’s part of the DeLand Worship Group.

Ann Jerome  

At the beginning of the pandemic, a friend of mine who’s not a Quaker asked me, So what’s gonna happen to Quaker worship? You can’t get together, you know? And I said, Well, actually, you know, we’re starting to meet online. And she said, But don’t you guys just sit in silence. And we laughed and laughed and laughed.

Jon Watts  

So I actually called and to ask her about Pendel Hill’s daily worship, which went online during the pandemic and attracted hundreds of new worshippers from all over the world. But first, I want to dig a little deeper into some of this hesitancy. Why is it that Quaker meetings have been reticent in the past to bring new technology into the worship room. I asked our old friend, Max Carter.

Max Carter  

I think primarily, it’s from the Quaker tradition of not wanting distractions, when you’re sitting down in worship. This is why we didn’t have stained glass windows. We didn’t have statuary. We didn’t have icons, we didn’t have visuals. In the meeting room, the meeting room in a typical, traditional unprogrammed Quaker meeting, house is bare, absolutely bare. Another is that historically, we have not taken pictures in meeting for worship. It’s not a spectator sport. It’s a meeting for worship, and in worship, you know, the focus should be on centering down and being attended to the Spirit. So it’s interesting that that is still a strong tradition among Friends when they have no problem resume.

Ann Jerome  

I mean, in a way, waiting worship is ridiculous on the face of it anyway, if you walk into a meeting room and see people just sitting around mostly with their eyes closed, like why did they all come together? And why did they drive an hour to get here? And I think that with the advent of Zoom worship, once you get past that ridiculousness factor, amazing things happened. So, yes, you’re right. Three years ago, I would have said, No way are you getting rolling in the aisles laughing. But in point of fact, I find it now one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had in the Quaker world.

Jon Watts  

So whenever Zoom worship comes up in conversation among Quakers often one of the first things that gets mentioned is Pendle Hill’s daily worship. Pendle Hill is Quaker retreat center outside of Philadelphia, which has held daily Quaker worship every day, since its founding in 1930. For this story, we’re going to go back to Ann Jerome who attended the Pendle Hill worship throughout the pandemic. Just a heads up, I did this interview over Zoom and true to form we had some technical difficulties, you may notice that the audio quality isn’t great for the first bit. That’s because we didn’t have the right audio source selected. Well, we figured it out pretty quickly, so stick with it, it’ll get better.

Ann Jerome  

That tradition of faithfulness to worship every single day is really significant at the core of Pendel Hill as a study and retreat center. And I think that for the Quaker world as a whole, people are glad to know that that’s happening. There’s a sort of keep the light burning quality to it.

Jon Watts  

Yeah. So what happened during the pandemic? How did Pendle Hill bring its worship on to Zoom? And what happened, then?

Ann Jerome  

I know that there was some conversation about was it appropriate to have a great big screen TV with little squares of people on it? In the meeting room in the barn? Which is no, it feels like a sacred space that, that worship space. But the to my understanding, it was the sense of service to the world, outside Pendle Hill, that really moved to the staff toward offering worship via Zoom every single day.

Jon Watts  

So this is the moment we figured out the microphone issue. And once we got it working, I asked and about this phenomenon of people joining Pendle Hills worship once they opened it up to Zoom.

Ann Jerome  

Yeah, it definitely did become a crowd pretty quickly. There was a gradual uptick in attendance. But we that first year, we would sometimes have 150 connections. And many of those have multiple people sitting in a room together.

Jon Watts  

Wow. And that’s just to clarify, that’s, that’s like every day, that’s like on a Monday morning, you might have 100 250 people on it on a Friday morning on a Wednesday morning,

Ann Jerome  

every single day. Sundays, maybe a little bit fewer, you know, we might go down to 65 connections now on a Sunday, because people are going to their own other worship that day. But there’s, there’s a core group now of probably 75, 80, 90 People who are there almost every morning, the same people.

Jon Watts  

Wow. Yeah. So tell me have a little bit about the shift, like how did it feel to move on to Zoom? Was it weird what you know what happened to the quality of worship?

Ann Jerome  

I think that getting used to worship on Zoom is a thing, and people actually have to get used to it. I know that some people just say I’ve tried it, it’s not for me. And I believe that may not be for everybody. But I do think that giving it some time really helps. It definitely helped me. And I learned, I don’t know probably took a few weeks. But I learned gradually that I still could center into worship the same way as I do, when I’m in person. In fact, in some ways better. And this is where me being a convert comes in. I’ve found that the distractions that are sometimes present in a room full of people, coughing or moving around or whatever. The absence of those helped me to concentrate better on my internal spiritual practice to maintain that connection with God that I look for in worship. I also found that being able to prepare for worship within my own home space was helpful. In driving to worship, I would prepare a bit in the car on the way but I was also driving. So with worshipping from home, I can read a little before worship or I can go for a little walk. Before worship, it’s it’s easier. It’s sort of like a more controlled environment in a way to prepare for that worship time. I also found that being with Friends on Zoom allows me ironically to get closer to them. Even though we’re on opposite sides of the world in some cases, but instead of sitting across a room from them, where I might or might not be able to hear every word they say. I’m looking them in the eye on my screen, eight inches from my face. And there’s a certain intimacy about that, that I don’t really find, for myself, at least in in person worship. It may be partly because I’m an introvert. So it’s in some ways easier for me to connect with someone one on one, the way I can on a screen. But there’s a remarkable sense of intimacy among people who worship together online.

Jon Watts  

Thank you. Yeah. So So and I want to get your prognostication is this, you know, is this Zoom phenomenon of meetings being mostly hybrid? Is that a pandemic flash in the pan? Or? Or is this here to stay?

Ann Jerome  

I sure hope it’s here to stay for so many reasons. There are people who come to Pendle Hill worship every day who don’t have anywhere else to worship. Either they don’t live near a meeting, or they’re immune compromised in some way, or transportation is an issue or whatever. Yes, you have to have a computer or some other device to connect to Zoom. But I think that in many ways, it’s a more egalitarian form of gathering. And I also carry a passion for what it does for climate change. For Quakers to gather in person, we have to use a lot of fossil fuels. For greatness together on Zoom, we don’t. And I think the fact that we can gather on Zoom and experience the same kind of gathered, meeting, togetherness, spiritual communion, whatever you want to call it, is testimony to the fact that what Quakers had been doing all along, still works. All along, Quakers have been experiencing that. When we gather with the intention to listen for God. We hear God. And that principle holds true. From a distance just as it does in person. We don’t have to have these physical human bodies together in one place for the spirit to still move among us.

Jon Watts  

After the break, the story of a Quaker meeting who never used Zoom, and putting technology on probation, what we can learn from the Amish.

Georgia Sparling  

We got an email a few weeks ago from a guy who identifies himself as a Quaker wannabe

Rob Musick  

Rob Musick, and I am the campus chaplain at the University of Pikeville.

Georgia Sparling  

Rob told me that he became a Christian as a teenager and from there grew up in the evangelical tradition,

Rob Musick  

having grown up in places where there really aren’t Quaker meetings, I always just have appreciated it from a distance.

Georgia Sparling  

At seminary, Rob studied the writings of George Fox and John Woolman, and since then, he has taken an interest in Quaker thought and practice. He found Jon’s videos on YouTube.

Rob Musick  

And that really fed my spirit. Even though I can’t be a part of a community, I can vicariously be a part of it through the content that’s being created.

Georgia Sparling  

Even though Rob’s corner of Kentucky doesn’t have a Quaker meeting, learning about Quakerism has inspired him to embrace Quaker traditions and practices in his own way.

Rob Musick

Yeah, I think one, I’m a nonviolent, peaceful ethic, I mean to the point that I’m like vegetarian and trying to do no harm of speech. You know, ethical responsibility of my spending. I think that is real serious. I’m still working on that. The gracious hospitality of Quakerism, allowing people to be wherever they’re at, and not having such an epistemologically, haughty, arrogant kind of approach. I think that’s one of the things I just have really appreciated about Quakerism is that, you know, I’m following where I feel like the Inner Light is leading me, but it’s okay that like you are also on that journey. And we may not be at the same place.

Georgia Sparling  

Since we launched the podcast, Rob has become a subscriber, and said, It’s been a way for Quaker want to be like him to engage meaningfully with the faith practice.

Thank you for your work. I mean, you do I mean, this exceptional work, really well done. And I just really, like I said, I’m here in rural eastern Kentucky, very far from a lot of religious diversity. And your work very much is kind of a lifeline. Oh, wait, like, there’s actually this big world out there of other people who think very differently. So your work is so critical. It just for all of us who are scattered to help us become one family through technology. So I really appreciate your work.

Jon Watts  

Okay, we’re back. So a few days ago, I posted on the Quakers Facebook group and asked for stories of Quaker meetings that have never adopted Zoom. And I was actually surprised by the number of responses I got. One of those meetings was Fall Creek in Pendleton, Indiana. I spoke with two members of Fall Creek about their meeting and how they came to the decision to meet in person or not at all.

Diann Herzog  

Okay, my name is Diane Herzog. I am near Anderson, Indiana, between Anderson and Pendleton, Indiana, and my meeting is bull Creek meeting.

Anna Margaret Greene  

So my name is Anna Margaret Greene. I am a member of Fall Creek monthly meeting, which is part of Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting. I’m also the clerk of that meeting and have been since 2017, we are a very small number of Friends. In a very big historic meeting house,

Diann Herzog  

There’s been meetings there for 180 years plus, where a small meeting, I’ve been there 23 years. And it’s always been kind of a small rural meeting.

Anna Margaret Greene  

So Fall Creek is I would call a very deep and centered quality of worship. 

Diann Herzog  

And each one of us I think, feels a lot of gratitude for this little place that’s so special, and so deep in history and deep and spirit. And then the hour just passes, it passes. Sometimes there’s vocal ministry, sometimes there’s not. Sometimes there are a couple of children in our midst, and they do their thing and kind of circulate around the meeting house and around us. And it’s it doesn’t break the depth of worship at all. It’s just unfolded into the silence. And that’s pretty much our typical Sunday morning.

Jon Watts  

So I asked Anna and Diane about the pandemic and how Fall Creek came to the decision to continue meeting without Zoom.

Anna Margaret Greene  

For us. That was never something that Fall Creek was really interested in pursuing. And I think there were a couple of different factors. One group was kind of the the younger, like my generation of Friends, who a lot of us had jobs where we were in video calls on Zoom or other platforms, many hours a day. And so adding additional Zoom meetings was not a very appealing idea. For some of us, we had a lot of that Zoom fatigue. Also within that category was at the time parents of toddlers. And so trying to you know, have a comb our to sit in a Zoom meeting on a computer with a two or three year old was complicated.

Diann Herzog  

And it’s a big meeting house and a lot of space in between us. So we a couple of us just came and sat away from each other a lot of times with doors and windows open masks on

Jon Watts  

I see. So you were Yeah, you had a lot of a lot of distance to be able to space from each other. 

Diann Herzog  

Yes. 

Jon Watts  

And what did that feel like? did? Did it feel good to get back? Did it feel weird to be sitting so far apart from each other?

Diann Herzog  

It just felt good to be back. And just to be you know, to see one another. And we missed the people who weren’t able to be there, but it felt like we were holding them in worship with us.

Jon Watts  

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, so I heard that there were some obvious logistical reasons to not use Zoom In this instance. But when I asked them whether they had much experience personally with Zoom worship, I was surprised to hear that both Diann and Anna each had clocked quite a few hours in front of the computer screen whether it was for a yearly meeting or visiting another meeting, what have you. So I wanted to ask them to compare the experiences. You know what’s there’s something special about coming home to a meeting that hasn’t adopted this new practice? And we’ll start with Diann’s answer.

Diann Herzog  

Okay, so I know spirit can transcend time and space. But there is something so palpable in, in worship together, there is there’s a body of worshipers in that meeting house, we may be five physical bodies, but we are a meeting house full and crowded with spirits worshiping with us. And I see, you know, those are our Quaker ancestors, the they’re happy that were there, and they are with us in worship. And I don’t know, it’s just, I think we’re unique meeting in that way, maybe that were small, but unfulfilled, it’s full.

Anna Margaret Greene  

For me, it feels different. It really dies. I think, like being physically together, seeing each other definitely makes a difference for me. I feel like there’s kind of a, like a gravity when Friends are, you know, worshiping when when one friend is very deep, I can feel like myself getting kind of pulled along by their gravity. And I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to feel that way on a Zoom call. I personally have never felt that way on a Zoom call.

Jon Watts  

Has there ever been a moment where it felt like Fall Creek was was missing out on something, that there was something that Zoom might unlock for the community that that wasn’t happening, because you don’t have that capacity?

Anna Margaret Greene  

We have a few members who have like, either occasional or long term health issues, where sometimes like getting out to the meeting house is a challenge. And so in those cases, like, it is kind of a shame that we can’t offer another like a virtual way for them to attend worship with us. But I would say like on the whole what we’ve got is working for us pretty well.

Diann Herzog  

It is a way of being inclusive, and maybe spreading and sharing what it is that we find in worship together. And I think, you know, Quakers have although they’ve they’ve held the line in some regards, they’ve also been able to adapt and change. I mean, we don’t use plain language anymore. Not very many people do anyway, not very many people live in plain dress anymore. We can adapt and change. And I think Zoom is one of the ways we can do it. But I think we also need to remember what it is that is at the core of what we do and who we are. And I think as long as we can keep keep that in mind and keep that in practice. That deep worship and deep commitment to to the way we worship and why we worship than I think the changes the changes will just come anyway, we we just like I said at the beginning. Let’s roll with it. Let’s just take it as far as we can go with it and and see we’ve got to explore it

Jon Watts  

Max Carter, thanks for taking a moment to talk with me today about everyone’s favorite topic, Zoom worship.

Max Carter  

Sure, it’s a hybrids are not just cars.

Jon Watts  

Nice. Could we start with a brief introduction? Sure.

Max Carter  

Max Carter, and I’m a member of New Garden Friends Meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina and retired professor of Quaker Studies and Director of Friends Center at Guilford College.

Jon Watts  

Great, thank you. So Max Carter, I wanted to bring you into this conversation to Zoom out a little bit historically. So you grew up on a dairy farm in Indiana. You know, during a different era, and I’m wondering if you know if I could travel back in time and found you as a kid and told you that, in the future, there would be big screen TVs and Quaker meeting houses, and anyone from all over the world could call in and participate in worship, what would you have told me?

Max Carter  

Well, I would have told you the same thing my grandfather told me when, in 1969, we had people walking on the moon. And my grandfather was born in 1890. He was a teenager before the airplane was invented. And I asked him once, Grandpa, how did you cope with such enormous change in your life, to be born before the airplane and then to live to see men walking on the moon? They looked me in the face and said, What do you expect me to do? Well, I have not adapted as well as Grandpa did, but I will say that Grandpa too, was a dairy farmer. And when his two sons who had been conscientious objectors during World War II, went off and saw the world as ambulance drivers and CEOs during that war, and came back and said, Dad, we got to run electricity to the barn, we got to go modern, we gotta get electric milkers. Grandpa said, the day I can’t lean my head into the flank of a warm cow and hear the ringing of milk in the bucket. I’m moving to town. His boys ran electricity to the barn brought in surge milkers, Grandpa built a house in town and moved. So there’s, again, I mentioned that because there’s, it’s how you relate to technology. It’s what your feelings are around technology, you adapt. But there are some things that you are hesitant to adapt to. If that makes any sense.

Jon Watts  

Well, yeah, totally. I really like that concept, and especially the distinction that you’re making. So adapt, but do so critically, like with our eyes open about the implications about what it is that we’re adapting to. I mean, I feel like we’re in such an escalating period of rapid change in technology and how it affects us societally. I mean, how would we even go about putting the brakes on the parts of it that we deem unhealthy or wrong for us somehow,

Max Carter  

Again, it’s how you relate to the technology. This is where I’ve learned quite a bit from the Amish, perhaps too much from the Amish, who are, by the way, not Quakers. They put technology on probation. I think this is a helpful thing for all of us to learn. The Amish are not completely opposed to technology. But they want to ask technology questions. And the primary question they ask of technology is, if we adopt you, what impact will that have on our core values? Yeah, back in 1999, they asked that question about the cell phone, the cell phone was just coming in. And one of the central concepts, theological concepts of the Amish is separation from a fallen world mean this is straight out of the Bible, be not conformed to the world, come out from among them and be separate. And they had initially in the early 1900s, being among the first to adopt telephones, because they had little batteries. They wired their communities to these batteries and talk to each other on this telephone device. Then in came public utilities, in cane lines that connected them to the rest of the world. And the bishop said, this is a bridge or a line too far. And they said, No more phones. Plus, they found that rather than going out and feeding the chickens milking the cows and plowing the fields folk were gossiping. Not not favorable.

Jon Watts  

Well, I mean, I think we can all relate to a drop in productivity when we start looking at our phones too much. You know, that might be an equivalent, but Yeah, so Zooming out. I’m, I’m curious what your takeaway is here, you know, like, what, what can Quakers learn from this Amish practice of putting technology on probation?

Max Carter  

I think we can learn from the Amish. And they’re putting technology on probation. By being hesitant to simply adopt. The first thing coming down the pike, our tendency as moderns is to if it’s if it’s new, if it’s fancy, if it’s high tech, grab it. It would be helpful for us. In terms of the topic of today, how do we use technology recording, video, Zoom, things like that, in the in our meetings, for worship, to be somewhat careful. And put it on probation? You know, try it and see it what impact it has, and then feel free? If it does seem to corrode or impact our core values. To feel free to sit there maybe not now, maybe later, maybe not now.

Jon Watts  

Yeah, I’m trying to imagine a world in which Quakers would all get together and sort of make that decision together about where to draw the line with technology. I mean, it’s we’re so different from the Amish. They have really cut and dry boundaries, it seems like with things like this,

Max Carter  

Well as, as William Penn once said, “You love the world with weaned affections.” And that’s different from the Amish, you separate from the world. So we are in this gray area as Quakers in both senses of the word, you know, some of us still wearing gray. But when you’re in this gray area, of not having carefully defined parameters, the Amish have carefully defined parameters. Right? This is what thou shalt not do. This is what thou shalt Quakers, yo have permeable membranes surrounding us. And we have to navigate that and so it may appear to be inconsistent, but so are the Amish. You’ll take a look at the Amish, who will have a buggy with lights that will press the second How can you what what is this is inconsistent. Well, no, we got to be safe. If we’re driving at night, we got to be safe. And some Amish will then choose have batteries, operating lights, other branches, obviously no, that’s too worldly. And won’t you navigate these things. It’s the same way with how most Quaker meetings and this was true your wedding. We will not have alcohol in the meeting house because Quakers don’t have alcohol in the meeting house. But there’s this little food truck outside the parking lot which served a certain beverage that’s, that’s how we navigate the world. This is how we negotiate. We have certain limits and some choose these, this bridge, others and other bridge.

Georgia Sparling  

Thank you for listening and thank you to today’s guests: Ann Jerome, Anna Margaret Greeme, Max Carter, and Diann McFarland Herzog. Please leave us a comment and tell us about your experiences with Zoom and worship. You can do that at Quakerpodcast.com. And while you’re there, you can also read a transcript from this episode and ponder some discussion questions that we’ve written up for you. This episode was produced by Jon Watts and me, Georgia Sparling. Jon also wrote the music for this episode. The Quaker podcast is part of the Quaker project a brand new Quaker media organization whose focus is on lifting up voices of spiritual courage and giving Quakers a platform and 21st Century Media. If you want to support our work, please consider becoming a Patreon supporter. You can learn how to do that at Theequaker.org That’s Theequaker.org. We’ll have another new episode for you next week. But before you go, Jon has an announcement.

Jon Watts  

Hi, Hannah. 

Hannah Mayer  

Hey, Jon.

Jon Watts  

So I just wanted to take a brief moment here to welcome you to the Quaker project. We’re so excited to have you.

Hannah Mayer  

Oh my God, I’m so happy to be here.

Jon Watts  

Could you just take a brief moment and introduce yourself for our audience?

Hannah Mayer  

My name is Hannah Mayer. I’m Operations Coordinator at the Quaker project for a few weeks now. I’m a lifelong Quaker. Jon and I go way back. So that’s really fun. 

Jon Watts  

That’s right we worked together at Shiloh Quaker camp a long time ago, a long time ago. We were teenagers. 

Hannah Mayer  

Totally. Yeah. We had a good time.

Jon Watts  

So what what are you excited about with, with this sort of career change with this professional transition with this next next chapter?

Hannah Mayer  

All of those things? Yeah. Um, wow, a lot of things. I love podcasts. I’m like, very nervous by now because I’m gonna be on a podcast. Oh my gosh. I love Quakers and the Quaker world. And I love your work and the ministry that you have for putting Quakers out there in a compelling and strategic way that is inviting to new folks and helpful to folks who have been around with a faith for a long time. So I’m just like, very excited about all of that. And then also with this job, I get to do everything. 

Jon Watts  

We are we are scrappy startup.

Hannah Mayer  

We sure are. And I am a generalist at heart and so I’m really enjoyed getting to put my toes in everything a little bit and learn new things.

Jon Watts  

Well, a generalist is what we needed at this stage, and, and we couldn’t, couldn’t be luckier or couldn’t be happier to have you. Thank you.

Recorded and edited by Jon Watts and Georgia Sparling

Original music and sound design by Jon Watts (Listen to more of Jon’s music here.)

Supported by listeners like you (thank you!!)

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11 Replies to “Quakers and Zoom: How Videoconferencing Came to Quaker Worship and Whether It’s Here to Stay”

  1. Mark Macleod in Hobart, Australia

    Thank you so much for covering a topic that is important to us as we search for ways forward in the post-pandemic meeting. I love the balanced variety of Friends’ perspectives that you include here. For me distance, illness or disability, carbon footprint, are all important reasons for hybrid meetings in a big geographical area with a small population and scattered meetings like Australia. I especially enjoyed the insights in this podcast about being able to better prepare for meeting when you don’t have to drive in traffic, and I also loved the point about being more intimate when you are 8 inches away from a Friend’s face in a hybrid meeting. This podcast is such a great contribution to our ongoing process of discernment. Thank you.

    • Jon Watts

      Thanks so much for this thoughtful reply, Mark! This was especially on my mind after my visit to Australia… which will be featured on an episode soon!

  2. David Tehr

    “Think globally, act locally” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Think_globally,_act_locally) or, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_in_Rome,_do_as_the_Romans_do) are two phrases that come to mind. Quaker Friends have a wondrous way of integrating the desires of the freedom-of-the-individual with the restrictions that inevitably come from living-in-community.

    I cannot think of (do not know of) any other religion that balances the deep spiritual truths such as ongoing revelation, individual rights and community principles as do Friendly practices and procedures. Quaker community spirituality and belief is the only one I know alive today that truly, truly tries every day and every way to live out that most powerful and fundamental decree of Christ to ‘love your enemy’ (Matthew 5:44)

    I particularly love the Quaker ethos of ‘Think it possible that you may be mistaken’ (https://qfp.quaker.org.uk/passage/13-10). It is such a refreshing change from “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” & “for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:3-5). It does however speak profoundly to New Testament passages such as John 14.

    Jesus was a witness to peace, not an enforcer of peace. He asks us to be the same as individuals. His conviction, cruciation and crucifixion is a lesson to us all as communities to remember we may be mistaken when throwing accusations of wrongdoing.

    Quaker ethics however calls us as individuals to ‘live adventurously’! (https://qfp.quaker.org.uk/passage/21-25)

  3. Chris Warner

    Dear Friends,

    I have written a detailed paper as to why I believe blended Business Meetings – i.e. combined Zoom and face-to-face – are not able to discern in a Quaker way. I would be happy to forward the paper to any Friend who wishes to read it. My email is chriswarner2@gmail.com

    In Friendship

    Chris Warner
    Melbourne, Australia

  4. mark

    My only adult experiences with a Quaker unprogrammed meeting were via Zoom a few months into the pandemic. The first meeting was exactly what I needed then, a few months into the lock down. I even cried a bit when I mentioned how connected I felt to everyone as we worshiped. Some messages were delivered and they resonated. And the discussion afterward was wonderful. The second meeting was much less wonderful. It too, was all virtual and many of the older people attending were verbally struggling with the lack of in-person contact. Much of the discussion post worship and during the business meeting was about the physical structure the meeting had used for several decades and how to update it to make it ADA compliant (would wipe out their savings). By the third meeting, any sense of meaning connection through zoom was lost because people seemed more concerned about what was going to happen if they never needed the meeting house again. Meanwhile our politically red state was seeing a rapid escalation of COVID and related deaths. The building and being in person became more important, it seemed to me, than the worship, than an openness to what reality was presenting us. So I stopped.

    I’m tempted to return to Quaker worship through a virtual experience with a group that I have no possible means of joining otherwise (like Pendle Hill — too far away), meaning there has to be a Zoom-equivalent connection. This podcast episode got me thinking about folks who developed or maintained deep relationships without regular physical connections. Pen pals (back when they really used pens), kids to kids, or prisoners and the concerned non-imprisoned, and others who share some affinity or interest. And now people who interact through technology and social media who may never meet in person, but if/when they do, they find something meaningful exists. There are/may be unique qualities gained when relationships are built on regular direct, personal contact but that doesn’t mean relationships built through technology are necessarily less valuable. I hope more Quaker meetings for worship will embrace the opportunity to connect with people unable or uninterested in attending in person.

    There is right to fear the many negative aspects of some technology, but it doesn’t mean it’s all bad. While Watts and Carter joke about the Amish during the podcast, my impression is some sects of the Amish are very deliberate in when and how they use any “innovation, measuring its potential negative impact on the overall community and their relationship to God. Amish numbers don’t seem to be declining in the United States at the same rate as the Society of Friends is. Perhaps adoption of new approaches makes sense, if deliberative.

  5. Andrew Comfort

    I am working as an international worker in a global non-denominational Christian organization in Quito, Ecuador.

    My Quaker programmed home church in Oregon has kept its Zoom subscription up as the restriction to in-person gatherings were loosened. My church hopes to continue having the Zoom connection for people who are too sick to gather in-person or who are travelling and still want to connect into the service. It is an evening service, so people can attend a meeting in person wherever they are and then on the Zoom service.

    There are no Quaker churches in Ecuador, at least not that I can find, so having a way to feel at home is good for me each Sunday evening.

    As in-person became available, the Zoom participants are less of the service and do not interact with each other. We have a 15 minute social time and when the whole church was on Zoom, that was incorporated into our time together.

  6. Tracey Hastings

    Deeply interested in the curiosity and outcome of this topic. Adaptability is important for survival no? Yet I am not always a fan of the effects of technology instead of humans interacting face to face.

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