[This letter was abridged from a longer original, which you can find at: https://westernfriend.org/letters-marchapril-2022]
In December 2021, I was the convener of a “Consultation” for Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) on the topic of “Hybrid Worship.” Nearly fifty Friends attended, both in person and online. Before, during, and after the Consultation, I’ve been aware of a wide variety of opinions and experiences expressed by Friends about online worship – as they navigate Covid restrictions, as they imagine “what happens next” when restrictions are lifted, and as they consider what worship should look like.
I have a sense that we need to be engaging actively with these questions now -- about how or if we will continue to use these technologies in our meetings for worship. We need to engage in careful discernment, to listen to each other and to the Inward Teacher.
I don’t particularly like Zoom or Skype. I much prefer being in the same room with other people for worship. I know some Friends who state clearly that they can discern the “sense of the Meeting” online, who experience a “gathered meeting” via Zoom. I can’t . . . or at least, I haven’t yet. But it is better than nothing.
As my meeting struggled with going online, we were already thinking about what we would do after the pandemic. We knew that we could use what we were learning to discern what might actually be improvements.
For example, with Zoom, we have many Friends present who had previously been unable to attend in-person worship – for months or years – because of illness or distance. We have had visitors from other countries drop in, and their presence is a blessing. We are driving less.
The values we hold can be in conflict, in “creative tension.” The value of deep-rooted tradition is challenged by the value of new and diverse ideas. The love of innovation confronts long-standing ways that have served us well. With online meetings, we see how disabilities are minimized and we also miss shaking hands.
I don’t know if it matters whether I like or dislike a format. But I am clear that I need to acknowledge all the values. I need to listen to all those Voices, the voices calling me to return to the meetinghouse in person and the online voices saying, “You’ve let us in, don’t close that door now.”
Our faith communities need to bring our “A” Game to this discernment, or we will wound people.
– Julie Peyton, West Hills Friends (SCYMF)