I believe that we may – likely do – have new Friends, especially young Friends and Friends who live isolated or far away, schooled by the pandemic years, who have never attended a Quaker meeting for worship in person, but only online. Rather than simply rejoice that they found us at all, we need to invite such newcomers to attend meeting for worship somewhere, sometime, in person.
I believe that, despite the real presence of community online, and the real potential of teaching and learning about Quakerism online, until someone has attended worship in person, they will never fully experience the central reality of the Quaker faith.
That central reality is: The experience of immersion in the embodied energy of each other during worship, without technology as a filter. The physical mystical connection felt by all who are present during a gathered meeting. The Divine Presence in the Midst. In some Meetings, sometimes, singing together, shared music as worship. The presence of babies in arms, small children, wiggling or held quietly in laps, welcomed with quiet shared joy for the final quarter hour of worship. The blessed presence of elders who never show up online. The sweetness of shaking hands at the rise of Meeting, saying “Good Morning, Friend.” The community that manifests and grows during conversation after Meeting with coffee, tea, and snacks.
And all of these, on a deep level, during in-person meetings for worship with concern for business.
Some say to me that these experiences can be replicated and felt in the same way . . . well, almost the same way . . . online.
I do not believe this.
We have come to rely on electronic means for so much. And we have gained by it. It is time now to face what we also have lost, and may continue losing. It is time to bring new Friends, who only know the Quaker faith via their computers and smartphones, into a deeper connection.
It is time for our monthly meetings to ponder how we will do this. ~~~
Eleanor Dart is an author, a psychotherapist, and a member of Pima Friends Meeting in Tucson, AZ (IMYM).