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Hybrid Meeting - A Dramatic Rendition

Published: Sept. 24, 2021


Friends Meeting Goes Hybrid:
A story unfolding in our times

As the pandemic worsened, Quaker meetings were no longer able to gather safely in person. The danger of passing on the virus was too great. Concern about infection kept people from being in the same room with one another, from hugging one another, from singing together, even from sitting together quietly in worship.

At this critical time, a technological solution became available that enabled people to worship together remotely from their computers. The technology was called Zoom.

Soon, Quakers began realizing the powerful benefits of worshiping remotely on Zoom. We pick up the story at a medium-sized meeting in a medium-sized town, part of a medium-sized yearly meeting.

A committee gathered to talk about the future of worship.

Initial Reflections about Zoom use in the Meeting

Margaret: Friends, I am sure you have noticed that a few of our members and attenders are no longer joining us. Some people don’t like Zoom.

George: Right, but look at all the others who are attending who hardly ever came when we were meeting in person! Think about people who have moved away, who love the meeting but are now too far away to join us in person. They are worshipping with us!

Edward: And what about the Friends who were too old to come to the meeting house. Now they can join from their elder care homes.

Barbara: Yes, and we now get visits from people who belong to other meetings. This technology makes inter-visitation much easier!

George: There is also the possibility that we could spread our Quaker message more broadly. People who don’t live near Quaker meetings can now take part.

Barbara: Even people in other countries!

Edward: Think of the environmental benefits. No need to get in your car. This really makes a difference for quarterly and yearly meetings and other gatherings that bring Friends together from lots of meetings.

Margaret: So even though we initially saw Zoom just as a way of continuing to meet during the pandemic, now we see other powerful new advantages.

George, Edward, and Barbara (together): Right!

The conversation about Zoom after vaccinations

A year or two later, the pandemic had eased somewhat, making in-person meetings for worship possible once again. Friends were eager to meet again face to face, to hug one another, to sing, and to worship. The committee gathered again to talk about how to meet in person without losing all the benefits of Zoom meetings.

George: Well Friends, we can now meet again in person. What a time of celebration this is going to be!

Margaret: Several of our Friends have told me that, while Zoom was a great way to continue meeting during the pandemic, it hasn’t been the same as meeting in person.

Edward: I am really looking forward to this, but I wonder about all those people who have joined us on Zoom. Surely, we can’t just abandon them.

Barbara: No, we need to find a way to include them.

George: I know just the way to do it! We can meet in person and have the Zoom room going at the same time. How difficult could it be?

Barbara: Couldn’t we just set a computer up in the corner of the room and point it at our circle of worshipers?

Edward: I sense we have a way forward. Let’s set up a computer running Zoom at our next meeting for worship.

The meeting for worship took place. The committee met in a special session afterwards.

Margaret: Friends, as you know we have had several complaints from the Zoom worshipers. They were not able to see everyone in the circle. Only the backs and heads of some people were visible and some people couldn’t be seen at all!

Edward: Yes, and the Zoom worshipers couldn’t hear clearly or understand when someone in the in-person meeting stood to speak.

George: I’ve heard there is a technology called The Owl that has a camera and microphone in the middle of the room that moves automatically whenever it detects that someone is speaking!

Margaret: Hmm, I’m not sure I want some little robot Owl sitting in the center of our worship distracting Friends from worship. Plus, I’ve heard that the Owl device costs $995!

Edward: Well, what should we do then, Friends?

Barbara: I’m willing to buy a wide angle video camera with a good omni-directional microphone that should improve the experience for the people on Zoom. We’ll need to do a lot of testing and experimentation to get it working well.

Edward: Are we in unity that Barbara should go ahead and purchase the camera and microphone?

Barbara: We’ll need a good, sturdy tripod as well, and a microphone stand.

Margaret: This is starting to sound expensive and invasive to our meeting experience. However, if it enables us to have our Friends join us from afar, then I think I am easy with it.

Edward: Friends, let’s have a few minutes of silent worship.

George: I sense that we are ready to move forward with Edward’s suggestion.

Another Sunday worship took place with the new wide-angle video camera and the omni-directional microphone. The committee met in another special session afterwards.

Barbara: Well Friends, that didn’t go quite as planned. I got complaints that when Friends spoke in ministry they sounded, to the people on Zoom, like they were in a tunnel. And, the wide-angle camera made Friends look so small it was difficult to see who was speaking!

Edward: I think we will just need to live with some of these inadequacies. I hope we will gradually be able to offer a better experience.

Margaret: Did you all realize that one of the Friends on Zoom wanted to speak? She stood up and everything, but no one in the in-person meeting noticed. Even if we had, we wouldn’t have been able to hear her.

George: Sounds like we need to get a better speaker system. Good thing we only have 30 or so people in our meeting! Just think if it were a yearly or quarterly meeting.

Margaret: Barbara, would you be willing to get a better speaker system set up for next time?

Barbara: OK. Good thing I have a budget for all of this.

Another Sunday worship took place with the new speaker system along with the wide-angle video camera and the omni-directional microphone. The committee met in another special session afterwards.

Margaret: Friends, We still have work to do. We are now hearing from the in-person worshipers that they can’t see the faces of the people on Zoom.

Edward: Can’t we just accept that they are there in spirit and be satisfied with just hearing them when they speak?

Barbara: Oh my. Sounds like more technology is going to be needed.

George: Two ideas occur to me. We could project the Zoom screen onto a wall. That might work, but we’d have to make sure the projector was strong enough to make the screen visible or make sure the lights in the room are low. Another possibility is that we could have a big computer screen, but the problem is that if we sit in a circle, there is no good place to put the screen so everyone can see it.

Barbara: Maybe two computer screens on opposite sides of the circle?

George: We’d need an extra computer then.

Margaret: Friends, I am beginning to get concerned that we are adding so much technology to the room that we will lose the simplicity of our Quaker worship. Let me see now, we might  need a projector and screen or one or two big screens to go along with our speaker system, and another computer in order to show the zoom participants adequately. This is in addition to a video camera, an omni-directional microphone, a microphone stand, and a tripod. Who is going to have to take care of all of this stuff, make sure it is operating properly, upgrade or fix it as needed? We are going to need a regular technical person.

Edward: And we need to remember that someone will need to monitor the Zoom meeting every week and make sure no microphones are left unmuted.

George: But we will have the presence of all these Friends who are unable to come to an in person Meeting!

In the story above, I have tried to give  a sense of what the conversations have been like as Chico Friends encountered ideas for hybrid worship. Friends from other meetings have shared thoughts with us, and we have ourselves pondered the logistics surrounding hybrid considerations.  We have become very aware of the benefits as well as the costs to our Quaker community.

The following is our first attempt to share some of the questions we have been considering and invite you to contemplate prior to our Meeting for Business on September 12th.  Please read them over and join us in our discernment of what the hybrid challenges vs. benefits are for Chico Friends Meeting.  In addition, we have included questions posed by New England Yearly Meeting.  Please read these as well as they crystalize some of the thoughts regarding the purposes and complexities of hybrid meetings for Friends.

Our thoughts/questions/concerns have been roughly broken down into four categories: Visual, Aural/Auditory, Costs, and Care and Knowledge of Equipment:

Financial Costs
Time Costs
"Quality of Worship" Costs

There are two aspects to this consideration.

One: Quality of worship for those Friends or Friend monitoring equipment system would be severely compromised week after week. We are a small Meeting with one and perhaps two Friends who are able, not to mention willing, to do this work.  Is it fair to ask them to give up meaningful worship for the foreseeable future?

Two: Quality of worship for Friends who come to Meeting for Worship might feel compromised by the presence of technological equipment and the felt need for it to be monitored lest it aurally and visually intrude upon the silence in ways not intended.  It is so much more complicated, at least initially, than a cell phone going off.  Is the search for the Gathered Meeting and the nurture found there impeded for some who have come to the Meeting for Worship in need of that nurture?  Some believe that this is an obstacle to deep, connected worship.

Care and Knowledge of System Equipment


Thoughts from the New England Yearly Meeting

As noted above, the New England Yearly Meeting offered these thoughts and questions regarding hybrid experiments in our Meetings.  We have read them and find them useful in guiding our considerations.

New England Yearly Meeting: Things to consider before a beginning hybrid experiment in your meeting:

1. Purpose: Why do you gather as a meeting? How might a hybrid offering support (or get in the way of) your meeting's core purpose or the purpose of a given activity?

2. Participation: What does meaningful participation look like? Whether it's worship, business, fellowship, First Day School, or another activity, clarify what it means for someone to meaningfully participate. Is meaningful participation possible for both online and in-person participants? What changes to practices or expectations might you need to make to fully include both modes of participation?

3. Capacity: Switching to a new way of gathering takes mental and spiritual capacity. Does your meeting have the capacity to set up a new way of gathering at this time? Do enough individuals in your meeting have the capacity right now to grow new the new skill sets required to manage and facilitate worship and other activities in a hybrid format?

4. Impact: How have your current and past ways of gathering impacted relationships within your meeting community? How might a shift to a hybrid experiment impact the community?

5. Access: Who has had access to your current and past ways of gathering? Who has been left out? What access challenges will you need to consider if you shift to a hybrid model? How will this shift impact children, parents, the hard of hearing, those with limited mobility, those without internet?

6. Safety: How will maintain a sense of security for participants? What practices will you need to adopt to respond to disruptive or inappropriate behavior at hybrid gatherings?

7. Equipment and technology: Will all participants be able to hear and see each other in order to participate? What tools will you need to effectively connect participants with each other and how will you orient Friends to them?

8. Continuing revelation: As you continue to learn and grow through experimentation and exploration, how will you update your practices? What do you need from each other in order to take a risk together? How can the meeting community be a place where is OK give feedback and to make mistakes and learn together?


from the Ministry and Oversight Committee of Chico Friends Meeting (9/18/2021)