June was a big month for the Friends community as it emerged from pandemic conditions. A number of meetings have been “open” in one way or another for a time, others have met only via Zoom. Those that have been meeting in person for some time (including Centre, Quakertown, Little Egg Harbor, Plumstead, Horsham, and Third Haven) found that as (mostly) smaller communities they could find ways to safely meet. Some set up outside worship, developing and sharing safety protocols that were appropriate to meeting under the wide open sky. Numbers of communities–large and small–accessed indoor in-person worship once local restrictions eased by keeping windows open, or functioned safely by having plenty of space between people and requiring masks.
All of Concord Quarter’s Meetings Are All Open
Lynne Piersol, Concord Quarter’s outgoing Coordinator, reports that “all of the meetings in Concord Quarter currently hold in-person worship, and all but one have in-person combined with Zoom sessions. Several kept their meetinghouses open for the entire pandemic, while others have opened and closed depending on incidence of the virus. Several meetings provided programming for children and families, both online and in person.”
Concord Quarter carried on virtually during the pandemic. Our programming included a joint Quarterly Meeting with Western Quarter last summer featuring a Braver Angels Workshop. We also have had programs featuring community foundations addressing the pandemic, FCNL, and anti-blackness. Our Working Group on Aging Concerns continued to meet via Zoom and offered two workshops online, one in the fall of 2021 on housing options (other than staying in your own home) and one on safety issues.
With Western Quarter we also held “Everyone’s Got Talent” last summer and another event aimed at elementary school aged children in the fall “Would You Rather…”. We found it challenging to create alternative programs for children and families when we could not hold our regular in person fellowship events, many done with Western Quarter (think Tubing on the Brandywine….). In March we held an in-person outdoor hike and story time at the Okehocking Preserve which attracted a number of families with children and others and was very successful and appreciated. We look forward to planning more in person opportunities. Concord recently hired a new coordinator, Bianca Santini-Dumas, a 2010 graduate of the William Penn Charter School. As they welcome Bianca, their clerk, Debbie Murray Sheppard, notes “we will miss Lynne’s enthusiasm, extraordinary note taking and record keeping, and attention to details great and small.”
The quarter is hosting a July 18th virtual Quarterly Meeting gathering with morning meeting for Business followed by a joint Multigenerational Community Worship with a Faith & Play story, and, after lunch, a Middle East Program with the PYM Middle East Collaborative presenting.
Meetings Are Offering Mixes of Hybrid, Outdoor, and Indoor Worship
Meetings in Haverford Quarter are in the process of testing and embracing hybrid solutions, and Haverford Meeting reopened with hybrid worship on June 20.
Haverford’s team set a video monitor in a central window and had that day’s Zoom hosts (Martha Sharples and Chris Strawbridge) present in the in-person worship to help manage the video and microphone feeds. Treasurer Sylvia Bronner stopped by for the sound check, and Mike Inskeep participated as a remote tester on the Zoom.
Haverford has some members who join worship from as far away as Colorado, so not offering a hybrid option became unthinkable to the tight-knit community. Friends at Haverford also found solace in virtual fellowship hours held in Zoom breakout spaces after weekly worship and they plan for virtual Zoom fellowship to run parallel to in person fellowship at the rise of meeting each week. They found the community drew closer as a result of Zoom, plus a very well attended monthly Addressing Racism discussion group that studied books, films and other resources during the pandemic.
Radnor Meeting hosted a magical and very small in-person wedding last summer and has been researching and planning hybrid worship for some months. They’ve offered Wednesday outdoor worship during the pandemic, and plan to shift from Zoom to hybrid worship on July 4th to maintain long-distance relationships forged during the pandemic.
Doug Ross, a Radnor Member, says: “we have had a couple of people in the Meeting on First Days to test out the equipment and give us a view from inside the Meetinghouse and a taste of what the hybrid Meeting for Worship will be like.”
Lehigh Valley Meeting not only plans to reopen with a hybrid solution, they created this neat little video explaining how they did it (thanks to John Marquette for sharing the video). You can watch it and see all the tech in action, witness a sound check, review what they purchased, and see how they plan to open early this month. Social media publicity and general celebration is planned around the July opening.
Third Haven Meeting in Southern Quarter has been technically proficient at outdoor hybrid worship since last summer. They are now shifting that know-how to bring indoor hybrid worship to the community.
They are also offering a one-week early childhood camp experience for 4-10 year-old children at the end of July. As an affordable, three-hour long, outdoor mindfulness & nature play camp on the Third Haven grounds, the community-wide offering proved popular in 2019 and brought new families to the meeting. Sadly, it was cancelled last year, so this year’s reopening is generating excitement.
Harrisburg meeting member Richard Morse reports that Harrisburg Meeting re-opened June 6th and new people are showing up. He wrote on June 23rd:
Harrisburg started meeting in person two weeks ago. I was away (Alaska & Idaho) so my first time was this past Sunday. I was the only one with mask because of my recent Idaho travel and possible exposure. Only 35% in Idaho are vaccinated and very few wear masks.
We have already had a couple of new visitors. Some people returning to worship never participated in the Zoom meetings. Some worshipped under a big tree in our front yard rather than on Zoom.
Some Meetings Never Quite Closed Their Doors, Others Plan Gatherings Now
According to Salem Friend Jim Waddington, Salem Meeting never really shut down during the pandemic — a few friends kept meeting in person in the unlocked meeting house. But worship formally shifted to being online. The community attracted distanced Friends who have now become dedicated permanent worshipers at Salem and so the Meeting decided hybrid worship was the way to go as they reopened. Their two groups of worshipers formally reunited once local Covid restrictions were lifted, and the meeting house is now fully open.
Part of the reason Salem’s meetinghouse doors were never locked on Sundays was that Salem Monthly Meeting has been continuously open for worship since 1676. That custom was one the community decided it did not want to break.
West Chester Friends Meeting is reopening with attention to how it welcomes families and engages with Annual Sessions. These ideas are prompting other meetings to think about what a local, on-site, Annual Sessions Zoom event might look like in their community. West Chester Meeting also shared their idea for a family space in the worship room as a way of welcoming families. For more ideas about making families and youth feel centered in your meeting, please do connect with PYM’s Youth Religious Life Coordinator, Melinda Wenner Bradley at email@example.com.
Little Egg Harbor and Trenton Meetings Engage with Community
Meetings are also raising their neighborhood profiles by participating in or hosting local events.
Little Egg Harbor Meeting in Tuckerton, NJ has been open for much of the pandemic. It has also rebuilt its attendance from just two elderly Friends to a group of 8-12 newcomers over the past few years. They have welcomed meetinghouse use by the local historical society, allowing socially distanced/masked in-person community events during the pandemic. They hand out free copies of Faith and Practice to people who attend worship for the first time and these attenders usually return because Faith and Practice is compelling. They share “Meeting calling cards” that have a photo of the meetinghouse on the front and a QR code on the back, offer free postcards of the meetinghouse, and have improved their communications and outreach with advice from the South Jersey Quakers.
Trenton Meeting is joining with Black Lives Matter to host an outdoor festival food distribution party. The meetinghouse has been used to prepare and distribute food and care packs each month during the pandemic. This August they plan to join the fun with games, sprinklers, food and fellowship for the neighborhood. Trenton Meeting is offering an open invitation to volunteers from other meetings to be part of the fun. To learn more about how to engage in building Trenton’s food security and community as part of this event contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story’s featured photograph is of Little Egg Harbor Meetinghouse’s interior, courtesy of Grace Sharples Cooke