It is a truth universally acknowledged that every empty meeting house exists to embrace worshipers. Friends say they miss in-person worship during this pandemic, and some have found ways to carefully manage convening for indoor and outdoor worship.
Over the course of a month, PYM staff have started visiting meetings to be present in community. As we’ve connected through personal fellowship and phone calls, clerks and meeting members have explained how they have seasoned the decision to reopen. They’ve had to balance safety, tech support, and overall meeting capacity with the genuine need that Friends have to sit together in worship.
All of the four meetings that we visited in late August and September — Horsham, Quakertown, Third Haven, and Plumstead — were offering in-person worship.
Two meetings, Horsham Meeting (PA) and Quakertown Meeting (NJ) have been regularly convening worship indoors with masks. Friends sit ten feet apart, and on any given Sunday these meetings have about 8-12 people who opt to come.
PYM wrote about Horsham Meeting several weeks ago. Their First Day program for young people is suspended during the pandemic, but they’ve continued to support the position of that teacher with other work. Still, children can and do attend meeting with their parents. On August 30th a teenager came with a parent and joined the full hour of worship.
As they look ahead to 2021, Horsham members are using this quieter-than-usual time to plan a week-long summer camp in 2021. The camp is seen as important outreach out to the local community.
Quakertown now hosts in-person meeting each Sunday. While they have adjacent facilities to meet the needs of children should they come, (members pitch in with first day programming if it’s needed) the meeting has a core group of people who attend in masks and sit apart. There is no social hour, but people do converse at the rise of meeting.
Smaller meeting communities, like Quakertown, can open because they have sufficient space for the numbers of Friends interested in joining in-person worship. Meetinghouse spaces at Horsham and Quakertown are also allowed to “rest” between uses. Horsham Meeting has a Friends school in residence, so the school and the meeting use different sides of the still-partitioned meetinghouse.
Two of the visited meetings offer outdoor worship. At both, Friends bring their own chairs.
One of them, Third Haven Meeting, has set up measured distancing stakes. Upon arrival the signage in the parking lot directs Friends to wear masks and set their chairs adjacent to the stakes.
The meeting is in the center of Easton, MD and is also an historic site, so they need to anticipate higher levels of attendance, plus strangers who may walk in. There are 20-30 attending each weekend, while others continue to worship via Zoom, and all children’s programing remains remote.
In discernment as a community, Third Haven shapes its children’s programs to the changing needs of families, offering them virtually “in connection and support for one another.” They are hosting a social event on October 3rd (a pizza party where pizza is delivered to homes and youth share virtual fellowship over dinner). On October 11th they plan a virtual Faith & Play™ story on “being present.”
Plumstead Meeting, which we visited for Wednesday morning worship, reported they don’t have to manage much complexity. People set up their chairs far apart, assembling a loose circle at 8:30 AM. Masks were worn while people were mingling six feet apart. The meeting allowed the option of taking these off once the chairs were set up and people were seated some 10-15 feet apart. Then, as they stood to depart they donned their masks again.
Many of the meetings we spoke with by phone report that they have convened some form of in-person outdoor worship as local ordinances have allowed. Chestnut Hill and Princeton Meetings offer outdoor worship, and Radnor meeting holds mid-week worship before dusk each Wednesday. Volunteers set up the meeting’s chairs and seven or eight people come.
Radnor also reports they hosted a carefully managed, meetinghouse wedding with about 22 people in attendance on September 26th. These significant thresholds of life remain deeply important and in this case a 90+ year old member who survived Covid-19 witnessed her daughter marry for the first time.
Radnor has purchased technology to shift to an indoor in-person + digital worship during the winter. They will establish limitations on the numbers of people indoors. Some meetings (those with more modern facilities with air filtration systems like Lehigh Valley) are looking at air flow issues, others (like Quakertown) have looked at cleaning practices.
Valley Meeting reports it is examining ways to bring the community safely back to a meetinghouse experience. Haverford Meeting is still all virtual.
Hybrid Worship and Business Meeting
We noticed in our research that it is fairly common to have outdoor worship. It is less common to have hybrid Zoom + outdoor worship + hybrid meeting for business.
Hybrid worship (see PYM’s prior article on Pendle Hill for suggestions on how to do this) is being practiced at some of the larger meetings, and those with members who have substantive tech savvy. This is less complicated when the worship is outside and the weather is fair, but as fall comes, these same meetings have started to look into how worship or business could move indoors.
A Zoom + in-person hybrid Meeting for Worship followed by Business was observed at Third Haven, and it was an impressive engineering and clerking experience to witness.
The Third Haven worship and business meetings involved:
- an audio engineer (seated at table with sound equipment, speakers, and a laptop);
- several other members of the meeting working as a team at a distant table near a power supply to manage the Zoom meeting for worship and the business meeting;
- the clerk’s personal I-pad on a stand facing a microphone on a stand;
- socially distanced masked in-person outdoor participants + remote Zoom participants; and
- a socially distanced clerk’s table with an I-phone for the clerk to use.
During business meeting, the clerk used her I-phone to monitor the Zoom call. When in person attendees were called on to speak, or give reports, they walked forward to the microphone to deliver their remarks to the I-pad on the stand so that zoom attendees could hear them. Zoom participant’s voices were amplified through outdoor speakers.
Third Haven’s clerk, Molly Brian, noted that the meeting was able to conduct the outdoor hybrid meeting for business thanks to the support of the Meeting’s caretaker. An experienced musician, he owned the audio equipment and possessed audio engineering skills that were very helpful.
For the most part Friends are highly compliant with all Covid-19 restrictions. A member at one meeting (not yet visited) asked what a meeting should do when a member of the community joins worship and does not wear a mask. This issue is not a matter of personal preference but a matter of law. The meeting is responsible for the safety of all present and for following state and local laws.
Some suggestions on how to handle this follow:
- Place a sign at the entrance with a notice that persons not wearing masks will be asked to put one on or leave the meeting. Display a drawing of proper mask application.
- Have a supply of disposable masks at the meeting for worship’s entrance.
- If the meeting has not yet notified the non-mask wearing Friend that they cannot attend without a properly worn face mask, you should raise the issue with the meeting’s leadership. This could be Worship and Ministry or Care and Counsel and in some cases the clerk of the meeting.
PYM Youth Programs for Children & Families, Middle School Friends, and Young Friends continue in online spaces this fall with listings on our September to December calendar. In addition, PYM has created a series of programs called “Giant Children’s Meeting” (First Day School) that runs on fourth Sundays, September through December.
Giant Children’s Meeting connects families in our wider PYM community, and it is also offered as a support to Friends who plan and facilitate First Day programs in their meetings.
During this challenging time with Covid-19, when some are using online programming and others are not able to offer weekly religious education programs, the hope is that this monthly program might be part of what a meeting offers to families.
Each 30-45 minute program is for preschool and elementary-age children and their families, and features a theme with seasoned facilitators leading a “grounding, exploring, wondering, and creating” experience. The first program was September 27 and was a wonderful gathering focused on “Celebrating New Beginnings.” Friends from fifteen different local meetings were registered, and the Zoom screen was filled with children, parents, and the occasional pet appearance! On October 25 the program theme is “Friends and Neighbors.”
For more information about Children and Youth Programming contact Melinda Wenner Bradley, Youth Religious Life Coordinator at email@example.com
With thanks to Jane Austin for the opener…”It is a truth universally acknowledged..” The bench and door pictured in this article’s heading belong to Plumstead meeting.
Other PYM news articles about working with youth
- Fall Religious Education Planning: Connection and New Directions
- Talking about Racial Injustice with Children
- Working with Children in Virtual Spaces