The pandemic has resulted in technology becoming an essential part of many Quaker meetings as in-person worship came to a stop at most meetings. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s (PYM) monthly meetings have had to find new ways to keep the community together through Zoom video calls or Facebook Live videos.
These new ways of worship have had a silver lining; members and attenders not able to typically attend worship in person have been able to join digitally. Digital worship creates a path for long-time members who no longer live near the meetinghouse and seekers new to Quakerism to attend. Many meetings have decided that offering a way for Friends to worship digitally is here to stay, even after a return to meeting in person. For those considering this option, there is technology available to support hybrid forms of gathering that offer a meaningful experience for attending in person and digitally.
What does an Owl Pro Device do?
The Meeting Owl Pro is a smart video conferencing device featuring a 360° camera, mic, and speaker with 1080p resolution and a radius of over 16 feet, allowing for a seamless and fully immersive group meeting experience using WiFi.
The Meeting Owl Pro is compatible with popular web-based video conferencing systems, such as Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, Microsoft Teams, etc. The device is also equipped with smart mics for clear audio.
Unlike other worship settings with one fixed speaker, Quaker meetings need technology that focuses on any person in the room giving ministry. The device is beneficial to Quaker worship as it can turn to face any sound or movement in the room.
Susan Vorwerk of Upper Dublin Monthly Meeting (also a consultant for Byberry Monthly Meeting) thinks the main reason to choose this device over any other device is that it blends audio and visual worship support in one single device. During the test runs at the various monthly meetings, it was discovered that the audio’s stated radius of 16 ft. was an underestimate.
Audio was the most important because hearing someone’s ministry was more important than being able to see their face. A big reason that the Owl ended up being the technology of choice was it far exceeded most of the other audio options. Also, it (captured) the simplicity of the hour.
To function properly, the Owl Pro device requires a connection to a laptop, WIFI, or a hard-wired connection, access to an outlet, and for optimal use, a smart-phone based mobile app.
Is an Owl Pro Device a good fit for my meeting?
Byberry Monthly Meeting, Upper Dublin Monthly Meeting, Plymouth Monthly Meeting, Norristown Monthly Meeting, and Newtown Monthly Meeting have tested conferencing support devices for their online meetings. Some are already making use of the Meeting Owl Pros for worship. Primarily findings are that the owl works best for smaller groups where social distancing is possible but, generally doesn’t exceed the 16 ft. radius. Larger communities with on-site worship in meetinghouses need a larger radius than effectively offered by a single Meeting Owl Pro.
Having said that, one size doesn’t fit all. And meetings might want to test or have a trial run with the Meeting Owl before deciding whether it is a good fit for their meeting. Larger meetings like Newtown Monthly Meeting found it challenging to make the Owl Pro work because of the larger number of attenders at the meeting and how the meetinghouse is structured.
Regardless of the size of the meeting, Owls may be a solution for making committee work and other forms of Quaker service more accessible by providing a digital way to participate. Whether or not the nuances of Meeting for Business can be conducted successfully in a hybrid format remains a question mark. There is also a possibility of getting a bulk discount from Owl if more meetings are interested in getting the device for their meetinghouse.
We encourage meetings interested in new technology to support their meeting to continue to lean on our PYM community to learn how Quakerism can adapt during the pandemic and beyond together.
If interested in learning more about the Meeting Owl Pro or any other questions related to the device, please connect with Olivia Brangran, Community Engagement Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friends researching hybrid meeting technology might also want to refer to PYM’s Pendle Hil’s hybrid worship experiment article.
PYM Grant Info
PYM’s Membership Development Granting Group has limited funding for in-reach and out-reach work for Monthly Meetings. Membership Development happily encourages applications from meetings that need support for this type of in-reach for hybrid meetings while emphasizing that funding for this work is limited.