The following report comes from Lehigh Valley Friends Meeting’s recent experience with virtual Meeting for Worship. With thanks to Friend John Marquette, who interviewed Lehigh Valley Worship & Ministry clerk, Mary Lou Hatcher
On March 22, six Friends from Lehigh Valley gathered at their Bethlehem meetinghouse to experience and share worship online.
Many meetings have selected the Zoom system to begin online meetings for worship. Lehigh Valley took an incremental step toward true unprogrammed worship with a live stream using YouTube Live and a notebook computer.
About four years ago and after careful deliberation, Lehigh Valley came to unity on installing an internet connection and providing wifi throughout the building. Since then, the connection has to enhanced community through access to resources such as QuakerSpeak videos, live podcasts, and more.
Having had a platform in place, Friends were able to gather safely and at the recommended CDC distance on the 22nd and extend an opportunity for worship to everyone on the meeting’s mailing list. After very little discussion, it became clear that if people can open and read an email, they can click on a link to a YouTube video.
A Friend offscreen monitored a chat screen during the 45 minutes of worship and noted the names of offsite worshipers and comments as they were offered. About 20 percent of our mailing list recipients and 30 percent of regular members and attenders stayed online for some or all of this experiment in meeting for worship at a distance.
Mary Lou Hatcher, clerk of Lehigh Valley’s Worship and Ministry Committee, answered four questions which may help other PYM meetings as well as other Quakers discern how to sustain their own communities.
What options did Worship and Ministry consider for Lehigh Valley Friends Meeting in light of news reports on COVID-19 and Governor Wolf’s declaration?
“We considered everyone sheltering in quiet worship in their own homes with no interface with others from the Monthly Meeting, a group Zoom and a YouTube Live.”
How did Worship and Ministry select the YouTube Live platform?
“We chose YouTube Live because: we felt Friends wanted to be together in some visual way, it was easy to use as a member of our meeting was already adept at the format, it was easy to give Friends access through a meeting wide email that only needed one click for entry, the one-way communication format felt like a simple way to ease in to a virtual meeting for worship, we liked that Friends could type in to the online chat and thereby “see” a list of who else was tuning in. We liked the simplicity of the format.”
In these uncertain times, what is the future of worship at Lehigh Valley Friends Meeting?
“We affirm that worship occupies the center of our Meeting life; at the same time we know that gathering as a community and how we do our service in the wider community is also essential to who we understand ourselves to be. We will continue to offer a way for the community to gather through a virtual space for worship, either with YouTube Live or Zoom. We are also doing committee work on Zoom, and exploring ways to set up educational classes and small group study/book groups through Zoom. We are grateful that PYM has made Zoom an ongoing practice for distance community building. We have been using the free Zoom offering, but are now exploring purchasing an entry Zoom account so that we can offer beyond the 40 minute time limit of the free service.
An ongoing challenge will be how to engage our older members, especially those quarantined in residential communities who may not have internet devices or access skills.”
What advice do you have for other monthly meetings which want to continue worship at a distance?
“It was comforting for Friends to see and hear each other. At this time, members of our Worship and Ministry Committee see both the value in a YouTube Live format because it is so simple, and simple appeals as a format and are also wanting to move to Zoom so that more faces and voices can be heard. Both options have their strengths. Both are worth the effort. Friends may find that YouTube Live does not meet the growing concern about even distance contact.
Given the “stay-at-home” declaration issued by Governor Wolf for Philadelphia and its contiguous counties on March 23, live-streaming from the meetinghouse is probably not sustainable even though we are not in one of the affected counties as of today. A transition to Zoom seems likely for meeting for worship and for committee meetings.”