Keith Harding shares his experience of online meeting for worship
We live almost a two-hour drive from our meeting and cannot get to meeting for worship as often as we would like, especially in winter. Imagine, therefore, how intrigued I was to hear about online meeting for worship offered by Woodbrooke. Now, six months later, the twice-weekly online meetings have become an important part of my Quaker life. I look forward to them and enjoy the experience of sharing the silence with Friends not only from the UK, but also from some other European countries and further afield, such as Australia and the USA. Normally there are about 20 of us and when we enter ‘the meeting room’ we introduce ourselves by typing a brief greetings message saying where we are from and perhaps a local weather report! We are welcomed by the Host for the meeting, who is a member of the Woodbrooke team; this role seems to be an amalgamation of the roles of Elder, Clerk and Doorkeeper. Sometimes the Host is not in Woodbrooke but at home in Sweden or Slovenia.
I know nothing about the other people present at the Meeting apart from where they are from – I do not know if they are Friends but they are people with whom I am sharing the experience, and some are now like old friends. Yes, we can see each other if we switch on our web cameras and it is encouraged that we do so. For the first few occasions, being too shy and self-aware, I didn’t switch on my camera and simply looked in at the Meeting. When I did switch on my camera my image joined the others and that was a bit of a shock as I had forgotten that I am an old man. Anyway, having got over that realisation I now barely examine the images except to recognise friends.
So, what do I feel about online meeting for worship? It is not for me a substitute for meeting for worship at my Meeting, but it is something different and a valid addition to my Quaker life. It is relaxed and we appear to be in our homes; some drink coffee or knit, cats can appear and recently a baby attended its first meeting for worship cradled in its father’s arms. Most sit quietly looking at the screen and my feeling is that we are a closely gathered group with a sense of togetherness and of each other. I also have the feeling of looking outward beyond my local community to the wider world and I am quite happy with that prospect.
There is an opportunity for ministry and occasionally this is offered by typing it to appear in the message box. I can only remember one occasion when ministry was spoken. The end of the half-hour session is signified by the image of two hands shaking. The Host bids us adieu but the site remains open for a while so people can chat before they go.
If you are intrigued I’d recommending looking into it.
Find full details at woodbrooke.org.uk/onlinemfw
This blog is adapted from a piece originally written for the Tayside Quaker, East Scotland Area Meeting Newsletter.