Online worship – Britain Yearly Meeting and the pandemic

How have Quaker meetings responded to the pandemic? Rhiannon Grant uses our latest research to shine a light on the online worship landscape.

Online worship – Britain Yearly Meeting and the pandemic Woodbrooke Quaker learning and research

At the end of March 2020, when Britain was locked down due to the pandemic, Quakers in Britain like many other suddenly had choices to make. Just stop? Move online? Find other solutions? In May, the Centre for Research in Quaker Studies at Woodbrooke agreed with Britain Yearly Meeting that we would run a quick ‘snapshot’ survey to ask Quakers what was going on and find out what decisions they had made. We asked a few simple questions in an online form and managed in just three weeks to get answers from more than half the local meetings in Britain (and some area meetings). In this blog post, we want to share some of our initial results.

Most meetings for worship are now online in some form

At least 54% of local meetings moved to an online or remote format for worship. The majority use Zoom video conferencing software. A small number use other software, such as email, Chatzy, or WhatsApp. A significant minority of meetings are worshipping ‘together apart’ without using any technology, sitting in worship at home at a pre-arranged time, or only using technology before and/or afterward the period of worship. For example, a meeting might send out an image of flowers by email before 10:30am, all sit in worship at home for an hour, then share ministry by email after 11:30am.

Some meetings have grouped together, either a few local meetings or all those in the area meeting. 30% of area meetings told us that they are worshipping all together. In some cases, local meetings are also holding worship, either at the same time or another time.

A small number of meetings – about 6% of those who replied to the survey, and we estimate about 10% of the total – are not meeting for worship at all. They may be keeping in touch by phone or email.

About the same number of people attend worship online

Although some meetings have seen higher numbers and others have seen lower attendance, on average about the same number of people are attending worship online as were attending worship in person before the pandemic.

Worshipping online enables us to include some people who cannot otherwise attend

Several people who answered the survey noted that their meeting had roughly the same number of people attending, but these were not the same people. Those at a distance (sometimes a considerable distance, e.g. in another country) and those with some disabilities are more likely to join, while those with no access to or little knowledge of technology, or other disabilities, were less likely to join. In the future, we might want to think about hybrid meetings, or running multiple kinds of meeting, to make our worship as accessible as possible.

For those who are online, there are now more options to attend Quaker worship.

Remote worship, Zoom, and other online options, local and area meeting worship, and international possibilities all add to the richness of our community. We are visiting other meetings more easily, catching up with old friends or meeting new ones, and we are being joined by others from around the world. This happens in Woodbrooke’s online meetings for worship throughout the week and when Quakers from Britain join Pendle Hill, Ben Lomond, or other online meetings for worship based in other countries.

This snapshot survey of meetings was part of a broader research project about the experience of online worship. You can help us to explore what online worship is like by answering some questions – contact details can be found on the link below. We also hope that the snapshot will be repeated later in the summer to capture changes that may have taken place.

Current Research Projects.

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