Online Worship in 2020 – Revisiting Britain Yearly Meeting’s Response to the Pandemic

Rhiannon Grant updates us on how Quakers across Britain have responded to the pandemic, adapting to lockdown and post-lockdown, with results of the second worship survey.

Online Worship in 2020 - Revisiting Britain Yearly Meeting's Response to the Pandemic Woodbrooke Quaker learning and research

In September 2020, we ran a second worship survey very similar to the one we ran in May (and reported on in our previous blog post). We were pleased to get responses from 91% of local meetings, through a combination of an open online survey (which got responses from 384 local meetings) and personal contact with staff. The situation in Britain had changed significantly in that time – in some areas there had been repeated changes of restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic, while others have seen a steady relaxation and some have remained fairly consistently in lockdown conditions. The situation has changed again recently, but the information we gathered still reflects an important period and may give us an idea of how these Quaker communities are likely to respond when the restrictions change again in the future. What was happening with British Quaker worship in September?

Lots of Quaker meetings are now offering multiple options for worship.

The vast majority of Quaker meetings (around 96%) are still open for worship. In September, around 73% were meeting online and around 66% were meeting in person – that includes indoor and outdoor worship. Almost all of those meeting online are using Zoom. We didn’t set out to count outdoor meetings specifically but heard about the importance of them in many comments from survey respondents.

About 52% of local meetings were offering more than one option for worship – those options can include online worship, meeting in person, and worshipping at home separately without technology. It’s also common to hold worship at times other than Sunday mornings – we weren’t able to count this accurately, but think the diversity of times offered has increased compared to before the pandemic.

Online Worship in 2020 - Revisiting Britain Yearly Meeting's Response to the Pandemic Woodbrooke Quaker learning and research


Slightly fewer people are attending.

Overall, it seems that slightly fewer people attended Quaker worship in September than in May. In May, we thought that the same number of people were attending as before the pandemic, but noted that at that point some of them were different people. Some were excluded by the closure of meetings in person and didn’t join online, while others were included, able to join meetings that were previously inaccessible.

In September, on average, 3 fewer people attended each meeting. Some of this might be an error in the reporting process – because local meetings are holding more meetings for worship (e.g. one online and one in person, or one on Sunday and one midweek). So the person completing the survey for a meeting might not know about all the attendees at meetings held in different formats and at different times. It’s also possible that as people have returned to work and other commitments, it’s harder to find time to attend worship.

It is difficult to be sure how many local meetings are not meeting for worship at all, as opposed to not responding to the survey or staff contacts, but we estimate that 4 to 5% of local meetings don’t currently have any worship provision, either at the local or the area meeting level.

Area meetings were still holding online worship together.

Fewer area meetings were holding online worship for people across their area – in May, we knew about at least 19 area meetings doing this, and we know that at least 17 were still meeting in this way in September. This probably reflects more local meetings who are holding worship themselves. One person commented that their area meeting online worship “has been unexpectedly successful and we have enjoyed and valued getting to know each other better across AM. It has refreshed our worship and also our business and other meetings.”

Blended worship is on the rise, though it’s not a majority.

There’s been a lot of talk online about blended meeting for worship – where a meeting held in person and one held on Zoom are joined so that they become one meeting, with people in the room able to see and hear those on Zoom and vice versa. There were a significant minority of meetings using this approach – of all the Local Meetings we heard from in this survey about 23% were holding blended worship in September. This is 34% of all those meeting online in any form. Comments suggest that the technology requires an investment of time and money. Another 21% were holding both online worship and in person worship, but as two separate events.

Overall, the picture of Quaker worship in Britain in September is that Zoom worked well for many local meetings. There were meetings for worship held in person when the pandemic restrictions allowed, and communities experimented with a wide variety of approaches to the situation including blended worship and outdoor worship.

With continuing changes to the restrictions, we expect to see ongoing shifts in the patterns of Quaker worship. We may run another snapshot survey in a few months, and in the meantime you might like to contribute to BRIC-19, a larger project looking at worship across all traditions during the pandemic:

Resources for setting up online worship

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