Over 30 Friends from 11 Meetings and Worship Groups attended the SEYM Monthly Meeting and Worship Group Forum, which proved to be a rich and rewarding online gathering. The forum was held on May 16th, as part of our Yearly Meeting Business Sessions.
Friends shared how their communities have been faring during the pandemic, reflecting on the queries,
How are we maintaining the connectedness and unity of our faith communities in these challenging times? How do we continue to “know one another in that which is eternal”?
How does the Spirit work within us and in our Meetings through these times? What are we learning and where are we growing?
Friends’ communities have each crafted a blend of practices and technologies—both old and new—that best meet their needs, gathering in both members who are comfortable with meeting online and those who are not. Most reported that they were holding worship and other meetings online on Zoom; while one Clerk reported they have been were ‘Meeting in Spirit,’ with members worshiping at home at the same time on Sunday morning. Some Meetings for Business are being held online; ‘Meetings for Learning,’ book groups and spiritual support groups have also been successful. One group prioritizes fellowship and ‘check-in’ time. One Meeting holds their book group via email. In one Worship Group, members share by email in a Google Group.
Friends have been grateful to learn that that we can gather online and learn other ways to be in touch in surprisingly spiritual and valuable ways; even drawing us closer together. They have been excited to find that meeting online has drawn in distant or long-absent members, and even visitors. As one Friend said, ‘Spirit moves in sharing, when hearts are open to each other.’
Money issues came up. Many of our Meetings are facing a loss of income, not only from reduced donations, but also from not being able to rent out their meetinghouse space. This is posing real financial difficulties for some who depend on rental income. Other Friends were grateful that they had no debt, which enabled them to offer assistance to those in need. Friends were asked to be mindful that being out of debt is a ‘first world problem,’ an option that most cannot have. One Meeting, having decided not to build a meetinghouse after all, is using its building fund to help provide food to children in their community. Others have members in financial distress to care for.
An Uncertain Future
While some Meetings and Worship Groups have started to consider what lies ahead as society emerges from the pandemic, others have not; the road ahead is very uncertain. Considerations include when and how to resume meeting in person, and how online gatherings might be continued as a way to maintain ties both to distant members and to those in the COVID high-risk group, who are very reticent to start meeting in person anytime soon. Some Meetings already have a few who meet in person—with social distancing—while also having worship online.
Several participants spoke to wanting to continue the practice of living simpler, less harried and more sustainable lives; that in the Simplicity of less busy-ness, they found spiritual growth.
One member asked if Meetings were having discussions about death, which is what we’re facing. Friends shared how important it is for members to provide their Meetings with their contacts, final wishes and plans, which the Meeting would need in event of their death. Some resources were mentioned, including the SEYM Faith & Practice chapter on Death, Dying & Bereavement, and the FGC podcast on ‘Death, Dying, and Grieving.’
In closing, one Meeting Clerk pointed out that we are uncertain of how long we will live the day we are born; and that we need to live each day in peace, and with gratitude.