Michael Griffith, New South Wales Regional Meeting
When the lockdown for Covid-19 arrived on March 15th I was immediately given a Zoom Room by the University at which I work so that I could continue my teaching via Zoom with all students. No restrictions were imposed on my use of Zoom at this time, so it became a clear possibility to offer this Zoom Room (with no time constraints) for our local Sunday Quaker Meetings. As soon as this possibility was advertised we had members and attenders far and near wishing to join. There was a Friend who had ended up being “trapped” in New Zealand, there were many from Wahroonga Local Meeting as well as some from the Central Coast. Over time we had visitors from Hobart, Bega, Canberra, Newcastle … and New Zealand!
Zoom Meetings for Worship took off wonderfully, reuniting Friends and making it possible for remote Friends to join in a way that they could not have, had meetings remained in the Meeting House in Wahroonga. The format of the Zoom meetings each week has been straightforward. To begin with there is some conversation before the meeting as Friends arrive in the “Zoom Room”. Then meeting starts strictly at 9.30 with Rose Griffith (co-clerk) reminding Friends to mute themselves – only unmuting should they feel moved to speak in ministry. This has progressed to a bell sounding to indicate the start and end of the meeting. The silent meeting was for 40 minutes during the first weeks of Zoom but has recently been extended to 60 minutes – as requested by the majority. The meeting closes with a bell and then Rose reads out Notices (which are posted onto a shared screen) for all to see. Other notices are then called for, any new attenders are invited to introduce themselves and then there is an opportunity to go into “Break-out rooms” for around 15 minutes to catch up with others. These “Break-out rooms” are randomly created with 4 or 5 people to a room. (People are able to leave the meeting at any time, and there is no disturbance caused; and for those who are made tense by seeing themselves and others on the screen it is possible to turn off the video picture for a while). These “Break-out” sessions have been very popular because it has given Friends an opportunity to be “in contact” and share their experiences. When these small gatherings close all Friends come together again in one large group and then there is further opportunity to share experiences in a larger forum for 10 minutes or so.
Helen Gould has also now created a space after meetings, in the Zoom Room, for Quaker singing. This allows Friends to join in singing favourite Quaker songs. The way this has worked is that one person who can hold the melody well is invited to sing with others muted. This is in order to prevent dissonance created by time lapse in the digital stream. All can then sing along with the melodist. This is working really well, and all Quakers nationally are invited to take part. This occurs at exactly 11am E.S.T. on Sundays and goes for around half an hour.
Rose reports about her experience as follows:
At first sitting in front of the screen trying to gather myself was uncomfortable but as the weeks have passed my sense of strangeness has started to subside. I now value this new way of being together. The Zoom Meeting for Worship is still a work in progress. How can the hand shaking at the end of the meeting be replaced? Words do not cut the mustard. Also there is an unfilled need to interact with the two young girls who, at the end of meeting sit with their mother and watch us sitting in silence. They look so joyful, waving at us and their grandmother. Their presence is a joy yet there is a need for a deeper contact with them that we have not yet established. We will work on this. Nothing worthwhile can be rushed.
Kay and Jocelyn Woodhouse took part in this Quaker meeting for worship for the first time last Sunday. Kay’s report on this is worth listening to. She has entitled it
Meeting for Worship on the line
Jocelyn and Kay Woodhouse joined the Wahroonga Zoom Meeting for Worship for the first time on Sunday 10th May. Jocelyn has not attended meeting for several years because of difficulties posed by age related disabilities. She has a great deal of quiet time by herself in her own unit. Kay has said that during the current lockdown they have held Meeting for Worship at home with just the two of them and it was a good experience. This is how Kay described their experience of joining their first Wahroonga Zoom meeting: “From our landline we phoned the local zoom Australia number. When prompted we punched in the meeting ID followed by #, and the participant number followed by #, which had been given to us by our zoom meeting host Michael Griffith. We were immediately welcomed to the Wahroonga Zoom meeting by Rose Griffith who helpfully told us the names of six friends who had already ‘arrived’. Not having a screen meant that we were coming to meeting like blind people. So it was good to have this kind of assistance. Jocelyn is almost blind now anyway, so this has become normal for her. Rose entered our names in the black box on her screen so that those members with screens would know we were at meeting with them.
I put the phone on ‘speaker’, muted it, and placed it on the table between us next to the African violet and the usual selection of books. We centered quickly into meeting. Jocelyn began to recall the various meetings she had visited over the years and their different characters and here was a new one. We both found the hour very rewarding and a moving experience to be reconnected, especially so for Jocelyn for whom it had been such a long time. We also both had a strong feeling of ‘coming to meeting for worship with heart and mind prepared’ (Advices in Queries No 10).
It was a revelation to us that by simply dialling a zoom Australia number we were so easily able to participate in the Zoom meeting without having to grapple with other technology or download anything. We can highly recommend that those who are unable or disinclined to join meetings ‘online’ try this option of participating in ‘on the line’. ”
Quaker Zoom Poetry Group
As well as the weekly Meeting for Worship, I decided in the first week of lockdown that this would be a wonderful opportunity to initiate a weekly poetry group. This was something that Rose and I had been talking about well before the lockdown occurred. We had been discussing ways in which local Quakers might find other occasions to come together meaningfully during the week. This seemed a perfect opportunity to create a space for people to share poems that they have loved, especially because so many of us were suddenly thrown onto our own resources and also suddenly isolated. Rose and I decided that Fridays from 5-6.30pm EST would be best. The response to this was wonderful, in the first weeks we again had John from New Zealand, Peter and Marilyn from Bega, Helen, Lisa, Cathy from the Central Coast and many others. The format here was quite simple. Friends who wished to join the group were each week invited to send in a poem of their choosing; this is not a mandatory requirement: Friends can attend the meeting just to listen. The poems are then placed in a digital document and this is sent around to all members so that they can read the poems before the next meeting. At the meeting, members take turns to briefly introduce the poem they have chosen (the order of poems is determined by whose poems came in first). They are then invited to read out their poem aloud. Then the group as a whole, or smaller groups created via the Zoom Break-out room method, discuss the poem for five or ten minutes. When discussion has finished, the poem is read aloud once again. This is then followed by a two-minute period of silence and then the next person is invited to introduce their poem. Overall this has been a wonderfully refreshing exchange of ideas and experiences. Much has been shared about our difficult times in lockdown and many of the poems chosen have reflected the mood of these unique times. Poetry is a unique vehicle for linking people’s experience. It is a medium for holding the attention, for bringing into focus what is miraculous in our experience and for sharing in the joys and sufferings of humanity.
This poetry meeting will probably continue well past the end of lockdown as it is meeting a real need. If Quakers from interstate wish to take part then please contact myself or Rose and we will give you the Zoom details for joining the meeting. Contact details are at the end of this article.
It is worth finishing by quoting one of the poems presented close to the start of our sessions together:
And the people stayed home.
And the people stayed home,
And read books,
And made art,
And played games,
And learned new ways of being,
And were still.
And listened more deeply
Some met their shadows.
And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.