Category Archives: Blogs

Hybrid Worship and Quaker Values

Ever since the Quakers broke from the Church of England in the mid-seventeenth century, they have gathered for Silent Worship in plain rooms – ones usually bare of any religious art or symbols. This tradition has served Quakers well, as most Quaker Meetings still prefer simple rooms with few distractions.

But in 2020, Quakers around the world responded to the pandemic closings by retreating to Zoom, seeking that quiet, communal worship space in a virtual environment. Zoom worship didn’t work for everyone, and seemed like second-best to many of us, but over time we discovered some advantages: everyone could hear each other when messages were shared; we got glimpses into each others’ homes; far-flung attenders who could rarely travel to in-person worship showed up more often; and those who were sick or frail or just too tired could easily attend. We also found that the fellowship we shared after worship, all of us together in the Zoom, was more communal and richer than the usual pattern of splitting into separate conversations during coffee hour in the Meeting House.

With the pandemic waning, the question before us is what to do when we reopen. Do we go back to the seventeenth-century model of in-person worship, or do we find a way to meld the new with the old: virtual + in-person?

Such a blend of approaches – often called Hybrid Worship – was the topic of a recent Quaker workshop on the Future of Worship. The gathering was held on Zoom and drew folks from all over the west, including Honolulu and Mexico City. As Quakers will, we started with silence, to ground us in the spiritual seriousness of our task. After that, I thought we would leap into a debate about technical devices and approaches, but instead the leaders called on us to start with our Quaker values. “Don’t skip of the question of why with a headlong rush into how,” one of the leaders said. And this is part of what I love about Quakers:  every decision starts with discernment.

For those in the workshop, the testimonies of Equality, Simplicity, Community and Unity with Nature all seemed useful guides. Our Quaker testimony of Equality – that there is that of God in everyone, including those from widely different stations and life experiences – pointed us to the importance of making worship available to all, including those who were disabled or elderly, or who lived too far away (a major concern out here in the west). Many Meetings said they had picked up new attenders via Zoom during the pandemic, including folks who lived far away and might not be able to get to in-person worship on a regular basis. No one wanted to cut those people out by dropping a Zoom option once in-person worship resumed.

Others focused on the Unity with Nature testimony, saying that anything that reduced the energy cost of traveling to worship would ultimately be better for the climate, another strong reason to continue to offer a Zoom option.

When it came to the Community testimony, however, it was clear that many Meetings longed to resume in-person worship because they had missed the powerful presence of others in a gathered Meeting. They also looked forward to the social aspects of Quaker Meetings – the coffee hour or potluck or spiritual discussions that usually met in the Meeting House. To meet the needs of their entire Meeting community, it seemed clear to most at the workshop that they needed to offer both options.

For Reno Meeting, the pandemic has both expanded our scope (pulling in attenders from Minden, Truckee and Quincy, California,) and changed our self-image. As the only Quaker Monthly Meeting in Nevada, there is no reason we cannot offer our worship to anyone in the state (or the Sierras) looking for Silent Worship, which will mean a Zoom option. At the same time, however, we recognize the sweetness of in-person gatherings, and want to encourage our members and attenders to come to the Meeting House when they can. To that end, we plan to start with a Hybrid Worship experiment:  we will offer a Zoom option along with in-person worship on first and third Sundays.  On other Sundays, including our 4th Sunday potluck day, we will hope most folks attend in-person if they can.

We’re not sure exactly how this will all work. When the workshop turned to the question of electronic devices to share screen images and sounds to the virtual attenders, the Simplicity testimony floated overhead, urging us all to make our technical solutions as seamless and unobtrusive as possible. We agreed we didn’t want it to look like we were worshipping a microphone sitting in the middle of the Meeting House, and others pointed out that many attenders were concerned about privacy and didn’t necessarily want their images shared virtually during Meeting. As I said, all this will be a big experiment, and I’m sure we will get better at it as we go along.  For now, though, Reno Friends Meeting is committed to doing what it can to offer Silent Worship both in-person and online. We will listen tenderly to everyone’s needs as we re-imagine what Worship can be and remain open to continuing revelation.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

Quakers and Prayer

Reno Friends gathered online earlier this year for a spiritual discussion about Quakers and Prayer. Newcomers to Silent Worship, puzzled by the unprogrammed quiet, often ask me if Friends are praying. I can understand their confusion, because it’s not clear during Silent Worship what, exactly, we’re doing. Some of us would say we’re sitting in silence waiting to hear what God might have to say to us. Others say they are meditating, and some might say they are praying.  

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Preparing for Re-Entry

Near the end of my two years of teaching in China, Volunteers in Asia (the organization that had hosted me) sent me materials about reverse culture shock. I was so excited about going home that I hadn’t thought about problems I might experience upon re-entry. In some ways, returning to “normal” life as pandemic restrictions ease will be a bit like returning home from a foreign land, and we might smooth the transition by taking time to consider the impact of the last year and anticipate what might come.

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What is God?

When I proposed the topic “What is God” for the February Reno Friends spiritual discussion, I was both excited and anxious. Would anyone come, and more importantly, would we have the courage to share from our hearts and souls about this big question? Fourteen of us met on Zoom last month, and almost immediately we opened into a gathered space of deep sharing. It was truly magical!

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Domestic Noise

On a recent Sunday, our Quaker Meeting was gathering for our Zoom Silent Worship, when something lovely happened. As usual, there was a bit of chitchat as folks welcomed each other to the zoom session, and then people began settling into the silence.  As the session quieted (and before the host muted everyone) there was a short period when we could all hear domestic noise from each others’ homes: the clink of a spoon in a mug, the scrape of a chair on the floor, the whistle of a cockatiel.  It was intimate and wonderful.

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Bringing Light into the World

This is the time when sunlight returns to our winter world and a new year begins. 2020 has been a year of retreat for many of us, clouded by uncertainty and anxiety. We spent more time with ourselves than usual. I have seen this year as an opportunity to go the “mountain”, to use a metaphor common to many spiritual traditions. There has been less outward activity and more inward reflection. But now the energy is shifting, and the time is coming to re-engage with the “marketplace”—to bring our inner Light into the world.

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What Does Quaker Membership Mean?

Several weeks ago Reno Friends met online for a spiritual discussion about membership, which was something of a rare event. Usually, modern-day Quakers don’t talk much about who’s a member and who’s an “attender.” Many devoted Quakers spend their lives as attenders of Monthly Meetings, volunteering for leadership roles and participating in Silent Worship, Business Meetings and social events, but deciding against the step of membership. In truth, that pretty much describes me: I’ve been attending Quaker Meeting (with varying levels of devotion) since I first went to the Florida Avenue Meeting in Washington, D.C., more than 35 years ago. I’m a really good attender.

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Are Quakers Mystics?

Last month, Reno Friend Doug Smith led a spiritual discussion about Mysticism on Zoom. It was well attended and stimulated a vibrant discussion. One of Doug’s questions was: Do you think Quakerism can be a form of mysticism? Some thought yes and others no. Defining mystics and mysticism is a tricky task, as mystical experiences are often difficult to explain. Here is the Oxford Languages definition of a mystic: a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the Absolute, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect.

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Silent Protest vs. Speaking Our Truth

A Reno Friend recently shared a photo from social media that reminded me of something fundamental to the Quaker faith. It wasn’t a photo of Quakers; it was a photo of Turkish protestors, gathered to stand against their government’s crimes –   and they were standing in silence. Below the photo (which was published by The Free Thought Project) was a caption: No yelling. No screaming. No fighting. A more efficient form of protesting: Thousands of people standing in complete silence, protesting in squares & public places in Turkey. Baffling the police by creating a calm curiosity, instead of tension and aggression. Along with the photo, the Reno Friend sent a comment: “Quakers have been using this form of protest for years!”

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Love thy Neighbor: No Exceptions

…And yet we could hurt no man that we believe loves us. Let us then try what Love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us… William Penn, 1693

Back in May, when the Black Lives Matter protests were beginning after George Floyd’s death, Reno Friends had an opportunity to love our neighbors. Due to the pandemic, we were meeting for worship outside in our garden, so we could be together but also keep our distance. We had sent a letter to our neighbors asking if they could bring in their dogs during our hour of Silent Worship.

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