Category Archives: Meeting Community

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

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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A Gift

Every other month Reno Friends (the Quaker Meeting I attend), serves dinner to the homeless and hungry living on the streets of Reno. We each prepare food and then help to serve it. I bring my homemade bread, which often brings smiles and sometimes the sharing of a memory about the last time they had homemade bread. Often this is a distant childhood memory from a home long gone.

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Who We Welcome

One of the central tenets of the Quaker faith is the Equality Testimony. As stated in the Pacific Yearly Meeting’s manual Faith & Practice, the Equality Testimony starts with this simple statement:  “Friends testimony on equality is rooted in the holy expectation that there is that of God in everyone, including adversaries and people from widely different stations, life experiences, and religious persuasions. All must therefore be treated with integrity and respect.”

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The Meeting Community, Part II

Though Reno’s Quaker Meeting is small, it somehow provides a bountiful community for Nevada Friends. There are those with decades of Quaker experience, others who have recently discovered Quakerism, and many in between. All of us are searching for spiritual solace in the silence, yet we have different needs and different approaches to questions about God and religious principles. When we make collective decisions, we usually do so with little drama, but sometimes there is strife. When that happens, it fills our Meeting House with sadness. 

Continue reading The Meeting Community, Part II

The Meeting Community, Part 1 (from PYM’s Faith & Practice)

The Religious Society of Friends arose as a community of the Spirit, centered in regular, shared worship. Ostracized and attacked by mainstream English society, Quakers developed a loving social community which, while not immune to struggle and conflict, supported their personal growth, their care for one another, and their work in the larger world.

Continue reading The Meeting Community, Part 1 (from PYM’s Faith & Practice)

Why Newcomers Attend Quaker Meeting

In recent months, a stream of newcomers has come to Reno Friends Meeting to try out the Quaker approach to worship. We’re always thrilled to see new faces but sometimes worry newcomers will be surprised by what they find. Unlike most churches, who worship with words and music, Quakers sit together for an hour of contemplative silence, punctuated occasionally by an individual standing to share a message from the heart. Coming into silent worship for the first time can feel like dropping into a new dimension. And so I wondered – what brings someone to a Quaker Meeting?

Talking with our recent newcomers, I’ve found that people have come to our Meeting for a range of interesting reasons. Some of our newcomers said they knew about Quakerism and had considered trying it for some time. For others, the idea of silent worship was a completely new experience, but one they thought might meet their needs at this point in their lives.

As the political climate has heated up, several told me they felt a hunger for silence. One visitor even shared that her prior church experience had gotten “too noisy.” She came to Quaker Meeting looking for something more contemplative. Another newcomer said he wanted to figure out for himself what to believe, and needed a quiet space to sort through his questions and doubt.

One young man told me he had heard so many interesting stories about Quakers, he had to check us out. He had read about Quakers fighting during wartime for the right to be conscientious objectors, and of their early efforts to promote abolition in the United States. More recently, he had heard of their social justice work and their resistance to paying taxes to finance wars. Other newcomers said they were also intrigued by the Quaker testimonies, which guide us to live lives of integrity, simplicity and stewardship of the Earth and our communities. Some said they appreciated the Quakers’ acceptance of everyone, no matter where they are from or whom they love.

All these comments resonated with me. I first sought out the Quaker silence many years ago because I was weary of ministers telling me what to think and believe. I loved that Quakers asked themselves “queries,” probing questions about important issues, rather than following a common creed that everyone must agree to. I found the silence of worship challenging at first, but soon came to treasure the deep centering and mental quiet that grounded me each week at Meeting. Now, when I occasionally attend a traditional church service, I feel there’s little room for me to consider what is in my head and heart, and I long for the silence.

But the newcomer with the most intriguing story was the one who said he had taken a quiz at an online “religion calculator,” which concluded he should be a Quaker. So he came to see what the Meeting was all about. After hearing about the online site, I tried it myself. I was happy to learn its “Spiritual Belief System Selector” concluded I am worshipping with the right group. It’s an interesting quiz, designed to sort religious preferences and beliefs in a systematic, even-handed way. If you’re curious about what belief system you align with, try it out at http://www.selectsmart.com/RELIGION.

Of course, we welcome anyone curious about silent worship and the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). We invite you to join us at 10 am on a Sunday morning at our Meeting House in Reno.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

 

 

How We Give

I first started attending Quaker meeting because Silent Worship spoke to me like no other church service I’d ever experienced.  After a few months of attending, I decided to deepen my commitment to the Meeting by making regular contributions of my time and financial support.

Volunteering for a committee at the Meeting was easy, but figuring out how to give financially proved harder.  When I asked the worship clerk one Sunday, he looked around the room. It was a large, east coast Meeting, and there were about fifty Quakers gathered. “Well,” he said, “there might be someone here who could tell you how, but I don’t know who.”

The Quakers do not conduct a traditional church service, and they also do not pass the plate for donations.  At least not in any of the Meetings I’ve ever attended.  Sometimes there’s a small box or canister on a table near the door, but I’ve rarely heard anyone suggest attenders drop their contributions inside it. And unlike most Protestant churches, Quakers rarely use a pledge system.  A Meeting might make a special appeal, say if it needs funding for a new building or something unusual, but generally Quaker Meetings proceed as if money doesn’t matter.

But, of course, it does.  Reno Friends has an annual budget and is happy to accept donations to help us pay our First Day School teacher (our only staffing expense), and to offset the cost of utilities, insurance and upkeep of our Meeting House and First Day School. We also give to several local and national charitable organizations or Quaker organizations, and we support the quarterly and yearly Meetings that serve our region and the West Coast.

When we do discuss giving to our Meeting — usually at our monthly Business Meeting — we try to do so in a larger context.  As the 19th-century Quaker John Woolman said, “As Christians, all we possess are the gifts of God.  To turn all the treasures we possess into the channel of Universal Love becomes the business of our lives.” We recognize that some people have more time than money, or may feel that they have a special skill or expertise they can lend the Meeting to make our communal experience richer and more interesting.  Our Query on Stewardship says:  “From the indwelling Seed of God, we discover our particular gifts and discern the service to which we are called.”  Some might make phone calls to those who are sick, while others balance the books or help keep our campus tidy.  There are many ways to give to the Meeting.

In the end, I’ve learned to appreciate the Quakers’ way of keeping money off center stage, and I  appreciate the many ways Reno Friends give to our Meeting.  Everyone does what she or he can. If they have a handful of coins or a check to share, then they can slip it into the humble Quaker Oats canister that sits on our Meeting House table.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Compassionate Listening and Adult Children of Alcoholics

Reno Friends Meeting hosts several community groups in our Meeting House, providing space for organizations that share our Quaker values and have no home of their own. For the last year, members of the Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families have gathered inside our space on Thursday nights. This 12-step fellowship program is designed to promote healing for those who struggle with neglect, shame, abuse and other legacies of growing up in a home led by alcoholic or dysfunctional parents.

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