Four Questions to Ask in Your Quaker Community When the Pandemic is Over

The COVID-19 pandemic transformed the way Quakers connect and worship. The pandemic also revealed opportunities for our meetings and churches to consider as we move toward a post-COVID world. Here are four questions to reflect on as a community when the pandemic is over and we can gather for worship and events in-person again.

Would our community be better served by offering occasional or regular blended meetings?

One question we received in our FGC email inbox often before the pandemic was: “Do you know of any meetings that offer worship virtually?” For some Friends and spiritual seekers, the nearest Quaker meeting is a multi-hour drive away, or a disability, chronic illness, or compromised immune system meant that a Friend could not attend Meeting for Worship in-person. Now, in the midst of the pandemic, we’re hearing concerns from Friends who worry that, once the pandemic is over and in-person worship can safely resume, virtual worship will stop entirely and they will lose this valuable online connection to community and worship. If our goal as a faith community is to welcome everyone who wants to experience Quaker spirituality, perhaps offering blended (in-person and virtual) worship opportunities once a week or monthly in our meetings and churches would help further that goal.

If your meeting decides to offer blended meetings, update your Quaker Finder listing with the details, including when it happens and how virtual attendees can sign up to participate.

How do we create a culture of welcome and affirmation to more people coming into our meetings?

Welcoming is not the work of one or two people at the door. It takes a whole meeting to create a culture that is ready to attentively and joyfully bring newcomers into the fold of the community. Sometimes, however, as a result of our assumptions and unexamined biases, we as Quakers can unintentionally put up barriers that keep people out rather than invite them in.  Some newcomers face heightened barriers to entry, such as Black/Indigenous/People of Color, people of different political or economic backgrounds, young adults, or trans or gender-nonconforming people. We must also be aware of the “hidden diversities” that exist within our meetings, including economic class, political orientation, marital status, mental health, level of education, theological diversity, and others. Statements that assume “all Quakers are alike” can be alienating and hurtful. It is our responsibility as Friends to address the ways assumptions and systemic oppression show up in our meetings. Doing the work to make the meeting welcoming to any one group of people will help us develop the awareness to be welcoming to all. 

FGC has three FREE online resources that offer valuable information and exercises for Quaker communities that are eager to transform their culture of welcoming and affirm the experience of everyone who participates in the life of the meeting:

When do we offer feedback to one another as Friends, and how?

One way you could achieve a positive and nurturing feedback loop as a meeting involves adding the practice of Noticing to Meeting for Business and committee agendas. For readers who are unfamiliar with the practice, Noticing invites Friends to acknowledge the assumptions and patterns of oppression that we may unknowingly perpetuate with the words we use to describe our work and share our feelings (FGC integrated Noticing into our Central Committee sessions in October 2020). The invitation also extends to noticing patterns of faithfulness. Additionally, your meeting may want to encourage Friends to deliver feedback one-on-one as opposed to eldering in public, while other Friends are present. 

You may also want to pause and consider if the feedback will affirm the recipient’s life experience and create connection, or if it will cause them to feel embarrassed or othered. Correcting a Friend’s pronunciation of a word when they speak English as a second language, or telling someone that straws are harmful to the environment when they are a disabled person who really needs the straw to nurture their body with water and other beverages, are examples of eldering that can cause harm.

Lastly, think about how YOU would like to receive feedback when you say or do something not in the manner of Friends. If it would be painful for you to read in an email or hear in conversation, perhaps there is another way to offer feedback…or this is a time when feedback is unnecessary. 

How do we rebuild our spiritual community when we come back together in-person?

When we gather together in-person after many months of worshipping remotely, there is no doubt that the makeup of our meetings will have changed. Our meetings may have lost members – to death or drifting away – and gained new babies or attenders. There may be newcomers who have only attended worship online, and Friends who have been unable to attend remote worship because of the digital divide. And even the Friends who have done their best to remain active in Quaker community will have missed out on moments of connection and friendship over months of isolation and distance.

To create and nurture healthy and vital meetings, we need to “know each other in the things that are eternal.” Coming back together after the pandemic, we can begin to reflect on what comes next: how will our meetings rebuild the spiritual connections that foster deep worship? How will we incorporate newcomers into the fabric of the meeting, while also reimagining who we are as a new community with a new makeup?

As you discuss your timeline to resume worshipping in person, we suggest that Friends start planning ways to re-build community, both spiritually and socially. Here are some ideas that can nurture connections and help you go deeper together:

  • Be intentional about wearing nametags and making time for (re)introductions. 
  • Consider offering a “revitalization retreat” on a Saturday where you can share how Spirit has been moving in your life throughout the pandemic. 
  • Schedule inreach opportunities for exploring themes in Quaker faith and practice (the Spiritual Deepening Library has lots of materials that can help with this.)
  • Find time to be social together, through picnics, Game Nights, nature walks, or Friendly Eights small groups
  • Reflect on how you’d like to “do community” together and consider this a fresh start. Perhaps the meeting would do well with fewer committees? More worship sharing? Shorter announcements? More opportunities to practice discernment or contemplation? Monthly intergenerational worship?

It’s never too early to begin thinking about ways to nurture and revitalize your community after the pandemic ends. Share this article with your Quaker meeting or church, then share your thoughts with us by email, or post your feedback on FGC’s Facebook page and tweet at us on Twitter

This article originally appeared in the January 2021 issue of Vital Friends.

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