Online or Off, Spirit Weaves Us Together
FCNL’s Domestic Policy Legislative Director Amelia Kegan preached these words two weeks ago to a Zoom room of North Pacific Yearly Meeting Friends during their virtual Annual Sessions:
“We are approaching the golden hour of advocacy. The clock is ticking on the COVID bill. We need some golden hour heroes to advocate on this. What does prophetic advocacy look like?”
Though confined to a virtual video box, her call to action roused my spirits and inspired the Friends gathered.
Heartened, I looked ahead to my planned virtual visits with Wilmington Yearly Meeting and Piedmont Friends Yearly Meeting later that day, admiring—and questioning—the technology allowing me to Zoom from one Friends’ gathering to the next.
I often asked myself: can we listen for God on Zoom?
Before 2020, I had never visited a Yearly Meeting. Over the past four months, I’ve attended fifteen Annual Sessions on Zoom and connected with Quakers across the country to share worship, workshops, and community.
This technological shift raised significant questions around accessibility. While virtual gatherings are more geographically and financially accessible for Friends, these events exclude Friends less familiar or comfortable with technology. Similar questions arose around the adaptability of Quaker faith and process. In the months leading up to yearly meeting season, a common anxiety emerged: “Can a sense of the meeting be discerned online?”
My own trepidation mirrored other Friends'. I often asked myself: can we listen for God on Zoom?
Visiting Yearly Meetings allayed my concerns. Even as a visitor, whether 20 or 200 Friends gathered on screen, I felt we knew one another in that which is eternal. From expectant waiting and worship sharing to Christ-centered prayer and prepared messages, I felt the Spirit at work online. Indeed, where two or three are gathered in God’s name – even virtually – God is with us (Matthew 18:20).
Quakers Gathering Online
I’ve been stirred by Friends’ ability to adapt Quaker process for our new virtual reality.
For example, Northern Yearly Meeting introduced a color-coded communication system for Zoom business meetings (e.g. hold up a green object for approval, red object for a stop). This system helped the clerks gain a “sense of the meeting” and was quickly adopted as a common convention by other yearly meetings.
Friends also innovated new ways of building Quaker community in virtual spaces. Piedmont Friends Yearly Meeting hosted a “Meeting Meet and Greet,” inviting monthly meeting representatives to introduce their community with a few short stories and photographs, strengthening a sense of connection and belonging.
Friends Reckoning with Racism
As yearly meeting season coincided with the nationwide uprising for racial justice, I saw a reckoning with racism across the Quaker world. As Friends’ organizations from the various branches of Quakerism issued statements on antiracism, I saw this discernment play out at the yearly meeting level.
Across many yearly meetings, Friends labored with their personal and corporate complicities in white supremacy and searched for unity in what to say and how to act.
We unite with Friends’ concerns for racial justice and continue our advocacy to bring about a society free of racism.
I was honored to join Wilmington Yearly Meeting (WYM) as they seasoned a statement on racial justice that reaffirmed Friends’ belief in that of God in everyone. They worked to explicitly highlight the gap between this Quaker ideal and the systemic racism and violence evident in our society.
Striving to live out their statement and “work with renewed vigor toward compassion and equal justice for all,” WYM members shared that their meetings are demonstrating, facilitating community education groups, and advocating for racial justice reforms with local police departments and school districts.
Across yearly meetings, we unite with Friends’ concerns for racial justice and continue our advocacy to bring about a society free of racism. In these online gatherings, I’ve experienced the diverse threads of Friends’ theologies and traditions—some that stretch us and take us in different directions and many that Spirit weaves together to form the fabric of the wider Quaker world.
This summer, we’ve seen how Quakers can come together and work faithfully online, and we’re excited to build on the community and momentum already forming.
Just as antiracism has been a theme of Friends’ yearly meeting gatherings, it will also be a major focus of FCNL’s Annual Meeting in November as we gather to conduct worshipful business and lobby for the Justice in Policing Act (H.R. 7120/S.3912).
Join us online for Annual Meeting (Nov. 14-17) to act in faith and feel Spirit weave us together as Friends uniting for the world we seek.