Can You Gather With God Over Zoom?


Quakerism goes digital, providing an intimate window into silent worship.

For the previous 27 years, Ted Ehrhardt has awoken on Sunday morning and headed to worship on the Brooklyn Quaker Meetinghouse. “I wait all week to get there,” he stated. “I know every board in the room, every crack in the plaster.”

Quakers have worshiped within the meetinghouse on Schermerhorn Street since 1857. The partitions of the room are naked and white, and once you look as much as test the time, there isn’t any clock. The room’s solely ornament is a bouquet of flowers, introduced each week by the flower committee.

After preventing within the Vietnam War, Ehrhardt, 76, was drawn to Quakers due to their message of nonviolence. “I’m am a very conflicted, confused and bewildered man,” he stated. “The meeting for me is a touchstone. It’s the thing holding me together.” So when he came upon that the assembly may not proceed due to coronavirus, he felt unmoored. Not lengthy after, the members of the Quaker ministry and council got here up with a again up plan. The conferences would resume over Zoom.

“In order to foster stillness and quiet, you’ve been automatically muted upon joining this meeting,” the worship host now broadcasts on the digital Brooklyn assembly every Sunday.

In Quaker worship, members sit collectively in silence, ready for a message from God to maneuver by means of them. This new frontier in digital Quakerism posed a query — was it doable to collect with God over Zoom?

“I shared with neighbors that I am attending Quaker Meeting via Zoom and they laughed,” Meg Langworthy, 56, of the Middlebury, Vt. assembly, wrote over e-mail. “Sitting in silence in front of a computer for an hour. Some things you cannot explain.”

Sasha Chavchavadze, a member of Brooklyn’s flower committee, nonetheless gathers bouquets for the Zoom assembly. “Bringing the flowers is a devotional act,” Chavchavadze stated. “It’s part of the worship for me.” For a gathering final month, she rustled up a bouquet of cherry blossoms that had simply bloomed within the yard of her late mom’s home in Wellfleet, Mass. “Those were just a knockout,” she stated.

Since the worships went digital on the finish of March, Arthur Fink, 73, of Portland, Maine, now attends conferences all world wide. He begins his Sunday at a gathering in Amsterdam, the place he used to stay, then joins one in Woodbrooke, England, and a worship in Pendle Hill, Pa., earlier than ending in Portland, “in one spirit filled day,” he stated.

Over Zoom, there’s a new intimacy to the gatherings. Faces and expressions are on full show. “I really see that they are deep in worship,” Joan Malin stated of her fellow Brooklyn Friends. “There’s a vulnerability when someone is doing that, and here they are putting it onscreen for us to witness,” she stated. “It helps me get there, too.”

Worshiping from residence has additionally affected the character of “vocal ministry,” the moments in assembly when a member feels compelled to talk. In a Brooklyn assembly, somebody turned the digicam towards the mustard seedlings of their backyard. In Middlebury, Vt., Robert Wyatt pivoted to his piano and performed a brief music. In Westerly, R.I., one member forgot to re-mute themselves after a message, and for a lot of minutes the sound of a single fowl projected over the Zoom name. “I am grateful for this bird who has entered our meeting,” stated Debbie Dear, 86, from Mystic, Conn.

This will not be the primary time that Quakers have worshiped outdoors the meetinghouse. For 9 and half years, starting in 1994, a gaggle of Quakers from Brooklyn assembly worshiped in silence outdoors the New York State Supreme Court constructing on Wednesday afternoons to protest the loss of life penalty. And Chavchavadze recalled a time when one member couldn’t discover a parking spot, so she double-parked outdoors the assembly and worshiped from the automotive. “At that point, she said she realized she could worship from anywhere,” Chavchavadze stated.

Jim Morgan from Manhattan, stated he nonetheless attends the Brooklyn meetinghouse in his thoughts. “I have a certain place where I sit, and I imagine myself looking out the windows to the west, and I can imagine the quality of light,” he stated. “I can imagine the other people there, and the people who are no longer with us.”

Morgan met his associate, Lyn Pyle, at a gathering 24 years in the past. Since the shutdown started, Morgan has been in Savannah, Ga., and Pyle within the Bronx. When he enters the Zoom assembly on his telephone, he scrolls by means of the pages of faces to seek out her, and pulls her on the display screen subsequent to him. “She is one of three other people on my screen,” he stated. “I like it best when she’s to my left,” the best way she could be within the pew.

As for Ehrhardt, the Vietnam veteran, was it doable to collect with God over Zoom? “Let me think for a minute before I speak,” he stated. We sat in silence.

“I think so,” he continued. “Most of us are quiet enough to hear the gentle voice.”

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