Friends respond to COVID-19 and work continues under new circumstances
The Quaker headquarters in London, Friends House, closed last week, as Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) updated its advice and recommended Quakers ‘not to gather in person while the current social distancing guidance is in force’. Swarthmoor Hall closed, as did Woodbrooke, which has suspended its courses until June. Quaker Barbara Berntsen stressed on the Quakers in Britain Facebook page that the coronavirus ‘remains active on surfaces for quite a while’ and that someone who is infected but symptom-free could be shedding the virus.
Friends, however, continued to find interesting new ways to work and worship together. Woodbrooke and BYM staff put together a guide on the Woodbrooke website showing how to set up virtual Meetings for Worship (MfW). Two hundred and twenty people logged on for the Woodbrooke online worship on Sunday, for what it described as ‘rich supportive ministry’, while Friends all over the country gathered for their own online worship, including Cotteridge, Hastings and Central Manchester Meeting. Meanwhile, Hitchen Friends hung one of their handcrafted ‘doves of peace’ in the grounds.
Ipswich Friend Eric Walker said their online gathering ‘in some ways… became a more intimate experience than our normal way of worship’.
Other Quakers agreed. Robin Bowles and Ann Bettys from Huddersfield Meeting described their online MfW, which included fifteen Friends, one child and a former attender now living in Germany, as ‘a very deep Meeting, seeing all the people you know so well and love dearly’. They added: ‘Checking in with everyone at the end was absolutely vital. We’re going to continue doing everything we do but online, with space for notices and coffee time at the end. Our Experiment with Light group also had its first online meeting which went very well – they will now continue to meet like this every two weeks.’
Meanwhile, Quakers are busy setting up other networks to support each other. Winchmore Hill Meeting has created a poetry-sharing scheme for people in self-isolation and is using an ongoing ‘Threads’ group to stay connected.
Quaker work has continued with BYM announcing on 17 March that it had joined Liberty, Medact and other organisations to write to the home secretary Priti Patel to call for urgent changes to ensure the safety of migrants in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The London Quaker Annual General Meeting will go ahead online on 25 April.
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