Like many Quaker meetings, my own – Forest Hill Meeting in London – has moved into the virtual sphere. One of the unexpected delights of this is seeing the faces of old friends, many of whom who moved away years ago, appearing on our screens. Seamlessly, they become part of the life of the meeting again.
Jenny moved last summer, leaving our community sad to say goodbye to a valued elder. When the crisis hit, it felt natural for her to return to Forest Hill to join us on Zoom and our WhatsApp group.
"When the lockdown happened, I just wanted to come back to the meeting," she told me. “It feels like home."
Creating a tapestry
If you've been a member of a Quaker meeting for any length of time, you'll find that like Jenny you've woven yourself into the tapestry of that meeting. Those threads are often joyous moments, like the rich sunset epilogue at a residential weekend, or a child's welcoming ceremony into the life of the meeting.
Tessa moved out of London with her partner several years ago but is now returning to our meeting every Sunday on Zoom. "I suppose it's the 'known' that you get drawn to at this time," she explained.
"It feels comfortable, familiar, and it's good to be able to see faces from your past. But actually, it's more than that. It's your shared, unique experiences: residential weekends, holidays, our wedding, support given when I was clerk. I could go on and on."
Equally important to building up this tapestry are those more difficult, sometimes frustrating times (often in committees or business meetings) working through our differences, working through decisions and irritations with each other ever slowly, ever carefully.
One of my favourite quotes from our central text, Quaker faith & practice, really speaks my mind on this: "It is by our 'imperfections' that we move towards each other, towards wholeness of relationship. It is our oddities, our grittiness, the occasions when we hurt or are hurt, that challenge us to a deeper knowledge of each other" (Qf&p 21.07).
The small nature of meetings and the need for us to work closely together in our slow and deliberate way forces us to slow down and consider others who may rub us and irritate.
As the years go by, we find we are entwined and woven into the fabric of this tapestry with all Friends in our meeting – who we know, and who we find (sometimes to our surprise) that we love.
Old and new
Before the lockdown, old Friends 'from away' could come back, visit occasionally and say hello. But now, an old Friend can return and really be part of the meeting, and again weave new threads in our shared tapestry.
It doesn't mean Quakers need to abandon their new meetings, either. "Last Sunday I was able to be in two meetings, 50 miles apart!" Tessa told me.
Necessity is the mother of invention (so they say). But after the crisis is over and we all return to our meeting houses, shall we place a laptop in a corner or open a WhatsApp group, as a way to leave the door open for old Friends to come home again?