Worship in lockdown: finding new forms of community
17 April 2020 by Jonathan Carmichael
This page contains guidance for Quaker meetings on coronavirus. Quakers are worshipping in various ways: indoors, outdoors, online, from their own homes, and in new combinations. We welcome new people. Our meeting houses are gradually re-opening in line with government guidance.
Government guidance can be found at:
Government guidance on worship and activities in meeting houses is on various government websites:
As there were so many changes made to English guidance made on and around 14 September, and there have been many questions from Quakers, here is a briefing on the English changes (PDF).
We will try to keep this up to date, though the situation is changing rapidly.
Our sense of community does not depend on all professing identical beliefs, for it grows from worshipping together, knowing one another, loving one another, accepting responsibilities, sharing and working together. We will be helped by tried and tested Quaker methods and procedures, but the meeting will only live if we develop a sense of community, which includes children and adults alike. If all those who belong to our meeting are lovingly cared for, the guidance of the spirit will be a reality. (Quaker faith & practice 10.03)
Quaker communities need to consider how to continue through the pandemic and into a future which currently seems uncertain. It is important to keep members and attenders, employees and building users safe and connected. Creative and imaginative solutions will help Quaker communities to continue to worship and witness together, and meeting houses to be community resources. The information below highlights relevant government instructions and guidance for Quaker communities and meeting houses. It answers questions about the current situation, and the actions which should be taken. Remember that guidance is different in the different countries and jurisdictions of the UK.
Below are responses to some 'Quaker-specific' queries.
Meetings should only meet for worship in-person indoors if this is allowed by government guidance in your part of Britain, and if your meeting has in place suitable measures to be COVID secure. This includes public meetings for worship and in private homes.
Quaker worship can happen anywhere at any time.
Quakers could arrange to all sit worshipfully, separately in their own homes, at a prearranged time (not necessarily Sunday morning) in order to worship with each other at a distance.
It may be possible for small groups to gather in worship outdoors, depending on government guidance about groups outdoors in your part of Britain. Here is
Many meetings are now holding worship online. You can find which local meetings are worshipping online by looking on their website or social media pages, or by contacting their clerk, using this search tool. Alternatively, several British meetings happy to receive visitors online have included their details in this list of FWCC Europe and Middle East Section online meetings.
Woodbrooke has a variety of opportunities for online worship (offsite link) most days of the week which anyone may join.
BYM and Woodbrooke have developed:
This includes detailed instructions for those less used to using computers; some online meetings have telephone access too. There are guides on the same page about online meetings for worship for business, children's meetings, all-age worship, and youth work.
Woodbrooke 'online worship advice' page has details of sessions for facilitators of online worship and elders.
As meetings move forwards, they may wish to offer a combination of forms of worship. Here is
Meetings should only meet for worship in-person indoors if this is allowed by government guidance in your part of Britain, and if your meeting has in place suitable measures to be COVID secure. Government guidance is changing frequently, so you should check the relevant government website (see above).
Currently Government announcements permit places of worship to be open for communal worship in England, Scotland and Wales.
There are exceptions: funerals (see below); to provide essential voluntary or urgent public support services, including food banks or other support for the homeless or vulnerable people, blood donation sessions or support in an emergency; registered early years childcare; and for individual prayer.
The Government guidance about re-opening for purposes other than worship should also be consulted (see links above).
Meetings thinking about their plans for resuming in-person worship, re-opening meeting houses or using rented worship spaces are offered these resources, to be read alongside government guidance:
These are based on the guidance published for England: users in Wales and Scotland should cross-check their relevant guidance.
The advice to area meeting trustees (below) may be useful more widely.
Government legislation permits the holding of funerals in places of worship, if certain strict measures can be put in place. Please read our funerals guidance to be clear on what this requires.
Funerals may also be held at a crematorium, or at a graveside. All Government guidance on attendance and social distancing must be followed. There are different rules on this in England, Scotland and Wales – follow the links at the top of this page.
We encourage families to keep funeral attendance at a minimum. Consider holding a memorial meeting at a later date when gatherings are permitted.
More details, information and ideas are on our funerals page.
We are now able to hold weddings again in all parts of Britain. The guidance below links to a government website for each of the three main regions.
Loving care is not something that those sound in mind and body 'do' for others but a process that binds us together (Quaker faith & practice 12.01)
We know that we will be living with restrictions for many months. Some people in our communities are likely to remain in a high degree of isolation for a long period.
It is especially important for meetings to consider how they will remain a community during this time. The eldership and oversight page on this website contains advice for everyone involved in spiritual and pastoral care. There is also a suggested model for organising pastoral care at this time.
At BYM we are working really hard to support meetings at the moment; we welcome any ideas on how our Quaker communities can be upheld. Please contact email@example.com with your suggestions. Please be aware that messages sent to this email address are being shared between and acted upon by both BYM and Woodbrooke.
Area meetings have responsibility for the spiritual and pastoral care of their local meetings (as detailed in Quaker faith & practice 12.06). At this time, they may give support by organising some of the above initiatives for meetings that struggle to do so themselves, or by connecting multiple local meetings for worship.
Guidance is now available for area meeting trustees on issues to consider around coronavirus (Word) - updated 22 July, guided by current advice and regulations.
Both venues are closed until at least the end of August, though the Quaker Centre at Freinds House will reopen on 1 September. Please see the 'Contact us' page for more details. Plans are being made for how they might later re-open, in ways that are safe for staff and building users.
BYM is still functioning with a core team of staff working from home, continuing to support Quakers across Britain in their faith and witness.
However, with the continued closure of Friends House and Swarthmoor Hall, BYM is unable to generate any trading income. Around two thirds of the organisation's staff are being furloughed under the Government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. We are taking this step to protect jobs and to make sure we are able to serve the needs of the Quaker community, both now and long into the future.
There is an article about the decision to furlough staff.
Britain Yearly Meeting has postponed the 2020 Yearly Meeting Gathering. The Coronavirus pandemic makes it impossible to bring 2,000 people together for this event. Please see the press release for more information.
Britain Yearly Meeting is following public health advice. We have cancelled all in-person events for the foreseeable future; some are being run online. We are also running additional events and activities for all ages. Please see our events page to find out more.
Meetings of committees are taking place online, or postponed. Committee secretaries will keep committee members updated.
Quaker communities are open and welcome everyone. Some of our members and visitors are at particular risk, including the elderly and people with underlying health conditions. So that we can care for each other, we all need to take care.
Some of us will be particularly worried – perhaps due to existing health conditions, issues at work, or close connections to people affected around the world. Some Friends will need to self-isolate, and some may contract the disease. Although it's not sensible to visit those who are unwell or self-isolating, there are other ways to support people – on the phone, by email, with practical help like running errands or bringing food to their door, and through prayer.
The spiritual welfare of a meeting is greatly helped if… its members take a warm personal interest in one another's welfare. The pastoral work of the Society is specially committed to the overseers, but our members generally should not allow themselves to feel that they are relieved from responsibility. In the greater events of life … it is our duty and privilege to share in one another's joys and sorrows; and sympathy thus shown is a potent means of binding us in closer fellowship. (Quaker faith & practice10.17)
For more advice and guidance on supporting the spiritual and pastoral life of you Quaker community visit our
eldership and oversight pages.
Britain Yearly Meeting has no public health expertise. We suggest referring to relevant sources for further information:
These websites provide advice about actions to take in order to prevent the spread of the disease, and situations in which people should self-isolate. Quakers and Quaker meetings should follow this guidance in relation to most activities.
17 April 2020 by Jonathan Carmichael