Northampton Friends Meeting

Virtual Tour

At the start of the pandemic, the Northampton Friends Meeting adapted to worship using online Zoom meetings. Each week, most members leave their cameras on and microphones muted as they worship in silence, unless they feel compelled by God to share vocal ministry, just like in an in-person meeting. However, one mother-daughter duo revealed after the meeting that they had kept their camera off because they actually weren’t staying silent. Instead, the two of them discussed each speech of ministry after they were given, as a way to keep the young daughter engaged in the meeting. This wouldn’t be possible in a typical unprogrammed in-person meeting, where silence is required of all members, but now, the mother and daughter were able to worship in the best way for themselves without obstructing the meeting or intruding on anyone else’s worship by breaking the silence.

The shift to online meetings for the Northampton Friends was helpful in allowing some to break from tradition, but the change away from normalcy is one of the major challenges the pandemic has posed for the community. Without the physical presence of their fellow Quakers, many find it difficult to fully focus on the worship and engage spiritually. One member mentioned how with the mute function of Zoom, silence is an automatic given even if people are talking, unlike in person where the silence was a conscious, collective choice from all participants. It can also be difficult for those uncomfortable with or unaccustomed to the technology to truly feel a part of the community. Technology, or rather the accessibility of meetings, is another major issue the pandemic creates, because not everybody enjoys using, can navigate, or even afford the technology or internet connection possible to get online for a virtual meeting each week.

Northampton Friends can’t connect as they once did outside of the weekly meetings. After each meeting before the pandemic, everyone would eat snacks and socialize and each month, the group would also hold a potluck. Any religious community is more than just the time spent together during worship. Consequently, the Northampton Friends have found it difficult to maintain their pre-pandemic sense of solidarity and togetherness.

The Northampton Friends have tried to adapt to meet the frustrating circumstances of the moment. One of the clearest examples of this is their weekly services that can be accessed virtually via zoom. This meeting, although it is not the same, does provide a communal compromise instead of an all-or-nothing ultimatum. To meet the problem of lack of person-to-person connections, the community has come up with a few solutions. These include the addition of introductions during their Zoom meetings and limited outdoor meetings. At the end of their weekly Sunday meetings, everyone is invited to share their name, location, and anything else they would like to add. This compensates for the tradition of being able to socialize after services and/or to greet newcomers. The Friends have also had occasional outdoor and socially-distanced gatherings so that people can connect in person and have conversations that flow a bit more naturally. 

Although this pandemic has provided many obstacles to meeting together, the Northampton Friends feel there has been at least one positive upshot from their situation, since they now are able to reach more people. They have had people who have either moved away from the area or are interested in exploring the Northampton Friend’s meeting now join their weekly meetings, which would not have been able to happen without the technological accommodations necessitated by the pandemic.

There are many ways in which the Northampton community of Friends has been able to adapt to the global pandemic. As the Northampton Friends face a resurgent wave of the pandemic during the winter, some challenges they face include reconnecting with those who don’t have technology or are not “tech savvy,” and the oncoming weather that will likely not lend itself to outdoor meetings. Both of these issues deal largely with social isolation which everybody, religious or not, is trying to figure out how to combat.

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The zoom link for weekly worship is kept by the administrators who you can email so that you can access the meeting. This is important in making sure that the space stays safe and does not have any ill-intentioned people entering the meeting. It also allows a welcoming email to be sent to new-comers who are requesting the link and to offer explanation of their practices for anyone who is not familiar with the silent meeting format.