Updated guidance for Quaker meetings on Coronavirus

Information about Quaker Meetings and the corona virus

Information and official guidance about how Quaker Meetings should behave in relation to the corona virus has changed and developed over the months of the pandemic. Initially Meetings for Worship took place as usual. In March 2020 the UK government and Britain Yearly Meeting issued guidance to close our Meetings Houses temporarily, both for worship and for hirers. Meetings for Worship migrated online. As the summer progressed, risk assessments were carried out, with a view to restarting in-person Meetings for Worship in the gardens of individual Friends, of our Meeting Houses, and in the case of Faversham Meeting, in the Abbey Physic Garden. Further risk assessments were carried out with a view to Meetings for Worship taking place inside our Meeting Houses. Official guidance has shifted repeatedly, which has the effect of muddying what was previously understood. It is also the nature of the balance being struck by the UK government in its determination to increase the range of permitted social and commercial activities while also attempting to limit transmission of the virus, the two intents being in direct opposition to each other.

Here is the latest guidance from the UK government. Note that whilst the document is updated as of 14 September 2020, its filename still refers to it as guidance issued on 4 July 2020.

Here is the latest guidance from Britain Yearly Meeting.

Below is the guidance issue by Britain Yearly Meeting in March 2020. 

Updated guidance for Quaker meetings on Coronavirus

18 March 2020

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)

As the coronavirus situation develops, Quaker meetings need to consider how best to keep members and attenders, employees, and building users, informed and protected. Because of the current social distancing and self-isolation advice, much of this support will need to take place without meeting in person. 

Below are responses to some ‘Quaker-specific’ queries

Should we hold meeting for worship?

No.  We advise meetings not to gather in person while the current social distancing guidance is in force.  Current guidance is that everyone should avoid all large gatherings and any gatherings in smaller places (such as cinemas, restaurants, pubs).  Government statements have made clear that religious gatherings are included in this category.  Many faiths and denominations have announced they will cease public acts of worship.

Meetings may want to keep meeting houses open at set times for ‘private worship’, with a small number of individuals (perhaps 4 or 5) spaced at least two metres apart or in different rooms. Alternatively, having small meetings in the open air could be a way of providing spiritual sustenance.

What alternatives are there to in-person meeting for worship?

Quaker worship doesn’t need to happen at a particular place or time. Quakers could arrange to all sit worshipfully in their homes at a prearranged time (not necessarily Sunday morning) in order to worship with each other at a distance. Or meetings could arrange a telephone conference that all worshippers could join: more details are in this teleconferencing leaflet (also available at https://www.quaker.org.uk/resources/free-resources/outreach-materials

BYM and Woodbrooke are working to support Friends to set up online worship for their local communities and are putting together resources to help people set these up. Anyone interested in hosting or eldering an online meeting should email qladmin@quaker.org.uk explaining their interest and their meeting. Woodbrooke is also hoping to expand its online worship which anyone can access.

What else can our Quaker community do? 

We don’t know how long this will go on, but we think meetings should be prepared for the current restrictions to last for several weeks or even months.

It is especially important for meetings to consider how they will remain a community during this time. Do overseers, elders or all Friends need to contact everyone in the meeting regularly? Is a ‘telephone circle’, where everyone is responsible for contacting one or more Friends daily or weekly, feasible? Hearing another person’s voice can be much more powerful than reading words on a screen. Maintaining contact may be particularly valued by those less involved with the meeting, and help to reaffirm their connection with Quakers. 

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 qladmin@quaker.org.uk with your suggestions. 

What role should area meetings play? 

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.

Why have Friends House and Swarthmoor Hall closed? 

A decision was taken on 17 March to close Friends House and Swarthmoor Hall until Monday 20 April. This follows public health advice about people avoiding meetings and unnecessary travel, and working from home where possible.

What about the work of Britain Yearly Meeting?

BYM is still functioning and staff are working from home, where possible. We are operating as a virtual organisation, with colleagues keeping in touch daily and having a primary focus of supporting our Quaker communities in their worship and witness.  However, there is a chance that staff sickness, or getting used to new ways of working, will have an impact on some programmes – if so, we’ll appreciate Friends’ understanding.

Some staff, particularly those whose jobs are about running Friends House or Swarthmoor Hall, will not be able to work during this time. We are committed to paying all staff salaries, whether or not they are able to work.

What about national Quaker events?

Britain Yearly Meeting is following public health advice. We have cancelled all major events taking place in March and April (Quaker Youthwork Conference, QPSW Spring Conference, AM Trustees Conference, Meeting for Sufferings, Quaker Life Representative Council). All participants have been informed. We will keep the situation under review for future events. We are still intending to hold Yearly Meeting Gathering on 1-7 August as planned.

Meetings of committees before 20 April will either be cancelled or take place virtually. Committee secretaries will contact all committee members to update them.

Pastoral care

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 & practice 10.17)

Where can I go for more health advice?

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.

The below table of guidance from Public Health England may help Friends be clear what they are advised to do. 

* if one member of your family or household has a new continuous cough or high temperature 
** if you live alone and you have a new continuous cough or high temperature 
*** for example cinema, theatre, pubs, bars, restaurants, clubs 
**** for example via telephone or internet 
1 such as anyone instructed to get a flu jab each year