Reflections on Online Worship
by Sue Tannehill
Bear with me. I begin with Physics. Quantum entanglement is an observable phenomenon and occurs when two photons (light particles) interact with one another. Imagine that photons A and B interact and become entangled in Buffalo, NY. Then, photon B gets sent to California while photon A remains in Buffalo. Now, when you shoot photon A with a laser causing it to spin, photon B (in San Francisco) will instantaneously spin as if it too has been shot through with a laser. This occurs even though it is thousands of miles away from its entangled partner. This is real.
Some of my experiences of online meeting for worship are analogous to quantum entanglement. I experience a kind of entanglement that transcends the barriers of space and time. Online meeting for worship has advantages over in-person worship in several ways:
- Hearing ministry is easier.
- You see the faces of everyone who is worshipping with you.
- You can gaze at those faces without embarrassment.
- People who have moved or haven’t attended for a long time can now attend.
- After worship, times of fellowship or check-in allow each person to be heard by all.
Hearing ministry is so important in meeting for worship. During Ministry & Counsel conversations about how to increase, decrease or deepen vocal ministry, someone always raises the issue of being able to HEAR ministry at all. The person trying to be faithful to his/her/their message may not stand, may look down at the floor, and drop their voice. These physical gestures make it almost impossible for some to hear the ministry. Using Zoom, vocal ministry is heard by all.
Online, it is possible to see everyone’s face at worship. While this doesn’t work as well on phones or tablets, most faces are visible on a desktop computer. The physical arrangements of circle and facing benches in our meetinghouses often prevent this.
During online meeting for worship I can gaze at my fellow worshippers without embarrassment. I almost always end my meeting by silently holding each person gathered up to the Light, and offer prayer for their well being. Being able to gaze at each one is a happy advantage.
Another advantage is that distance no longer prevents attendance. People who grew up in our meeting now join us from their homes far away. A man from South America who worshipped with us years ago now worships with us regularly from his home in Columbia. There is rich cross-fertilization as people from other meetings join our mid-week meeting for worship.
Finally, after the “rise” of meeting, we often have a time of fellowship. At our meetinghouse, this takes the form of small knots of people chatting. On Zoom, each person speaks to all the others. This deepens the quality of relationships among us as much as, or perhaps more than a regular “coffee hour.”
I do not want to use this platform exclusively—I miss the hugs, the sight and smell of the people around me, an awareness of the meeting gathered as a whole, the serving of food, the camaraderie and cheerful banter of corporate fellowship. But I think that Quaker entanglement is very real on the Zoom platform and I want to lift it up as a welcome option until we can gather in person again.