Ministry and Counsel, June 20, 2021
For the past fifteen months, we at Durham Friends Meeting have been worshipping together each Sunday via Zoom rather than worshipping together in our Meetinghouse. We have done this, of course, because of the risk of infecting one another with the COVID-19 virus which has taken 600,000 lives in the U.S. and 3.8 million lives across the globe. With the recent successes of vaccination, we believe it is time to begin planning to return to worship in the Meetinghouse.
We emphasize: time to begin planning. We believe there are important steps to take first before we all return to worship in the Meetinghouse. We believe if we begin taking these steps now, it will be possible to return to regular worship in the Meetinghouse in the fall.
We believe these four considerations need to be kept foremost in our minds:
(1) safety: we need to be sure we are keeping everyone safe.
(2) access for all: we need to be sure we are providing access to worship for all, and that includes children who cannot yet be vaccinated, and any among us who cannot be vaccinated.
(3) announcement: we need to be sure we have communicated to all how we are worshipping together.
(4) messages: we need to recognize that after we return to the Meetinghouse, we will not be as able to have worship messages brought by those at a distance.
We believe Durham Friends Meeting should make preparations for a hybrid form of worship as we return to the meetinghouse. Under this arrangement, most people would attend the Meeting in person at our meetinghouse; others would participate via Zoom. In April, we held a threshing session in which this hybrid approach had broad support (notes attached). In May, we tested a Meeting OWL Pro Device that proved quite satisfactory to support this hybrid form of worship (notes attached). Using this device, especially in the meeting room itself, will require some improvements in the Meeting’s internet connection. (Without such improvements, to use the Meeting OWL Pro for hybrid worship we would need to hold worship in the social room.)
Here are the steps we believe we should take next in approximate order:
(1) Have the Meeting authorize purchase now of a Meeting OWL Pro, approximate cost $1000.
(2) Have Ministry and Counsel develop a plan that considers the following, and bring this to the Meeting for approval:
(a) Explore options for improving the Meeting’s internet connection.
(b) Think through protocols for ensuring the safety of all who come to worship. (How about children? How about those who cannot be vaccinated? What about visitors? What do we do about ventilation and air quality in the meetinghouse? Etc.)
(c) Think through what it will take each Sunday to support hybrid worship, both equipment and people support.
(d) Set a tentative date for returning to worship in the meetinghouse and communicate this to all members and attenders of Durham Friends Meeting well in advance.
NOTES from Threshing Session on 4/11/21 about Worship Options After COVID
Here are some notes from our threshing session. At the end, I’m appending three thoughtful responses that came via e-mail.
We had good participation in the threshing session: more than 20 participants. Mostly those gathered were folks we also see fairly regularly on ZOOM worship sessions. We may want to reach out to some of those we are not regularly seeing on Zoom.
On the whole, there was a good deal of agreement that we should be especially attentive to the health and safety of Meeting members. We were reminded that there are quite a number in the Meeting who would especially be at risk from a viral infection.
Several people said that they were surprised to find worship over Zoom to be better than they expected, even if they preferred to be in the meetinghouse.
There were a number of expressions of discomfort with allowing too much technology into our worship together.
Nevertheless, these expressions of discomfort were nearly always paired with a recognition that Zoom was making possible something good, and that we probably want to be heading toward some kind of hybrid solution. Such a hybrid solution would allow us to return to the meetinghouse and yet allow those not able to attend in person (for health or for distance reasons) to worship with us.
People seem interested in trying the OWL device.
Several people voiced discomfort with a large screen in the meetinghouse.
We were encouraged to see what other Quaker meetings are doing. We can learn from them.
We were reminded that we’ll need some protocols for addressing who can come to the meetinghouse in person: only those vaccinated? With masks? What distances, etc.
A possibility voiced for an interim step: gathering people in small, safe groups at various locations connected via Zoom.
A big issue to wrestle with: how much does ‘being a Quaker meeting’ require being in one another’s presence? If we allow the technology in the future, will we be altering the terms of ‘worshipping together’ and ‘making decisions together?’
From Sarah Sprogell
Good Morning Doug,
I won’t be at the threshing session today, but I wanted to offer my input for consideration on the topic of hybrid worship. I think it’s good that we’re taking some time to reflect and discern on how we can come together in worship safely post-pandemic, and continue to have wider participation.
If we go to a hybrid model, I think it would be beneficial to find a way to greatly enlarge the image of zoom participants – either by investing in a very large TV screen or be devising a system to project a large image onto a blank wall. Our sound system might need to be improved also, for best results.
Obviously, we will also need some technical expertise to get anything set up. There may be knowledge within the Meeting, and there may also be help available through NEYM. We do not need to re-create the wheel on our own!
Let’s look at what other meetings within the Yearly Meeting are doing.
For example, Allen’s Neck Meeting is using a screen, but it is too small to see the faces from a distance. Some feel that the screen itself is distracting. Thus, placement of the screen is important. Peter Crysdale or others at that meeting can provide more insight to their experience.
Another example is Cambridge Meeting, which has used a projector to put an enlarged image onto a blank wall. I saw this on an Instagram post by Kathleen Wooten. She may be a good resource for more information on this method.
Thanks for taking this input Doug, and thanks to M&C for shepherding this forward,
From Ingrid Chalufour
I regret I will miss the Threshing on Sunday. Our family is visiting, and they come first. I expect you understand that. For what it is worth I would like to share my thoughts with you. I think having a hybrid option for the long term is a good idea. I realize that we do not really know how this will impact the experience in the Meetinghouse, but there are advantages to having it. First, we do not know what our future is in relation to pandemics. We don’t even know when we might be COVID safe completely. Second, we have benefited from the participation of Friends from other places, including with message giving.
Originally, I thought that we might want to start modestly to see how it goes. After a conversation with Sarah I understand that this is likely to be an inferior experience and it would not give us a good understanding of what the experience might be.
That is the extent of my thinking for the moment. Zoom certainly has been a life saver in the past year. It has given us Sunday worship and the possibility of continuing committee work.
I look forward to hearing how all of this plays out. I long to return to the Meetinghouse but have some difficulty with wearing a mask for extended times so I have to figure that out first.
Many thanks for your efforts to guide us in figuring this out.
From KJ Williams
The focus seemed drawn into if hybrid makes sense to explore. We didn’t touch on where my thoughts were headed, more about when we should start gathering together again. I’ve thought a great deal about this, as I’ve been to work every day, answering screening questions, having my temperature taken, and now having Ag testing 2 times a week. We wear masks, stay apart, meet more still on Microsoft teams. When I think of the meeting house, I think of it as a pretty open space, fairly easy to have people sit in bubbles spread out. While singing would still be limited, the chance to be together in the space should become possible in the next 1-2 months I hope. I think the healing of being together balances out some of the safety risk. Findings of less viral spread on surfaces helps much of this feel safer. I do want people to be safe, so having the zoom option continuing is important. I am hoping that some who are more comfortable setting up zoom might help others in person.
The Wisconsin Council of Churches have a guide they call Holding Our Plans Loosely where they offer some guidance in thinking about opening. It might be useful as we think this through. It includes ideas about a blend of % of population vaccinated, positivity rate, and cases per 100,000.
I do support the hybrid model, in part given my living both in Brunswick and Oxford. I hadn’t planned on spending so much time in Oxford when I landed in Maine, but we are finding that the better way to work things. With the hybrid, I think I can stay a committed member of Durham Friends over time.
I was thinking about that balance of local, in person connection and distant connections. I have been visiting my previous congregation less, shifting to being more present here. I value being part of local activities, when I have time and energy. That is limited now, with me needing time with the community more to help me get ready for the week ahead. I value that support. I think there can also be a way of engaging those who are part of the community farther away, finding what captures their attention, their passion and gifts.
TO: Interested Folks at Durham Friends Meeting
FROM: Doug, Ellen, Renee, Joyce, Tess, Wendy
RE: Test of the OWL Pro
DATE: May 18, 2021
Today we tried a test of the OWL Pro device that New England Yearly Meeting lent us for a short while. On the whole, it was a successful trial, but not everything we tried worked.
Test Site: Social Room. The OWL connects to a laptop which becomes the host computer for the ZOOM session. We put the OWL on a table in the Social Room, plugged it in to Doug’s laptop, connected it wirelessly to the Meeting WiFi, and started up a meeting. (Durham Meeting has its internet connection from Spectrum, via DSL.) Doug, Ellen and Renee were present in the Social Room; Joyce, Tess and Wendy were logged in remotely. You can see a 14-minute recording of what this looked like here.
We could see and hear one another without difficulty. The OWL always shows one speaker in the room and also a panoramic 360-degree view of everyone in the room. Sometimes it would show a few people (separate images) in addition to the panoramic view. We did notice that the OWL’s camera was slow to move towards a new speaker; it took perhaps three sentences before that new speaker showed on camera (there was no delay in picking up the sound).
We did succeed in hooking up the Meeting’s TV to the laptop using a Chromecast device, but we did not figure out how to cast the Zoom session from the laptop to the TV monitor. This is surely a solvable problem.
Test Site: Meeting Room. We tried moving the whole set-up into the Meeting Room. This was not successful because we could not pick up a WiFi signal in this location. We tried wirelessly, first, and then tried running an ethernet cable from the cable modem/router in the kitchen across the floor of the Social Room into the Meeting Room. This too, did not work. The problem might be with the ethernet cable we used or with the cable modem/router.
Conclusions. Here are some tentative conclusions:
1. The OWL Pro (costs about $1000) could be a way to have the Meeting do hybrid worship – most people in the Meetinghouse and some logging in via Zoom. The sound and video are good, though the camera takes a bit of time to react and turn toward a new speaker.
2. Of course we could also use it for business meetings and committee meetings with some participants logged in from remote sites.
3. For starters, we would have to hold Meeting for Worship in the Social Room.
4. Using the OWL Pro in the Meetinghouse would require some upgrade of our internet capabilities. This upgrade would involve a stronger signal than we now have or a dedicated (and working) ethernet cord from our cable modem/router to the computer that is hosting the OWL. If we use ethernet, perhaps an electrician could find a way to run the connection from the kitchen to the Meeting Room via the basement.
5. Would we want a TV monitor in use during Meeting for Worship to see remote participants? That is a question for discussion.