We gathered after mid-week meeting for worship to watch a QuakerSpeak video. No new one had been published that week, so I asked those gathered what topic might interest them from the video archive. One person jokingly replied, “World domination.” On a lark, I entered the phrase into the QuakerSpeak search box, expecting to see nothing listed. We laughed in surprise to see the result: ”Undoing the Damage of Violence” with Quaker healer John Calvi! We proceeded to watch and discuss it.
At San Francisco (Calif.) Meeting, we have been watching and discussing QuakerSpeak videos on a regular basis for a year and a half. In the fall of 2017, we realized that our mid-week meeting for worship needed better support, particularly because some people attended worship only on Wednesday evenings and never participated in worship or other activities on Sundays. That November, Bob and Kathy Runyan, the co-directors of Ben Lomond Quaker Center (BLQC), came to San Francisco Meeting to lead “Radical Quakerism: From Roots to Fruits.” At the close of the workshop, they asked each participant to make a six-week commitment to an action to deepen the meeting’s spiritual life. I committed to hosting something after each mid-week meeting for worship.
After our next mid-week worship, no one was available to stay afterward for a video or discussion. The following Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, we watched our first video: “Why I’m Not a Pacifist.” Those present preferred that video from 2016, selected from the archive, over the most recently released video. For the following week, there was no new video published. I prepared three lists: 12 videos that were especially appropriate for newcomers, 10 history videos, and 13 concerning politics or activism. During the following four weeks, to my surprise, people chose to watch a total of five history videos, only one of which was a new release. In each case, the speaker was Max Carter or Michael Birkel. In addition, we watched Philip Gulley’s “If the Church Were Christian” during the final week of my commitment.
I took a break for three Wednesdays, but no one began offering a different new program after mid-week worship, so I restarted the video showings in January 2018. We have continued almost every week since then. We watch the videos on QuakerSpeak.com, rather than on YouTube, because we like to display the transcript after the video ends, and we sometimes use the discussion questions, search box, and other available features. In settings, we always turn on the subtitles/closed captions in order to make the videos more accessible to those with poor hearing; the disadvantage of this choice is that the captions partially cover the banner that lists the name and meeting affiliation of the speaker. Sometimes we play a video twice in a row, and once we even set the playback speed at 0.75 for the second viewing because the interviewee was delivering a lot of information very rapidly.
We have three to six people at most of these video viewings. Sometimes there are seven or eight, including people who stay briefly before attending another activity at the meetinghouse. The videos prompt lively discussions and sometimes follow-up searches online or in Pacific Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice, Pink Dandelion’s The Quakers: A Very Short Introduction, Bibles, concordances, or other books kept in the room where we gather. We occasionally watch a second or even a third video during an evening. Sometimes we select videos appropriate to issues under consideration by the meeting, such as “How Quaker Meetings Support Ministry” at a time when we are providing support or oversight committees for several people and financial support for one. One night when two of the four people present were newcomers, we selected “What to Expect in Quaker Meeting for Worship” and ”What Is a Quaker?” We sometimes find and watch videos that are not from QuakerSpeak—for example, a video about Ujima Friends Peace Center, the community where Ayesha Imani worships, as a follow-up to her QuakerSpeak interview (“How Does Culture Influence Quaker Worship?”). San Francisco Meeting’s anti-racism group joined us to watch these two. We have also watched videos by Jessica Kellgren-Fozard, a young, lesbian, disabled, British Friend and YouTuber, who has created a few Quaker-related videos, the most popular of which has been viewed more than 247,000 times.
In weekly emails to the meeting’s Google Group, I always include links to the videos we watch and often quotes from the videos and links to related materials. We know that some people who don’t come to the meetinghouse on Wednesday evenings watch the videos at home, and some read the additional linked resources. I also include names and sometimes background information when people in the videos are current or former members of San Francisco Meeting or likely to be familiar to meeting members. After worship each Sunday, we have a discussion table concerning how God is moving in our lives; at times, I base the suggested topics on the questions listed with that week’s video. Occasionally, we have shown videos on a Sunday.
The most memorable of those was in June 2018. United In Spirit, an organization of LGBTQ-inclusive spiritual communities, asked us to host a specially designated LGBTQ-welcoming religious service during Pride Month. How can an unprogrammed Quaker meeting hold that kind of designated worship? QuakerSpeak to the rescue! I arranged images with titles of seven LGBTQ-related videos on a long, narrow sheet posted on the bulletin board that people see as they enter the lobby. Above eye-catching titles like “How Jesus Affirms My Queerness” and “How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement With Theater,” I included the following invitation:
Please come to a screening of some of the videos after worship today, shortly after noon. These four- to ten-minute videos are available at QuakerSpeak.com.
There were more people watching videos that day than we have ever had on a Wednesday evening, and two of them were gay visitors from another denomination.
I recommended QuakerSpeak videos to participants in the March 2018 meeting of the Christian Friends Conference (CFC) Western Region, as one way to promote spiritual deepening in their meetings. In preparing for the CFC talk, I was particularly intrigued by demographic information that the “viewing audience skews male, which is atypical of Quaker publications,” and that the largest age group is 25- to 34-year-olds. I noted that a number of the viewers in San Francisco are men who never participate in the meeting’s book study groups.
When I led the program at the annual retreat at Central Coast Meeting in San Luis Obispo, California, I used the wonderful “What Do Quakers Believe?” At 19 minutes, it is the longest QuakerSpeak video. In it, 26 Quakers offer their widely varied perspectives on ten topics, including that of God in everyone; waiting worship; ministry among Friends; the Bible; Christ; and our theological diversity. I copied the entire transcript into a document and added the affiliation of the speaker after the first appearance of each name. We all watched the video together on a large-screen television, then broke into small groups for discussion. Each group had a list of the ten topics and a transcript to refer back to. Some people were not ready to stop the interactions when it was time to end the evening program and head to bed. When asked at the end of the weekend what the meeting might do in the future in order to promote spiritual connections among its members, more than one person listed QuakerSpeak videos as a suggestion.
In San Francisco, we have found QuakerSpeak videos useful in both educating our community and promoting spiritual conversation. We have twice found that Jon Watts immediately responded and fixed issues we had on the website. We look forward to new videos coming out, and we make frequent use of those in the archive. More than one person in the meeting financially supports Friends Publishing Corporation, the publisher of both QuakerSpeak and Friends Journal.