Mourning What We Missed, Keeping What We Gained

Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash.

Recently, for the first time in fifteen months, I set foot in a Quaker meeting. Despite this being something I’ve done regularly for 40 years, it felt far from normal. A camera perched on a tripod, and a large, flat-screen monitor now hung on our meetinghouse wall opposite the benches from which Elias Hicks once preached. These new additions are part of an experiment to meld our in-person worship with the Zoom-based worship that we adopted in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to isolate at home. 

Zoom worship has its pluses and minuses, but it’s been a boon overall to our congregation. Members who have moved away from Philadelphia have been able to reconnect from the comfort of their new homes. Thanks to Zoom, we are able to include participants from opposite sides of the world; it’s not unusual for Friends in Seattle, Washington, and Madhya Pradesh, India, to be a part of our waiting worship. During the pandemic, undeterred by the shutdown, we have still been able to welcome visitors, though not as warmly. We have conducted clearness committees, business meetings, and even a marriage under the care of the meeting. Community persists; it transcends the restrictions we have been forced to live within. As we slowly resume the practices we have had to abandon and modify, I hope we’ll remember how much we were with each other in spirit, and how valuable a part of each other’s lives we remain in our community, no matter our physical location.

That Sunday when I went back, I was elated to see so many dear friends who had become tiles (beloved tiles!) inside a Zoom window with me for months. Because our reopening rules required face masks to be worn inside, our eyebrows had some heavy lifting to do to convey our emotions to one another. After a mostly silent hour, punctuated by a few hosannas and laments, our meeting for worship closed with “jazz hands” rather than handshakes and hugs. 

One absence from our benches was particularly poignant: Geniver Montalvo, an elder in our meeting, who had passed away in the spring of 2020. Because of the pandemic, we have as yet been unable to mourn and celebrate his life together—though we are now able to make plans for a memorial meeting. This has been a year of extraordinary loss for so many people, and it helps me make sense of my own mindset when I remember that there has been so much to mourn and grieve, yet so little opportunity to do so in the company of others. It is in times like these that words, stories, books, music, and poems become more important than ever.

In this issue of Friends Journal, Donald McCormick calls our attention to mystical experience and how its exploration might be rekindled among modern Friends like you and me. Stanford Searl’s “Coming Home to Silence” is a fine piece of spiritual autobiography. Michael Sperger recounts the unexpected challenges and blessings of becoming, accidentally, a Quaker treasurer. And Elaine Green travels through time and finds herself in conversation with an eighteenth-century traveling Quaker minister from her hometown. I hope you will find much among these pieces—and among the many others in these pages—to consider and share with others in your life. Thank you for reading.

Yours in peace,

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