I think it comes as no surprise that most religious communities, like most communities, have now embraced the internet to some extent. Obviously, Pagans – often isolated but interested in each other – have one very distinctive pattern of internet use, but it is also the case that Quakers are developing patterns. For example, Quaker uses of Facebook and Twitter are growing: mostly, we never knew how Meeting for Worship went in other places, unless we happened to be visiting, before we started sharing about it on Facebook.
Recently, this has been on my mind because I’ve been trying to envision how a Quaker committee can do its work by email. Using email as a supplement to in-person meetings is obvious: circulate agendas, papers, and minutes quickly and easily. Moving enough for the Meeting for Worship for Business into cyberspace that you can actually make decisions there, though, is much more difficult. At the moment, I’m working with some ground rules, and trying to spot what else might need to be said.
My first ground rule for Quaker business by email is that in order to mark the difference between seated silence (used for assent in ordinary business meetings) and absence, muttered responses like ‘I hope so’ or even ‘that Friend speaks my mind’ should be much more acceptable.
My second thought is that giving people guidelines on reasonable times for responses is useful – the email equivalent of telling people when the clerk will be looking up from the minute-book. For example, if everyone knows that from the date of email A, in which a proposal is set out, they have five days to respond before the clerk will try a minute, they can both take time to think about it and answer in a timely way – and the clerk, especially if there are few responses, won’t have to sit around after those days wondering whether to wait and see if anyone else replies!
The capacity for shared documents – at the moment I use Google Drive – also gives a chance for the meeting to collectively maintain records. With some groups, I would even consider trying this for minutes: write and share a draft, and then allow group members to edit the document directly (perhaps with some encouragement to track their changes and comment on their reasons).
There’s much to be learnt, though, about how to conduct email meetings in right ordering. Have you tried it? How did you get on?