I’m now at Woodbrooke, set up in a study bedroom with a laptop and a mountain of data. The survey is now over (sorry, I know some people missed answering it – too late; you’ll see in this post that I’ve enough to be going on with!). I had a splendid response to my request for information about ‘afterwords’. I got 95 responses to the first part and 183 responses to the second part (mainly because some people did the second part twice).
Thank you all very much – every survey response is valuable to this kind of work.
Taken all together, I now have at least some information about approximately 334 Quaker meetings. Most of them are in Britain Yearly Meeting, but I also had responses covering at least eighteen other yearly meetings around the world. There are a few I couldn’t track down or for which I can’t identify a yearly meeting or other affiliation- if you happen to know about the meetings in East Harbor, Hong Kong, Kumasi, or San Louis Obispo, please get in touch.
There’s a lot of sorting answers to be done before I can begin to give detailed results. However, here are some early answers.
Around half the meetings are reported to have ‘afterwords’ or something like it. The form of this varies a lot, but it’s a recognisable pattern while being nowhere near universal. Some reports are from people who visited a meeting a while ago, so if afterwords is getting more common this might be an underestimate. However, people are probably more likely to fill in a survey about afterwords if their meeting has afterwords, so this might be an overestimate. Hopefully these factors balance each other out a bit!
Afterwords varies a lot. I knew this, but I didn’t know quite how much. Afterwords, or something like it, might appear in programmed or unprogrammed worship – or as a semi-programmed element at the end of either. In unprogrammed worship (which includes the vast majority of my responses), it can take place before the handshake (i.e. before the end of worship), after the handshake and before notices, or after notices and refreshments. It can last anywhere from a minute to an hour, although a first glance through the answers suggests that it averages between 5 and 15 minutes.
The aims of having afterwords vary. I sort of knew this, too, but the responses are making it clear that I’m going to have to think about it much more carefully. Possible purposes of afterwords I’ve thought of or heard about so far include: smoothing the transition from ‘Meeting for Worship’ to ‘not Meeting for Worship’, encouraging timid people in the meeting to speak up and perhaps move towards giving vocal ministry, allowing outspoken Friends a space in which to share their thoughts without forcing them into vocal ministry, helping people in the meeting to get to know one another better, and reinforcing the distinction between ordinary speech and vocal ministry by clarifying what is in the nearly-but-not-quite space.
Hopefully when I’ve coded the survey responses in more detail and done some follow-up work, I’ll be able to tell you whether the variation matters, which purposes are most important, and whether it actually works to achieve any of them.