Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
My home meeting is now hybrid--some people attend in person and a roughly equal number attend remotely via Zoom. Obviously, many meetings were completely virtual for a couple of years.
Can a remote or hybrid meeting be a "gathered meeting"? Can the Light be transmitted via the internet? Can the spirit gather people who are miles (or time zones) apart?
I have only worshipped online since March 15th 2020 - except on 2 occasions. I would say yes it can be gathered, and I feel we were indeed gathered together, our coming together has been strong, even though we come from several local meetings. It also enabled people to come to worship from their hospital beds, to come when they were not well enough to drive - and to worship when they couldn't drive; we are rural so rely on driving - I don't drive and have been able to attend and even lead study groups on zoom, I feel that there has been more spiritual nurture these last two years than before.
Your queries mirror discussions I'm having with Friends here in Portland, Oregon, a city with two unprogrammed Monthly Meetings (Multnomah and Bridge City of NPYM), a smattering of Worship Groups, and several programmed churches e.g. Reedwood Friends Church and West Hills Friends (Sierra Cascade YM). Checking home pages, I see the word "blended" used a lot.
I wonder if many (any?) Friends are taking this opportunity to join in Quaker meetups they'd probably never get to in person. Have any Friends been officially released as Ministers to engage in just such "cyber-travel"? They might have interesting reports to bring back to their home meetings and support committees. Do Zoom meetups include "social hour" after worship in some cases?
Zoom seems to meet a need, although IMHO not as good a medium as face-to-face.
I've really struggled with expectant-waiting worship online, with 1 exception (more later), and have been at several blended/hybrid in-person /on-line (semi-)programmed worship (which worked much better). I particularly like the Camas Friends Meeting (semi-programmed) and I've joined in with a Mennonite congregation 3x this year on-line. However, I agree there is nothing quick like an in-person Meeting for Worship.
I am a Quaking Quaker, and if I don't quake with the Holy Spirit then I don't feel called to minister, although when I quaked 3 weeks ago, that was an answer to a prayer, and not for ministry to the wider group.
This quaking is strongest, comes easier when in the presence of like-spirited people who are also waiting for the inward breaking of the Light of Christ. Now, here is the interesting bit, I've been a regular attender at a Friends of the Light (based in U.K.), and know several of the people in person/worshipped with them in person (in the English Midlands e.g. Woodbrooke Quaker Centre), so when we meet 1x month Online there is a connection and that makes it easier (most of the time) for me to settle. Although I don't have the same intense Quaking online as I do in-person worship, there have been a couple of times I've felt prompted to minster with the FotL group.
So yes, Zoom/Skype/FaceTime Meetings for Worship in the manner of Friends have enabled me to stay in touch with people I wouldn't normally be able to, as distance/physical travel can be an issue/not sustainable.
I joined a Quaker community during the pandemic when it was only Zoom and have reflected much on the questions you ask. What I know is that long time Quakers and myself strongly feel Spirit and the Light in our Zoom meetings. We also have a rich After Worship discussion together. I think your queries might be broadened: How do we know that any meeting, Zoom or in-person, is gathered? From my readings and experience, in-person does not guarantee a "gathered" state. In the book Beyond Majority Rules, Michael Sheeran explored this in the Phildelphia Yearly Meeting over one year with many interviews. He found that among Friends there was no common definition of "gathered" and private comments about the quality of Worship did not reflect a consensus about it. I wonder how many Quaker communities are regularly asking about their Worship these queries from NPYM Faith and Practice: "Is our community a shelter where we can grow in the Spirit? How can our community provide the best combination of
safety and challenge to encourage spiritual growth?"