In March 2019 with the social distancing in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic and a full scale lock down in the offing, it seemed an important time offer an online space where increasingly isolated people within CCA and beyond could pray together and also connect and offer support to each other. These prayer sessions were born in a particular context but as we begin to leave the mandatory isolation of pandemic regulations they have the potential to continue building much needed community and connection and to help to resource activists of faith. Some of our prayer sessions have been led, as well as regularly attended, by people from other faith traditions which has been an opportunity to enrich our Christian-rooted prayer lives as well as reinforcing our ties with activists from other faith groups.
In the suggestions that follow I’m going to share my (acknowledgedly imperfect) experience of running daily prayer sessions in straightforward steps.
- Choose a platform that you are comfortable with. I used Zoom ( https://zoom.us ) because as part of XRUK this was most familiar to me. There are many debates about the security of Zoom, but on balance there is nothing in the prayer sessions that I would not feel able to be transparent about and the ease of use for me and for participants outweighed any disadvantages. The remaining steps are based on our use of the Zoom platform and might need to be adapted if you are using
- Create an account. You can visit the Zoom website from the link above to sign up. A basic free account limits you to 40 minutes but CCA has paid for a Pro account which is available to borrow and does not stop at 40 minutes. With the explosion of the use of Zoom recently there has been an increase in the number disruptions to
online meetings and events, with often disturbing images and words being shared by people with malicious and disruptive intent. In order to better protect your session you can limit a meeting to people with an email invitation or send out a password for the session and you can lock a meeting from the in-meeting controls to prevent people joining after a certain point, but we did not want to limit access so I embedded the password and set up a link that anyone could just click on to join a recurring meeting every day. People can down load a Zoom app or just access the meeting through their browser without downloading Zoom. They get an invitation and instructions to do this when they click the link.
- Schedule the meeting and choose whether it is a repeating meeting. Zoom has
lots of instructions and how-to videos if you are unfamiliar with this. Once the meeting has been scheduled, clicking Invite people will generate an email or message on your screen with the link that participants can use to join the meeting from a computer, laptop or mobile device and phone numbers if participants want to dial-in from a phone. It will also contain the meeting identication number and the password if you have required one. The identification number is useful for people to know they are joining the right meeting even if a password is not needed. There is also a useful option not to allow people to join a session before the host is in the meeting. I would suggest using this option in order to prevent disruption before you even start the meeting. We did have a distressing disruptive incident when we shared a joining link on Twitter so we do not do that anymore. However we have not had similar issues when sharing the link on our Facebook
page and websites and this continues to be an important way in which we publicise the prayer meetings. I suggest the following basic security arrangements whatever you do. Log into your Zoom account and go to Settings in sidebar where you can enable Mute on entry and can change your settings and set screen sharing to Host only. Change also the settings so that Annotation and Whiteboard are not available to participants. Turn off Allow removed participants to rejoin. At this
stage you can enable a waiting room if you want to check who is joining the meeting before letting participants into the meeting. I didn’t use this because our prayer sessions are open to all.
- Mute all. When you start the prayer session whoever is hosting (someone who has joined the meeting by logging in and starting the meeting – it is possible to have more than one person doing this) should click Participants and at the end of the list of participants should click Mute All. When the confirmation box pops up on the screen uncheck the option to allow participants to unmute themselves. This will enable you to control whether what anyone says is audible or not. Muting everyone is also helpful in that it blocks distracting background noises. If you need to remove a participant for any reason you can do so from Participants. Next to the person you want to remove, click More and from the list that appears, click Remove. If you have a large or very public session, it is helpful to have a separate host to manage the meeting and the leader can focus then on leading.
- Content. So that’s the set up. The content of the session will depend on your context and personal choice. I have found it helpful to have a grounding focusing on the breath or the surrounding sounds or body awareness to centre us all before we begin in prayer. I have also found that the consistency of the same opening prayer and the same closing blessing every day has been a comfort to people in this time of uncertainty. Not everyone has a strong and stable internet connection and words can sometimes be lost so I photograph the prayers and screen share the photograph(s). I read the prayers very slowly leaving space for reflection on the words and usually include at least 5 minutes of silence for further reflection and personal prayer. During this time, if I am not leaving the prayer on the screen I am sharing, I sometimes screen share a photo or a screenshot of an artwork. I generally do not connect to the internet to share things during prayer sessions to reduce the risk of being hacked (another potential disruptive tactic, still infrequent but becoming more common) but on occasion I have risked sharing a piece of music from a website like YouTube and this has so far been without trouble. I should add that screen sharing from websites does not seem to work when using an iPad.
- Timings. I have found that about five minutes of grounding and stillness, followed by about twenty to twenty five minutes of prayer and meditation fits well into many people’s current schedules but I usually allow an extra half hour after a session for those who want to stay to check in. A couple of minutes silence at the end allows those who wish to continue to pray in silence or need to go about their daily tasks to leave before we move into the more interactive phase. At this point you will need to individually unmute people who want to speak. I would suggest muting them again when their turn is finished.
- Check-in. The valuable check in time adopts the process of an XR meeting where people in turn have an approximately equal amount of time (usually a couple of minutes but longer if you have time) each to say what’s going on for them and how they are feeling and this is respected and uninterrupted by everyone else. If people want to respond supportively they can use the chat which if not immediately apparent can be found by clicking More. It is helpful to explain this whole process at the outset as many people are not familiar with it. What I have found is that as time goes on a community of trust and support is built amongst a regular group that is able to absorb and hold the occasional visitor who also need space to be heard.
I hope these notes are useful, it’s been really rewarding and a privilege to hold this prayer space. You can download further resources here, and if you have any queries or just want to talk through any of this do drop me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org