I’ve just finished writing this article for the Church of the Good Shepherd magazine:
When Jesus was asked what we must do to inherit eternal life he replied that we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, and love our neighbour as our self. The expert in the law then asked “And who is my neighbour?”
Society today is changing at an incredible rate. It would not be unfair to say that computers and the Internet have in a very short space of time changed forever the way that we communicate, and the way that we think of community and therefore whom we regard as our neighbour.
One of the most exciting aspects of the Internet, for me, is how it has brought people together, through e-mail, through online discussion groups or forums, and through instant messaging (real-time text conversations). I personally belong to a good number of scattered, Internet communities who keep in touch regularly by such methods.
While community has traditionally been thought of as those people living in a particular geographical location—in Murrayfield, for example—over the last 100 years improved transport and communications have lead to an increase in interest-based, scattered communities, which are no less significant than their geographically based counterparts.
The Internet is essentially and fundamentally about communications and community. A new person joins the Internet every 20 seconds. The Internet itself doubles in size about every eight months. People want to keep in touch with one another and keep developing new and more efficient ways to do so.
What long-term effect this has on the Church and how we ‘do’ Church is yet to be seen, but I suspect that the Church has both a lot to learn from these new online communities and also a great deal to offer.
One venture that has caught both my imagination and my attention recently is Church of Fools; don’t let the name put you off, it is part of the Christian Ship of Fools website. The Church of Fools website allows you to enter an online, virtual church building and take part in the worship. Morning and evening prayer are said by people every day, and on a Sunday there is a real, ordained preacher who takes part in the service.
The response to this site has been quite incredible. On average the church has been welcoming 8,000 visitors per day, and on one particular day over a 24 hour period over 41,000 visitors crammed into the church! It is allowing a good number of people who have lost faith in the ‘real’ Church to get involved once again.
This is from an e-mail to the site from someone who has used the site: “I have a friend who has claimed not to believe in God for many years,” wrote Sandy from North Carolina. “He had a crisis this week and wanted a place to try a prayer. No way would he ever go to a real church. But he went to yours, said his first prayer in many years and told me he felt much better afterwards.”
There seems to me to be an obvious challenge to the Church. While the Internet is somewhere that people can respond as neighbours, support and encourage one another there is still a need for physical community and contact, if we are to take Jesus’s incarnation seriously (God becoming human). How exactly we respond to that call in today’s society is something that we need to work out and take seriously. There are thousands of people ‘out there’ who want to encounter God and meet other people of faith, but who don’t realise that they can do that in their local Church. The question is: how do we meet these people online and in person?
The Church of Fools can be found at http://ship-of-fools.com/church/