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Spirituality and Community on the Internet

Christ online

I was asked to write an article for the quarterly NZ RC magazine “Liturgy”. This was published in the December 2016 edition. This is a publication of the Liturgy Centre. You can subscribe to the magazine by contacting Tina Coll tinac [AT] cda [DOT] org [DOT] nz . I am grateful for their permission to reproduce the article here:

After the Anglican Church published A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa (NZPB/HKMA) in 1989, I was invited to produce material to help people to better use that new book. Those resources grew into a book Celebrating Eucharist. As that book was my gift to others, in 2006 I bought the domain liturgy.co.nz and placed the book to be freely available online in full. And I was surprised to find how many visitors this site received and by the demand for more resources that supplemented my book.

Without any website knowledge whatsoever, I began to teach myself web design and administration. Unsurprisingly, I made a total, tangled mess of it. But the demand kept growing. When I got a better understanding of the technology, I completely rebuilt the site using different software. More recently, I have been rebuilding the site again using WordPress.

With the website, I added twitter (now about 80,000 followers) and a facebook page (now about 17,000 likes). So, this year, this NZ online presence of spirituality and worship celebrates ten years.

The Internet is like a new continent. If Christians don’t have a strong, positive presence on the Internet then it is the same as Christians absenting themselves from continents where people live. I have been astonished by how much impact one person can have by making time to be a Christian presence on the Internet. As with continents IRL (‘In Real Life’ – offline), the Internet can be understood as sacred space. Together we can enhance the Internet one pixel at a time.

If I were starting off now, I would suggest that individuals and communities (including parishes) begin differently: build up a presence through facebook. I have had up to seven million views for one post on facebook!

Statistics point to people, on average, spending about about 5-6 hours on digital media a day – about half of that on a mobile. Add in many hours of TV a day and you are getting a picture of today’s world. Are you participating in this? Is your community, your parish? Certainly, if we want to have a presence amongst younger people, we need to be involved in apps like Instagram. Our online presence needs to be mobile friendly. The use of videos is also a whole area that can be more fruitfully developed.

2017 celebrates 500 years since Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the church door in Wittenburg beginning a reformation usually written with a capital “R”. But that is certainly not the only reformation. It is 50 years since the closing of the Second Vatican Council – yet another reformation.

The Reformation that Martin Luther launched was aided by the then-relatively-new technology, the printing press. In many ways, Luther’s banging in the nails sounded the end of the medieval period and the inauguration of the modern period. And we are now in a similar period of transition: the shift from the modern to the post-modern period. The technology undergirding that is the shift from the printing press to the Internet and the digital world.

The digital age is certainly affecting worship – particularly Protestant worship (to keep to the Reformation thread). Particularly with shrinking and aging congregations, there is often a push to mimic Televangelists and follow an entertainment-model of worship (encouraged by our life in the intentionally-enticing Internet). Are we in danger of becoming a shrinking club of novelty-idolising Baby Boomers living off our inherited funds and properties as we entertain ourselves into historical oblivion?

There is a well-known saying: Ecclesia semper reformanda est – we, the church, constantly reform, and need to reform, so that we can remain the same – faithful to our mission, our purpose.

Presence on the Internet is one dimension of our ongoing reform. Changes to the way we worship is another. My website is the intersection of those two developments.

As I intimated, a lot of Protestant worship would be unrecognisable to Martin Luther now. Early Christian worship stood in some continuity with Jewish roots, combining synagogue reading and prayers with home meal traditions to shape the Eucharistic rites that still form the skeleton of Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and Lutheran services. Some of those basic frameworks, however, have been lost across the ever-increasing fragmentation of Protestantism.

In New Zealand, from an Anglican-Roman Catholic perspective, we may have passed the high-water mark of ecumenical liturgical agreement for a while. With A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa, Anglicans and Roman Catholics were using the same readings Sunday by Sunday. We were reciting and singing the same texts for the Gloria, Holy Holy, and so on. Since that time, though, on the one hand, Anglicans, in this country, have moved away, step by step, from staying with the material provided in NZPB/HKMA by allowing ever-greater variety so that one might speak of ‘Anglicanisms’ in the plural. On the other, Roman Catholics abandoned the ecumenically-agreed ICET/ELLC texts and followed the new Missal translation of 2010.

But, the 2010 Missal translation did reveal an ecumenical liturgical concurrence that had not been spotted previously. Because the 2010 Missal translation has moved away from every-day language to a more Cranmerian liturgical tone, I discovered that not only are Roman Catholics and Anglicans (internationally) using the same collects (opening prayers), but in many cases they are being used on the same day. I am working on a new Book of Prayers in Common and on history and reflections around each of those shared ancient prayers.

The other line of the intersection, mission and ministry online, is slowly increasing. Early adopters can help those who are just beginning. It may surprise some that mission and ministry online has much in common with ministry IRL (‘In Real Life’ – offline). Online presence is about developing relationships – you don’t just dump your stuff on the Internet and then not engage with those who arrive. That was the situation in what is called web 1.0 (the internet in its early stages where there was little to no engagement with the author or with the content that was put up). Web 2.0 (where there is dialogue and encouragement to conversations) is about social engagement. Alongside the usual issues of any community and inter-personal engagement, there are the problems of trolls, spamming, anonymity, and the tendencies in some places to develop a very negative atmosphere. It is important to develop a culture of respect and playing the ball, not the person. Real persons with feelings and on their spiritual journey are reading these posts and comments.

In conclusion, we, the church, are in a time of reform. We need to be clear what our purpose is, and the best means to fulfil that purpose in our new context. There is a hunger for spirituality, and there is a hunger for community. The Internet, used well, can help nourish that hunger.

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NB – we are entering the Southern Hemisphere go-slow period. Posts may be less frequent; comments may take longer to go through moderation.

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Synodality and Primacy

Pope and Patriarch
Pope Francis hugs Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I during a day of prayer for peace, in Assisi (AP)

The Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church announced that it had reached substantial agreement on the questions of primacy and synodality in the Church. It was described as a “landmark agreement”.

There is increasing acceptance of the first-among-equals of the Bishop of Rome role in the pre-1054 church. This new document is a landmark in that it is beginning to agree to a shared reading of history. This now gives episcopally-led churches a common foundation on which to stand. To be fair, the reading of history is closer to what Orthodoxy has consistently said it has been… The increasing role of the Bishop of Rome (beyond first-among-equals) was a Western, mostly-post-4th-Century development that did not follow that particular trajectory in the East. The Bishops of Rome, for example, were not even present in the first councils. The kind of authority now exercised by the Pope was simply not present in the early church.

The document still needs to be ratified by Roman Catholic authorities – but after that, it would become the official, agreed position. If that is the case, it would formally be the end of the overly-simplistic RC apologetics in which it is “the one true church” and Eastern Orthodoxy, for example, “broke away in 1054”.

Other churches (beyond RC & Orthodoxy) with episcopally-led governance should read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest this text. Those churches not episcopally led could also reflect on the first millennium of our Christian history and what it might teach us for the future.

The English Text
The Greek Text
The German Text

Good Catholic Herald article
Good Russian Orthodox article

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Lectionary 2017

Lectionary readings

UPDATE: Here is the 2017 NZ Lectionary to download as a PDF. Here is a review of New Zealand’s Lectionary Te Maramataka 2017. ORIGINAL POST CONTINUES: I am receiving requests from people planning 2017 who do not have a copy of a lectionary beyond this year. These people are asking for places to look for… Continue Reading

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Around God’s Table

Sieger Koder Table fellowship

The language we use, the words we choose, form lenses for the reality we are talking about. At the Sacra Liturgia conference in London on Tuesday last week, Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, asked that priests begin presiding at the Eucharist ad orientem, that… Continue Reading

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Looking East and West

Pope and Patriarch

Pope Francis has been making waves. The Orthodox are trying to catch up with our new context. And some people are trying to turn back the clock. Looking East or West? Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has asked that priests begin presiding at the… Continue Reading

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Resources for 14th Ordinary Sunday

Seventy Disciples

Let us pray (in silence) [that we may rejoice in sharing in Christ’s resurrection] pause O God, in Christ’s humiliation, you stooped down, and raised up the fallen world in the resurrection, grant to your faithful people a holy joy, so that those whom you have freed may delight in you eternally; through Jesus Christ… Continue Reading

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The One True Church

Pastor

My friend and fellow-blogger, Peter Carrell, recently said it well: I belong to the one and only true church. It is perfect in every way, doctrinally, liturgically, morally, ecclesiologically. It only has one member. And you can’t join it in case you wreck it. In the spirit of Throwback Thursday I rework a blog post… Continue Reading

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