In this blog post, I consider how we are church and how our worship is changing in a Covid-19 world where we are staying at home to break the chain of the virus and to save lives. In posts to follow this, I will look at different ways Christians are being online, look at some of the Second Millennium rules in this new Third Millennium context and how these canonical agreements have applied; and, finally, I reflect on some of the theological issues including the idea of remote consecration.
As we do this ruminating, let’s also not forget that Christians are not the only ones trying to adapt faith in our Covid-19 world; Judaism has had Passover, and Islam is heading into Ramadan.
My favourite funny stories about online church have been of Zoom services where a person has accidentally shown their screen rather than their face, and everybody is watching them as they surf the internet during the service! I’ve been part of Zoom services where people have left their screen to go and make a drink, etc.
See! I told you so!
Every parish and Christian community now has a Third Millennium, online presence [OK – there are exceptions that prove the rule, like the parish that was still advertising its 2019 Christmas services]. Clergy and church leaders have discovered that actually it IS very easy to have a digital presence, and that all they need to do this they are carrying around in their pocket! This is what I have been advocating for and trying to encourage year upon year upon year – one of the more recent pleas was So you want to go to a church service?
What has been noticed? Well: LOTS of people are part of online services. FAR more people are part of online worship than is ever the case IRL (In Real Life). We do not know the consequences of this. When we come through this, some are suggesting that people will have lost the habit of physically participating IRL worship, and the pews will be even emptier. Others note that people who would never have dreamed of darkening the door of a church building have been caught up into regular attendance in online worship. Once through our lockdown period, how will Christian communities facilitate the desire of people like this, who have discovered spiritual thirst in lockdown, how are you preparing to help such people continue this journey beyond our lockdown time?
As the cartoon at the top indicates, in this lockdown period, people have had the opportunity to “shop around” worship styles. Members of your community may have found something more appealing to them; others may have found your style engaging. Again: how will you transition out of lockdown to IRL worship? And what will you maintain, change, and grow online after lockdown?
In my own country and denomination, prior to this, there really wasn’t much of an online presence. My friend and bishop, Peter Carrell, runs Anglican Down Under; I run this site. Beyond these two, there were some other smaller, less regular ventures. But now, everyone is producing online resources – many with agility and quality far beyond my ability. How will all these different undertakings fare in a digital world saturated with (quality) options? How will this site fare?
There is a tendency in worship that I constantly challenge of turning worship into a show with celebrants up front and an audience in the nave – rather than understanding all present as celebrating, all present as full, active participants. In our current digital context, there is, inevitably, a drift towards the show end of the spectrum. How might this, also, impact our return to IRL worship? Remember, clergy and church leaders will return with the realisation how easy it is to produce video clips and other digital up-front showstoppers.
In the provisions on this site at this time, I have tried to push back in the other direction. Important as Eucharist is, I have wondered if God is, at this time, calling and challenging us to renew Daily Prayer and meditation individually and in our households.
Do join the reflection by adding your thoughts in the comments section below.
Other posts and what comes next
In the next post in this series, I look at the different worship styles and possibilities in this digital world. Then, I will examine how our canonical agreements apply, and what theology underpins, say, the debate about the possibility (or not) of remote eucharistic consecration.
Here are some posts off this site that are worth considering in these discussions:
Consecration and congregation: Zoom Eucharists in Pandemic Lockdown Bishop Peter Carrell
What is the meaning of ‘online church’? Rev. Dr Ian Paul
(How) can we celebrate Holy Communion as ‘online’ church? Rev. Dr Ian Paul
How we shared the bread and wine on Zoom Rev. Dana Delap
Some of the other resources and reflections on this site:
Holy Saturday in a Covid19 World
Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter in a Covid19 World
Coronavirus solitude self-isolation and spirituality
Streaming services, online spiritual resources in coronavirus times
New Zealand Prayer Book Daily Prayer
NZ in lockdown
Covid 19 moves churches into the Third Millennium
Carthusians Covid-19 and Communion
Learning from Hermits in a Covid19 World