Online or Offline, it’s all Church to Me …

As the conversations around reopening Church buildings get more and more intense, so do the conversations around Online church. Has it been the poorer relation all along. Is it sustainable? Or has it been fully embraced? Has it been recognised for the power and inclusivity it has in it’s own right? How can we balance both, to meet all needs, recognising neither model can work for every soul out there?

For those of us who have firmly found our solace and home, for long term or for now, online, it is deeply distressing to see the language, often thoughtless and not ill intentioned, but still dismissive and diminishing, around Online church. Language such as “if only online”, “all be it online”, “sadly for now, online” (courtesy of @Ord_Off, 19/10/2020 Twitter).

Yes I miss a beautiful Church building, singing praises in community, developing friendships. But actually, I’ve learned these are all things I miss about life, experiences, not actually things that grew me on my walk with God. I just thought they were important because I’d been taught to think that way, and once I had to stop and experience anew for myself God without physical Church, I learned so much more, mostly with support from Online Church, than I ever dreamed I would.

When physical Church couldn’t understand my anger, and were repelled by it, Online church held it, recognised it, empathised and offered a space where it could be shared, softened and released.

When physical Church had no direct experience, understanding or expertise to offer me, Online church had a plethora, freely offered and generously shared.

When physical Church expected theological adherence and behaviours that strained me to the core of my personhood, Online Church only expected kindness and respect, whatever I believed and however I expressed it. Freedom as long as there was no harm*.

When physical Church couldn’t connect me with fellow ‘Wilderness Theologians’ (my term!) at the incredible Evolving Faith Conference 2020, Online church had it spectacularly covered

Online church is more than what one priest achieves in their parish on a Sunday with the resources they can bring together, with no training, no additional funding, many with no technical acumen or inclination. Quite frankly, for what was asked of them, they all deserve recognition, and a seriously big reflection from their central management as to whether that was really the right call once this is all over …?

People have been doing this for years! Disability theologians have a massive toolkit, yet their expertise is widely untapped. Why is this? Come and join the conversations here where they are happening, instead of reinventing them, I implore you! Online church is alive and well, it is amazing and bold, exciting and innovative, local and international, not ‘sadly a substitute’.

Embrace it as an additional expression of Christ working his Kingdom out into the world and what Joy lies there for you to find!

Peace be with you

*I am not so naive as to think this is 100% infallible, and I know that to some my words have caused harm for which I am sorry and have sadness. I do believe absolutely in the difference between intentional, direct attacks in communications and expressed reflections which stir up responses in the reader that then cause pain. The former I am always striving to avoid, the latter I am always open to conversation about. Either way, if I hurt you through my words, you can’t find a way through that hurt and there is a conversation to be had, then through the the Grace of God it is always better to have it and my inbox is always open. Peace be with you.

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