Sunday, 11 April 2010

Praise God for the (virtual) Body

My proper first week back to Parish life. Mixed emotions as some of you will realise but it was great to have words of encouragement from the Bishop of Kensington and Jon and Sarah turning up for the service. It all went very well. Lots of hugs, welcome backs, laughter (not all hysterical), good conversation, prayer and worship. Yep - not everyone was waving a flag but hey 'c'est la vie' as they say.

I did have a bit of a panic leading up to Sunday. For me, at the moment, that is expressed in getting obsessive about finding a new job so I start looking at anything and needing a lot of assurance from others. And some great friends -plus Sheryl - helped me through. Praise God for the Body as we used to sing in the good old Holy Disorder days.

All this makes me reflect on what is it we call church. I rely on people around me who offer wise counsel, common sense advice (the most needed gift in the charismatic world methinks), a hand of relationship and a gracious ability to tell me to 'knock it off' when required - (in the Lord of course). People who also help me to focus on God's call upon my life, maintain perspective and not to lose heart.

'At the heart of what it means to be a church is a call to enter into relationship with God and relationship with others which is meaningful, purposeful and mutually supportive and which energy can be directed to a common end.Yet many people find it hard to discover such relationships in existing, established congregations. Something more is needed.'Steve Croft Transforming Communities

I am also discovering 'community' not just amongst the local church but also among other networks and contexts. To be honest it is the way it is and maybe in our cultural context it is a vital way God wants to enhance and develop church. Facebook,, Skype and e mail are continuing means by which God has touched me with his word and love and keeps me in touch with others. Is this your experience too and in what way does it enhance and make more real what it means to be part of  'meaningful, purposeful and mutually supportive relationships' which keep us on track and in the Way?

I have always struggled with the concept of 'on line churches' though I am open to hearing other people's experiences. At St Pixels, an online community supported by the Methodist church, visitors are welcomed on the homepage with: ‘Imagine church with no cobwebs, wooden pews, hymn books, overhead projector, leaking roof, organ fund . or even a church building .’ (Sounds good to me...!!)
The Diocese of Oxford has 'I church' complete with its own Parish priest. The nuns at Wantage even run virtual retreats on their website and you can join the sisters in singing the offices.

From my understandingAll on line churches would consider themselves to be communities. Places where believers share, worship, support and seek to be Good News to others

One regular user of I- Church writes: 'In the online communities I belong to, we work hard at finding what we have in common, rather than what divides. I have met members of the Body of Christ who I would never meet in my ‘ordinary’ Baptist church in the North East of England. I’ve prayed with and spoken to Greek Orthodox believers, Messianic Jews, Catholics, Anglicans and American ‘fundamentalists’. I’ve rubbed virtual shoulders with Christians from all five continents. I’ve debated with atheists, conversed with agnostics and Muslims and ‘reached out’ in compassion to people who have no label for their faith at all.'
I could bear witness to some of that and with the added value of video Skype - you can even see the people you talk to! (Some may be 'virtually' weeping at this point)My reservation is centred around what it means to be a follower of the one who 'became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood.' To me this makes the physicality of Christ's community a bit of a given. Paul's understanding of the church as the Body comes out of his encounter with the Risen Jesus and is subsequently 'fleshed out', quite literally in very earthy terms. This is also rooted in the Bible's understandng of God as community and his people as a physical expression of love, grace and divine presence. Quite where breaking bread as the Body of Christ fits in again I am not sure. Maybe Skype video Eucharists? Please discuss.

For many of us it will be 'both and', while for some thier 'virtual' church community, albeit a work in progress, is indeed church and does not necessarily preclude physical expression.

The Ship of Fools 'Mystery Worshipper' commented on the after service coffee at St Pixels: 'It was virtual, but the remains of my tiramisu liqueur more than made up for it. Conversation was fun. I drifted to the cloisters to listen to and read the discussion happening there.'
He/She ended by commenting on 'How friendly people were, and how great it will be to be part of that community if I'm off travelling and want to touch base with Christians I know.'


  1. I guess I am a both, but have learned to take virtual relationships with a pinch of salt at times. Being on my own in the evenings, social sites provide me with companionship through chatting and catching up with others. They also enable relationships to be maintained no matter a geographical distance. However, it can be hard when someone chooses not to be your "friend" or doesn't reply instantly.
    How would that work for a church? Well i think it means you could connect at all times of day or night, and with a wider range of views and people from vastly different situations. A good thing, but not a complete replacement for people relationships.
    I know some people struggle with this idea, young and old, but it had enriched my life, and I am now learning when to use it and when to focus on the people relationships.

  2. Thanks Rachel
    I understand that these 'virtual' church sites do cater for the casual visitor but do have a log in system for regulars with a code relaing to contact, response etc etc So I think they are seeking to go beyond the occasional visitor.


  3. I visited St P's regularly for quite a time, but I did get a little bored. The best bit about the service is the bells!! I still visit occasionally. It is a great place for discussion and sharing prayer needs. But I do also remember times when God spoke very clearly to me through the word that was given.

    Often in blogland God speaks to me through someones writing, and I love writing my own thoughts... there is a sort of community. But that community for me only has limited value because it costs little. I can ignore, pretend to be what I'm not or just say things that I'd never say in person, to my regret. As an addition to real life relationships in the church I love it, but it can never be a replacement.

    Awesome sermon today btw!!

  4. Thanks Mike

    I know what you mean. I think some of these sites have tried to work on the disciplines in the sense their are log in sections, codes of beaviour etc Maybe this comes down to te sort of people we are. Like you virtual is an enhancement rather than a complete substitute - and ho do you break bread virtually?

  5. I remember on Premier Radio once there was a 'worship hour' programme including communion. The presenter asked everyone to get some bread and something to drink and we 'shared bread and wine' together. It actually worked very well for me, but it has issues if you are Catholic or Anglo-catholic I guess.

  6. I'm amazed how our understanding of the boundaries of the virtual world and how we relate to each other seem to be stretched daily, maybe the church is just catching up? For those of you who might doubt it, as an example, take a look at:

    Would have been difficult to envisage this a few years ago, and whilst no doubt subject to plenty of post editing, it's not such a massive leap from here (technologically speaking) to enabling a virtual, worshipping congregation. Interesting that Eric Whitacre's ultimate goal with this project is "to write an original piece for the Virtual Choir and have it receive its world premiere in cyber-space, hundreds (maybe thousands) of people singing alone, together". Alone, together - what kind of worship experience might that be??! Something to ponder perhaps. In the meantime Lux Aurumque's not a bad tune, with a sublime chord or two!... ;-)

  7. Thanks John

    I think youn touche don something there - we are being stetched in terms of what it means to be ine relaionship, how we percieve community and presence - some comments I have recieved do demonstrate that for some people virtual is almost if not as real as the physical - just different.


  8. I ove Whitacresmuic too... have a couple of his CD's on pod.