In this series of messages titled Church in Quarantine we began by talking about language and how it tells about who we are. Now I am interested in talking about how language also communicates what we plan to do with the church outside the temple, specifically in Quarantine times.
Therefore I would like to reflect on a few terms that I hear people use interchangeably as if they all meant the same. For a Baby Boomer some intrinsic terms of the digital age could have the same meaning, but not for a millennial and much less for a Z. So it seems important for us to broaden our knowledge regarding the terminology we are adapting for the church as it leaps into digital media. I will address some common myths:
1. We go to church when we go to a temple with a geographical location: Correction, the church is not a temple. In Christianity the church (eklessia) is the assembly of believers around the Word of God and the Body of Christ on earth. Therefore, both can occur outside a temple with a defined geographical location.
2. What is hosted in digital media is not real, is less formal, less serious, or lacks credibility: Correction, in any place or instance in which human beings express themselves or meet, there can be so much seriousness or academic depth as the person so wishes to convey. The human being remains to be the administrator of the medium, even though the medium itself can determine the content. The medium and its content will be as formal or reliable as you want, and it is you who imprints credibility on the medium. If you consider that what we stream through digital social networks is not 100% of the religious experience we do in the physical facilities of the temple, that is what you will communicate; therefore, those who are listening will feel called to settle for “almost” a mass or almost a worship service. In other words, “the best you can get within digital possibilities”; However, those who assume the medium with the same responsibility that assumes their participation in the physical space will be able to convey that same sense of church and fulfillment to their audience or congregation “on-line”.
Taking this into consideration I will briefly review the basic concepts we use to describe the church in digital media to help us communicate more effectively.
STREAMING: If we talk about “streaming” or internet transmission, we refer to the delivery of content to the chosen digital platform; as before (and still) it was radio or television broadcasting. This description can make us think about the extent of what happens in a given geographic location and is shared through other media. To speak of “streaming” is rather to speak of how programming reaches digital media.
LOCAL CHURCH: In times where congregational life has been carried out almost entirely in the digital space, it is important to distinguish the local church from the “online” church. We use the term “Local Church” to refer to the gathering of believers in a specific geographic location or temple.
VIRTUAL: If we decide to use the term “virtual” to describe the church, we must consider that it refers to alternate realities or parallel to the physical world. Scenarios to which we enter digitally and that somehow simulate physical reality giving the participant the opportunity to assume their own personality for that context or “avatar”. Video games are the perfect example to understand what we mean when describing an event in the digital world as “virtual”. For the church it may have a negative connotation, taking away a sense of reality in itself from the meeting or liturgical event.
ON-LINE | DIGITAL: These terms allow us to describe an event that takes place in a defined but nongeographic space. There you can create spaces for interactivity, participation, and connection, both synchronous and asynchronous on platforms such as (but not limited to) Zoom, Youtube, Instagram, and Facebook, in regular format, Live or Premiere. It can capture the feeling of the space where the congregation’s meeting takes place, allowing us to reach them instead of them having to reach us.
It is a new way of thinking, doing, and being church.
Perhaps it is time to talk about a church that we do not attend to, but a church that reaches us. A church that has benches in my house and yours, in the car, and in the hospital. A church that does not depend on or needs a geographic location, yet is in everyone.
Will this not be part of God’s dream for us!