We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Rethinking Church Entirely

The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, a teaching elder in and former moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), is in the process of planting a new church——an online church, a facebook church, or as they are now being called, a virtual church. It will not be a church that has a facebook page but rather one that is located on a facebook page.  In a recent posting on his personal blog entitled, "We’re Starting a New Presbyterian Church," Reyes-Chow outlines some of his thinking about the shape and direction this new, as yet unnamed church, might take.  He intends it to be a "real" church, that is with elected leadership, fellowship, ministries, and worship.  Instead of occupying physical space, however, it will "occupy" online social media with the purpose of creating a genuine faith community where members connect through the social media rather than physically.  He writes, "This is not about building up a crazy number of followers, friends or likes. This is about creating community that finds healing, discipline and love SO that we get the heck out into the world and do some good."  Reyes-Chow intends that this new church will be a member congregation of PC(USA).  It will be interesting to see which presbytery it joins.  Will the day come when there are enough virtual congregations in PC(USA) to form a virtual presbytery?  Would such a virtual presbytery even be necessary?

For readers who are intrigued by the idea of a "virtual church," you might want to look at the debate that has taken place on the blog Out of Ur (here - scroll down the list of articles to find those involved in the debate) on the subject.

As a pastor, I spend a good deal of time with folks in their 80s and 90s even, and most of them do not own a computer, do not understand much about computers, and are not the least interested in getting involved with them.  Quite a few folks in this age category took an early retirement or decided to definitely retire because their workplaces were in the process or computerizing.  Those of us in our 60s and into the early 70s came at this whole thing as maturing adults.  We've not had any choice about learning to compute, and many of us do it reasonably well.  But we did not grow up in the virtual world.  It doesn't come "naturally" to most of us, although some first wave baby boomers are as cutting edge as anybody and have played a major role in creating the virtual world of internet.  Still, I must confess personally that this virtual church or facebook church is just not my cuppa.  It sounds as though it might have great potential, but not for those of us who are just too wedded to living "out here" in the real time and space world.

That being said, perhaps Reyes-Chow's congregation represents one possibility for the church of the future.  The virtual world is a real world, and it makes sense that the church should find its place and pursue its ministries in that world.  It also offers another possibility for small Presbyterian congregations that can no longer maintain their building, employ a pastor, and do all of the things churches have been expected to do.  Perhaps, there is a way to embody his virtual church in local groups of Presbyterians who gather physically as well as virtually.  And, maybe, some of us in the bridge generation (from the pre-world to the post-world) will eventually find ourselves sharing in an online faith community as well as a physical one.