‘Alexa, ask the Church of England where my nearest church is’

A Church of England promotional graphic for its new Amazon Alexa “skill.”
Published May 28, 2018

In a groundbreaking project, the Church of England recently revealed its new Amazon Alexa “skill” which brings the Church of England into people’s homes. Alexa, a cloud-based voice service available on Amazon devices such as the Echo and Echo Dot smart speakers, gives users the ability to access their Amazon accounts, play music, ask about the weather, and much more computer-based information. The technology also allows for integration with third-party device and app developers, like the Church of England, to create specific sets of information and “skills.”

On Wednesday night, May 22, the Church of England held a reception to launch its new Alexa skill. For several months, the Church of England digital team and Church House Publishing worked with Aimer Media, the Church’s app developers, to bring the skill to life. The initiative was kept secret between the working teams, under the code name of Project Brian, until the launch and reveal.

Bishop Stephen Croft, who sits on the House of Lords’ Artificial Intelligence (AI) committee, explained that the Alexa skill is the most recent addition to a history of reaching people from their own contexts. “Part of the DNA of the Church of England for 500 years has been speaking the Christian faith in a language people can access and people can understand,” he said. “More and more people are most comfortable operating in a digital and AI space, and therefore we as the Church need to be there, operating in that space, doing our best to translate the wonders of the Christian faith into language that is accessible and meaningful.”

The skill has three main functions. Firstly, by putting prayer at its centre, it seeks to make worship more accessible, by providing daily prayers, meal graces, or the Lord’s Prayer. It also shares critical information about the Christian faith, incorporating resources from Church House publishing and Pilgrims’ Way. Finally, it brings the Church of England’s A Church Near You technology from their website into the home.

While the skill is only available on Amazon Alexa, the team has plans to expand its use to Google Home and Apple HomePod as soon as possible. As Thomas Allain Chapman of Church House Publishing explained, their desire is to continue developing the technology: “We really want to start embedding that content and growing the audio library that can be delivered to people in devices like smart speakers and smart phones, where they can listen to it. . . To show rather than tell what wondrous things there are to be had in the Church of England.”

  • Click here to access a Church of England webpage with information about its Alexa project.


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