Attending a virtual church becoming easier

By on February 1, 2000

I BEGAN this column on a Sunday morning, when I probably should have been getting myself and my family ready for church, but a flu bug has me convinced I shouldn’t inflict myself on anyone else.

But what about still attending “church” from home?

For years, churches have been experimenting with how to bring the experience of church to those who, for one reason or another, can’t physically attend. Some rig their audio systems to tape the church service or set up a live audio feed with a speaker phone, even inviting parishioners to exchange the peace with the listener on the receiving end. Others have used television, and a quick scan through the channels any Sunday morning proves this a popular medium for shut-ins craving spiritual renewal.

But the advent of the Internet has brought new media and opportunities onto the spiritual stage. Churches are offering everything from audio and lower-tech text versions of the weekly sermon, panoramic views of building interiors, to live Internet broadcasts of services.

Heck, one exiled French Roman Catholic bishop who found himself contrary to the Vatican’s rulebook has even founded what he calls the world’s first virtual diocese, called Partenia (http://www.partenia.fr). Despite its lofty claims, the site has monthly catechisms, but not much else of use to a seeker. On the other hand, The First Church of Cyberspace (http://www.godweb.org) is a marvellously comprehensive site filled with sermons, music, prayers and links to other religious resources on the Web. Conceived of by a Presbyterian pastor, the site also serves as a portal to the mainstream media’s treatment of religion.

For something a little different, Seattle’s St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral also broadcasts its weekly Compline service live every Sunday evening. Tune in to that city’s classical King FM radio station online (http://www.king.org/) Sundays at 9:30 p.m. (Pacific Time). You can also visit the Oremus site (http://www.oremus.org/) for daily prayer. Billing itself as a “comprehensive ‘place of prayer’ for Internet users” and Anglican in origin, this site also contains resources for daily prayer and other worship, including hymns and liturgical forms.

The site also offers the Daily Office by e-mail. Charles Henderson, father of The First Church of Cyberspace, once said in an interview with Time magazine that he thinks the Internet will have an impact on religion equal to or greater than Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. He notes that the printing press took the Bible away from the control of the church by allowing individual worshippers direct access to the text, and led to the splintering of religious organizations into denominations.

Now, he says, denominational structures are collapsing as religion becomes more individualized and many people approach religion as consumers “with their own shopping carts (picking) a bit of this and a bit of that.”

Even many of the most committed geeks will agree that virtual church communities will never replace the warmth of turning around in the pew to shake your neighbour’s hand, but they are an option for many: the unchurched looking for a taste of a service before physically venturing into church, youth who have given up on traditional religion, the geographically isolated and others who can’t attend scheduled Sunday services. Leanne Larmondin isWeb manager for the Anglican Church of Canada.

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