Online Community and the #DigiDisciple (@changingworship)

We are moving with increasing speed into ever more virtual world. As head towards a bright new future we are charting unknown territory. Personally, I am an early adopter of new technology and ways of working and collect shiny things like a magpie in a box of Quality Street. The Church (TM) on the other hand… not so much. For many people in older generations it has taken a world of increasingly accessible devices to engage with the virtual world. It was the purchase of an iPad that gave my Dad the ability to surf the interwebs without shouting for my mum to do it. I fondly remember my Grandad saying “the internet is rubbish and I don’t need it. I can get everything from teletext”.

As we enter the world of social media there are many online Christian communities available. There are groups of Christians who interact virtually via Facebook groups or Pinterest. Does anyone remember MySpace?! There are places for people to find support and they often have a specific focus – “A support group for Christians who lament the demise of usenet” for example. People create places to share ideas and engage theologically.

So what new problems will we encounter in this brave new virtual world? What I have noticed over the last decade is that the problems we encounter in the virtual world are almost identical to IRL. People are people. When it starts, a small group of like minded people feels like a safe haven. It can be an enclave that makes you feel as though you aren’t alone in a crazy world. Then the group grows and the breadth of opinion spreads. An alpha may be invited to enter the group and begin to proclaim truths. A group then becomes a place that feels a lot less safe to be in. All of this can be compounded by the lack of inflection that can only be conveyed by a thousand emoticons of monkeys and baby Cathulhus. People then move to a different group, a smaller group where they once again feel safe.

I know I have said it before but ‘Virtuality’ is a false construct. People are people. They don’t act much differently now they have a computer in their hands, it’s just that we can see people in real time 365.

Dave Gorman does something barmy. He reads the bottom half of the internet. The comments section: the place where Daily Mail readers post their thoughts about the news of the day. He recites them as found poems. Please watch the video – it is brilliant.

Social media gives us a forum to let thoughts slip out into the public domain. It gives a forum for all of our good and all of our bad. When someone shares a post about a group helping the homeless in West Yorkshire my heart rejoices. When a Britain First image is shared, a little part of my relationship with someone I considered ‘friend’ dies.

Community is great. It is a source of support and companionship as we travel the world. If a found poem is indicative of the way online interaction can operate, how can we do things differently as DigiDisciples?

About Robb

Robb is a priest and a vicar in the Church of England. His academic interest is in liturgy, alt:worship and the emerging church and is particularly keen on exploring the sacramantal within worship. He lives in Yorkshire and has a passion for heavy metal, playing in a pub band and riding a Harley.