As the church continues to embrace the digital world through tele-pastors who are projected across several sites, digital bibles that are immersive media experiences, and other ways…the primary theological pushback is this: how can a digital church be the Incarnate Christ for the world?
One step closer to the digital/incarnate divide was taken this week by an Episcopal church in Panama City that received in a new member through Skype:
However, Aaron’s deployment meant he could not be present for Bishop Duncan’s visitation on January 16th. “What about receiving into the Episcopal Church that day via Skype?” I asked. “I’m not sure that’s ever been done before,” said Bishop Duncan. “So . . . ” I replied. And after a bit of conversation, Bishop Duncan graciously agreed to receive Aaron into the Episcopal Church via Skype.
At the 10:30 service on January 16th, Holly Kuster was confirmed, along with 14 others, into the Episcopal Church…Around the same time, Aaron Kuster made his way to the base chapel in Qatar. There, he found an Episcopal Prayer Book and waited.
I’m fascinated by this, especially as it wasn’t just a local church but a Bishop that embraced technology as a way to unite a body of Christ across the distance.
In the book Thy Kingdom Connected: What the Church Can Learn from Facebook, the Internet, and Other Networks, Friesen writes about the primary role of the church: relationships.
The church exists in relationship, by relationship, and for relationship. We exist to connect people with God, one another, and with creation in continuity with the capacious narrative of Scripture…the local church exists as a local expression of the reality of God’s networked kingdom.
Hence, the action of the reception of a new member via Skype seems theologically plausible as it is an extension of the relationship Christ has with the Body. If we continue to better understand the church as a networked hub, then digital expressions of otherwise altar-bound actions will become more commonplace.
Questions remain about how this extends to other rituals. Can communion, a celebration of Incarnation, ever be digital? Can the elements be consecrated in a worship context across the globe? What is the horizon where beyond lies insufficient relationality?