A reflection on the virtual church
By Mike Waine
A number of times over the years, I’ve been part of conversations in which questions like ‘What does your church do to connect with people online?’ come up. This, once, was a novel idea – that with some extra time and energy, churches might begin to consider doing slightly more digitally. Some do blogs like these, others podcasts, some of the “fancier” churches are even able to live stream their services online whilst they are happening!
How quickly things change! Over the last week, the Church the world over has had to move with great haste to answer the question – how do we ‘do church’ virtually? Finally, a moment for the techies to take the spotlight as churches began the swift change to recording or streaming services.
Of course, there’s a flaw in the title of this post. There is no such thing as a ‘virtual church’. The Church of God, Christ’s body, is, and always has been the people! Regardless of how different churches presented their services this Sunday, we are no less real.
In fact, the Greek word ‘Ecclesia’ which our English bibles translate to ‘Church’ simply meant a gathering, where people were called out to a public place to assemble. However, our word ‘Church’ actually comes, via a Germanic language, from another Greek word, ‘Kyriakon’ which means ‘of the Lord’.
Whilst there was no digital world for the early church to recognise or distinguish between in their use of ‘ecclesia’, there is no doubt that, however the church ‘gathers’ for our times of teaching, prayer and worship, we remain ‘of the Lord’. Included in Jesus’ teaching recorded in the Gospel of Matthew is that, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there with them.” We are certainly still two or three gathering – we just happen to live in a world where gathering can take place in a virtual sphere.
Those living alone, or those self-isolating, are not excluded from gathering together as Church. No level of quarantine can separate us from the presence of God, or communion with God or God’s people (Not sure that’s mentioned explicitly in Romans 8 but I believe it stands true!)
What I observed this weekend is the remarkable creativity that has blossomed in the wake of our circumstances. The Church finds itself in strange days, but it seems to me that we are responding by returning to our heart and our primary purposes. The Church, with its programmes and courses stripped away, has returned to its mission of how to look after the poor, the sick, the vulnerable, the lonely.
Not just this, but after the era of Brexit, which saw division arise both in and out of the Church, we seem to be drawn together in crisis. What I’ve seen over the last few weeks is that the Church is reuniting, not just with itself as the body of Christ, but with communities who have evident need.
The truth remains that the Church is so much more than its Sunday gathering. And now, we have the privilege of watching that come to prominence. It fills me with delight to see the way the Resound family is responding; looking after one another, connecting with one another, offering time and resources to support those who need help.
It looks like we’ll be in this situation for a while. Let’s see what transformation God is going to bring about in His Church during this time!