I Thank You

When Florent and the interview team were visiting with me, one of the topics we covered involved what it’s like for a priest to participate in online life. Florent’s question set me to reflecting about “e-Parish” ventures of one sort or another. The projects I’ve read about seem all to have involved replicating, in various ways, the notion of a “parish.”

But that premise relies on the kinds of geographical, physical relationships that online interaction renders supplementary (rather than essential). If something like congregating is going to happen online, it’s not going to happen because someone stakes out a virtual chapel, a virtual coffee hour, a virtual parish membership roll. That picks up the impaired aspects of the physical-world congregation, and makes them the definitive norm for digital congregation. That picks up the stick at the wrong end.

Contrariwise, I’ve found that something much closer to a “congregation” or (in a limited sense) “parish” arises freely in situations where people want to communicate with somebody on a basis that regards their theological identity. Think of the Real Live Preacher’s weblog; that (it seems to me) reflects something much closer to the full sense of “online congregation” than a posited “St. Somebody’s Cyber-Parish.”

And, to bring this around, I’ve found a very parish-like community of people who have offered their time and attention and thoughtfulness to the matters about which I’ written here. Only a small proportion of the people who come to this site profess an active Christian faith; that’s not a problem to my claim, though, because part of my point is that the who’s-in-and-who’s-out game doesn’t have the same compulsory urgency. Over the years, I’ve emailed and chatted and blogged with people about life and death, marriage and divorce, sex and loneliness, God and Jesus and Torah and gods and no-god. I’ve talked to you on the phone, theologized and interceded and just meandered. Sometimes we get together, which is a special treat. I’ve prayed for people who asked me to, and for some who didn’t ask (sorry if I give offense here), and in all these things I’ve felt a keen awareness of our connections to one another — even when I haven’t known your offline name. Sometimes people have checked back in to register a sense of how this connected with their faith, or lack thereof — but that’s entirely beside the point (not to them and me, I mean, but to the notion of “how we are together”). At the heart of what we do together lies the extent to which our connections, yours to me and mine to you, affect us, our hearts and dispositions and actions; those connections don’t reduce in any true way to a simple “in” or “out,” “parish” or “other kind of community” dichotomy. It’s more complicated than that.

That’s different from “being a parish,” you may say — and that’s just my point. It’s an online way of congregating; it makes sense of how we gather and disperse online, and it fits. People who congregate around here accept me as a priest, even if they’re not sure what to make of that. I’m a priest for them, and they’re friends to me — and we make a pretty snazzy congregation, as far as I’m concerned. Better than that ol’ cyber-parish any day, so there!

8 thoughts on “I Thank You

  1. AKMA, you are spot on. There has been much scholarship over the years about indigenous ministry in other cultures. What many don’t seem to realize, perhaps because they have not read enough William Gibson, is that the Web is its own indigenous culture, just like Ghana or Sri Lanka.

  2. I’m part of the parish even if you don’t know me or hear from me. I pray for Margaret’s health, am proud of Pippa’s creativity and read Si’s blog from time to time. I think about what you write and am grateful for our relationship even if it doesn’t fit a known category.
    The wedding homily was lovely. Thank you for sharing it.

  3. Well said. The internet has the capability of giving room to the many parts, interests and expressions of folk in ways that we cannot or don’t always allow in life.

    Not that this is a virtual parish, but I will volunteer for the grounds committee.

  4. I had a blog called United Unchurchables, which i foolishly deleted when a pastor’s wife, who later ripped me off financially, complained about it.

    I was critical of the Churchianity crowd and lukewarm pew potatoes, and CEO pastor dictators.

    I also used to visit a lot of Christian blogs, like Vessel of Honour, Messy Christian, Totem to Temple, others.

    But I quit going because there were established doctrines and attitudes (eg, Crusades were good, they saved us from Islam) that you could not challenge.

    God forbid you question The Passion film, which pollster George Barna says had near zero evangelical impact.

  5. count me in. I’ve been looking for a parish; maybe this one can keep me from being so dissatisfied with my “IRL” one (I’m learning web-speak.)

  6. Thanks for posting this. One of the reasons I started the Blogging Episcopalians ring was out of curiosity to see what kind of community would develop. I have to admit I was inspired by the community of knitting blogs (600+–who knew?) that I dip into, who comment on each other projects, organize knit-alongs, and raise money for charitable projects.

  7. I think you’re being pleasantly modest, as always. The essence of a cyber-parish has got to be the pastorate. A lot of us visit because we like what we see, and it makes us come back to see what’s happening today. Pip! Pip!

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