I had to struggle last night to get online for the Dunedin Consort’s performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion from Perth Concert Hall. Their concerts are a sort of Passiontide ‘trigger’ for me. As the struggle with the technology subsided, the music began to do as it always does for me. Yes German is another challenge – but Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, Peter’s denial and bitter weeping transcend language and hit home. The Concert Hall seems to be taking its online presence very seriously and professionally – several cameras and clever fading in and out made it an experience of almost television standard. I missed the atmosphere of the Concert Hall – but the experience was real to me.
Meanwhile I took an interest this week in the Facebook discussion among some of our clergy following Lord Braid’s Judgement about the Scottish Government’s decision to close churches. Lord Braid suggested that ‘online broadcasts and services…. are best viewed as an alternative to worship, rather than worship itself.’ An interesting discussion followed about whether worship was a more or less satisfactory online experience ‘live’ or recorded’ and about what happens to sacraments in online worship. I was reminded of the argument in the early days of recorded worship about whether a taped blessing could be considered to ‘work’ or not.
I’ve been reading Rowan Williams’ ‘Candles in the Dark: Faith, Hope and Love in a time of Pain. He made this interesting comment: ‘I have found that the experience of concentrating on ‘spiritual communion’; of quieting myself down to focus on the great gift of God in Jesus, absolutely present in this act, these things; of doing all this in the quiet of home, in a moment of physical stillness and quietness – all this brings home to me the truth that our common life, in and out of church, depends simply on what has been done for us, and in response we can only gaze and adore and give thanks.’
My position on all this at present is that of the person In the pew – which happens to be the laptop on the kitchen table. Online worship is certainly different. But it seems to me that it offers many new possibilities even if it is not the same experience as being in church. I’ve just been part of the congregation at Chichester Cathedral and I’ve been able ‘helicopter in’ to all sorts of places – churches where I have been in ministry or have other connections or where I am just interested. Congregations can build whole new communities like this. It seems to me that the skills required to shape and lead this kind of worship lie somewhere between worship leading and broadcasting. Some have become very effective at doing this. I’ve heard congregations just talking to one another before the service and at the Peace. I’ve heard people reading and leading prayers – and talking about their faith. I’ve heard simple and very effective music. There are new freedoms here even if the online world imposes restraints of its own.
I don’t think this is going to go away – it’s going to be part of church life for the foreseeable future even when we are able to meet in church buildings again!