Towards An Online Church
Back in 1982 I was a lowly seminarian at the Missionary Institute in Mill Hill. One of the many subjects we potential priests had to study was missiology. I still remember our lecturer, Fr Morro telling us this was about immersing ourselves in the culture of those we were going to engage with and being able to share the gospel with them in a language and cultural framework that they would be comfortable and familiar with, a language they would understand.
I never made it to final ordination but I often think of Fr Morro. He had spent time in my native north east and had assimilated himself in to the culture so he would speak to me in Geordie dialect, I can still hear his voice booming across the lecture hall at me in an accent that was half Italian and half Geordie. He used to shout "Lucas! Divn't be such a geet big sophist like"! It still makes me giggle now all these years later.
Why is this relevant to what I'm saying now? Well, it was his passion to reach people in the place they were, with language they could understand, whilst doing his best to respect that person's culture.
We now have a disabled community estranged from wider society, estranged from church and often from each other and the normal social circles.
The dawn of the internet has been a Godsend to many of us in a very real sense, enabling us to form relationships and band together in ways that are easy in the virtual world but for us would simply often not be possible in the wider world.
I believe there is now a thriving disabled culture brought about by the web, a culture that is simply not possible for us to have in the wider world.
I believe when Christians do not give sufficient respect to the way disabled people rely on online services they are failing to understand the culture and as Fr Morro would have said "committing an act of great disrespect".
I've been doing a lot of reading about online church these last few days and much of what I've found talks about the convenience it provides, you may not be free on a Sunday, you may have a cold or be on holiday etc etc.
I would say they are choices and are not what disabled people are talking about. What disabled people are talking about is creating an environment which enables them to take part more fully, more equally, an approach that is inclusive, that enables them not just top be ministered to but to minister.
We are talking about not just buildings we can not access but churches where the liturgy uses language that is simply too complex, churches where bad theology on disability has caused much hurt, churches where disabled people have encountered negative attitudes.
In an idea world I'd like to see churches overcome such issues but many disabled people have been waiting a lifetime for such progress and to many it seems but a distant dream.
This people are beginning to band together and provide religious services online for each other that are accessible, easy to follow, supportive, creative and culturally relevant.
Sadly I hear many mainstream church leaders dismiss some of this as unauthentic, not a real experience of church. I understand what they are trying to say but until we are able to offer such services within our churches it would seem hypocritical to be criticising the online efforts disabled people are making for themselves.
I want to see mainstream churches engaging with this emerging movement, getting to grips with the culture and being part of what I truly believe to be a movement of the Holy Spirit.