Monday, March 01, 2010

The future is now ... paperless pulpits and online musings ...



I can remember the argument like it was yesterday ... we were busily connecting remote ministry points through the ecunet - an online, email, chat room and message board service that once linked churches around the world.

Ecunet represented an amazing resource for small isolated ministry points like Bella Coola BC ... I was, through the ecunet able to connect with people and resources around the world. One Christmas Eve, prayers were exchanged between our community and a small rural point in the deep south of the US ... mutual tragedies meant we held one another in prayer as the full moon rose, and we listened for the brush of angel wings ...

Earlier that year, a local Hereditary Chief sustained devastating burns in an accident on a fishing boat, and as he fought for survival and his family gathered by his bed side, he was remembered in prayer LITERALLY around the world ... my request for prayers on behalf of he and his family was met with responses from almost every corner of the planet ...

The power of the internet and the world wide web was just beginning to stir in our society 15 years ago, but some of us saw HUGE potential looming on the horizon ... I could see on-line committee meeting for far flung corners of our church - rather then investing enormous amounts of money to bring us together once or twice a year, I dared to dream that through emails we could hold committee meetings with members spread across vast territorial distances ... I could see the opportunities skype represented long before online video streaming was even dreamt of ... I saw unbelievable possibilities looming in the strange electronic boxes that were becoming ubiquitous in our offices and churches ...

Today, almost every ministry personell in the United Church has at least one email address ... resources are regularly sent out via email, pdfs and jpegs, churches have web sites, and many of us have plunged head long into the new media of blogs, tweets, and social networks ... everywhere we turn in the Church the computer has become a tool of ministry that fills some with awe and wonder, and fills others with gut-wrenching fear ... The generational divide in the Church is looming before us like never before. The use of technology can launch the Church to exciting new forms of ministry, which stretch far beyond the hour and half gathering once a week in a vast physical building ...

Through online communities, social networking, information sharing and a myriad of other applications, programmes and other online undertakings the Church stands on the verge of reinventing itself as something dynamic and truly inclusive on a global scale.
Yet, the voices of doubt that border on the luddite, remain.
15 years ago standing on the steps of a remote west coast church a group of us debated strongly the possibility of having a committee "MEET" online by using emails and computer resources ...

"Nope," came the reply, "can't do it. We have to meet face to face ..."
"You mean that we have to spend THOUSANDS of dollars to meet face to face instead of just trying to do this by the private chat room?"

The debate that followed drew battle lines between those who couldn't see how a committee could function without meeting, and those of us who couldn't see how a committee could rely ONLY on meeting face to face in a time of economic restraint ... the outcome was a proclamation that one day in the not too distant future, everything we need to do as a Church and as ministers will happen on computer, and I went even further to say that the computer will be something that we will be able to carry under our arm to and from any place we find ourselves.

"IMPOSSIBLE!!" came the retort.

Looking back it was one of those moments when you see the continental divide between what has been and what will be ... since that fateful afternoon 15 years ago, we have witnessed and explosion of technology and resources that is simply staggering. Computers have gone from enormous desk top computers with tiny memory capacity measured in double digit K's, to giga-byte memory in computers you can tuck into a pocket and carry with you ... Being online, no longer requires waiting for the dial up to connect and beep its way through a slow down load of a massive file ... instant messages, tweets, blogs, and downloads are a norm for cell phones, portable computers and home entertainment systems alike.

The potential of sharing The heart of the Gospel in this high-speed universe is immense. Being able to keep up, is a challenge, but offering a whisper of security and a foundation of tradition and heritage that is both contemporary and current, means the Church is poised to be the best of both worlds ... the old and the new, meet within the context of the Church, when it remembers its true calling is to feed the hungry - the physically hungry, the emotionally hungry, the intellectually hungry, and the spiritually hungry ... with modern technology, and an openness to playing with whatever tools that lie before us, we can embrace that challenge and feed the sheep God has sent out way ...

This week I personally took a new step in the use of technology ... I am a child of paper. My sermons and my writings are all recorded in a hard copy somewhere. When I step into the pulpit, my sermon is largely written out on paper.

While I don't necessarily simply read what I have written, I do stick fairly close to the themes outlined on those pages.

This week however, I made the conscious chose to be paperless in my preaching. Rather then printing out my sermon and carrying the paper copy into the pulpit, I instead simply carried with me the electronic notebook I had purchased a couple of weeks ago for an online interview with a pastoral charge. Having priced online cameras with microphones, I had realized that for almost the same money, I could buy a notebook to replace my defunct laptop. Counting pennies, and using money set aside for other purposes, I bit the bullet and invested in a small 10.5" notebook that would let me continue the research work with the University, write my thesis, and do a variety of online tasks that I find myself engaging in.

On Sunday as I opened the notebook, called up the sermon and began to preach from the screen, I stepped into a new realm ... the tiny computer that is not much bigger than a thin hard cover book has become my portal to the world. Emails, my writings, my resources, and most of the work I am doing currently sits within the various memories and drives of this petite electronic resource.

As I began to preach yesterday I recalled the heated conversation on the front steps of that west coast church ... today, less then 2 decades later, my entire ministry can and is and will be carried under my arm ... my preaching resources, my emails, and my connection with the greater church can be closed up, tucked in a brief case or back pack, and carried with me where ever I go ... any wifi connection will link my portable office to the world ...

Today rather then preaching with the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other, we would do well to consider preaching with our Bible in one hand, and our electronic notebooks and all that they offer and represent in the other ... The Church is called to share the Gospel with all people, and today increasing numbers of these folks are found on line ... and we have some work to do to catch up ...

May it be so ... thanks be to God !!

2 comments:

indigo said...

I so hear you on the netbook. I bought one recently when I returned home from the north thinking it would be the answer to take travelling with me: caught a nasty virus in Washington DC (the Smithsonian museums are awesome) and luckily ran into a wonderful, helpful computer geek in line at Best Buy in Fort Myers, Florida. He made my little $250 emachine netbook sing with added memory, windows 7 and all the latest bells and whistles. I think it will be replacing my aging laptop when I get home.

on the beach in florida..........

Adam said...

I like your train of thought. I have been having the same thoughts about the new Apple Ipad - I think the name is pretty stupid, but, the size of it has had me fantasizing about preaching without having to print out paper that will only end up in a recycling box at the end of the day.

Obviously you are learning ahead of the curve!!!! ;) Keep it up!!!