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Recently United Methodist Church leadership—including pastors, scholars, general agency leaders, and bishops—has been consulting about the possibility of online communion. Much conversation at that meeting (and more that has spilled over to the altar table of the Internet as if from an overfilled chalice) has focused on need, rationale, practice, and much more for something that is crucial to being the Church. I think we should recognize our debt to those online church pioneers who are pushing all of us to consider what’s important and at stake. In that vein, here’s a few considerations I’d like to raise.
Get over indignation
“I can’t believe the UMC is even talking about having online communion,” and “We shouldn’t even have to discuss it, let’s get going!” are two general sentiments I spotted on Twitter’s #onlinecommunion hashtag over the last two days. We should never be threatened by having a discussion, hearing learned testimony, and engaging in broad, vigorous debate. We need more engagement with how connective technology is changing the Christian life, not less (or none!). And it needs to be a thoughtfully-entered conversation that recognizes legitimate concerns rather than writes them off as reactionary.
We aren’t alone
Sometimes we neglect that there are a host of other Christian communities—denominations, national churches, non-denominational congregations, missionary movements, and so much more—which are affected by our decisions. Wisdom is found throughout the Christian tradition; I am not interested in declaring our independence from it. Neither do I want a rigid lockstep theology & practice. If the Holy Spirit is speaking through the church everywhere, we can only be enriched by listening widely.
Online community is real community
I’ve written about this before: relationships happen all the time online, and they are far from meaningless or trite. I’ve been involved in digital community leadership since I was a sophomore in college, helped lead a virtual prayer community for several years, and have been an avid online community participant and proponent before I could drive a car. From Ross Perot’s concept of an online town hall in the 1992 presidential campaign to WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram today, social media has evolved in surprising ways, but it’s a reality that’s here to stay.
Online community is different from physical community
I can’t bring a cup of soup, share a hug, or high-five my online community folks over the webcam or Twitter. I find it interesting that, despite communicating online frequently, young adults as well as technology nerds also intensely prioritize physical meetings. Perhaps it’s precisely because they know the boundaries and limits so well. Communication style, management and supervision, modes of learning, and more all are suited differently to online communities vis-á-vis physical ones. Some things better, some things worse…none the same.