I was both excited by the announcement at General Synod of a Bold Inspirational Goal of a web-based spiritual community that gathers in a new way of defining church in the 21st century and at the same time pessimistic about our collective will to make it happen.
My pessimism arises out of the fact that the wonky wifi in the convention center was coupled with a complete absence of any convenient electricity for delegates to use to power their devices at the tables. On top of that, revised resolutions were available as hard copies on the tables but had not (and may still not be) uploaded to the web site. Our delegation was given thumb drives of advanced materials so we could load them on our computers and smart phones and then given a bound copy of General Synod materials at registration in Long Beach. The twitter feed at #uccgs29 was lively but limited to the few tweeps who were active. Yes, that and the live feed did connect us to the outside world but there was no tangible support in the building. Most events today project the live twitter feed during the event (I'm told this happened in Tampa during the last General Synod) The point is that this technology is widespread, easily accessible and for the most part free, so we are belying our, well, age. A younger, hipper group would not miss a beat using social media, but for most of us in the UCC, we don't know quite where to start.
To plant welcoming and reachable congregations, the officers announced the launch of Extravagance UCC. Extravagance UCC is envisioned as a web-based spiritual community that gathers in a new way of defining church in the 21st century.
"As much as we want to be there for everyone with a welcoming and reachable congregation, some folks will be out of reach in the usual ways we have established churches," said W. Mark Clark, associate General Minister. "To respond to them — we are inviting you to think about what it means to be a non-geographic community of faith, held together by the Spirit, the internet, and the intention of those seeking to be part of the United Church of Christ."
That rant aside, I couldn't be more excited about this goal, for in it I see the future, not only of our denomination, but the church as a whole. Social media is a real place of gathering that allows for meaningful ministry. I know first hand from my time at Koinonia Church in Second Life and more recently with Darkwood Brew. I will enthusiastically support the work of planting welcoming and reachable congregations that are web-based spiritual communities. Web-based community allows those who feel outside to test the waters of spiritual fellowship without the perceived pressure to join that often comes with attendance in brick and mortar churches. While real time connection is possible, archives and blogs allow for connections over time and space that physical churches cannot offer. The non-geographic element also has great potential, not only for helping those who don't live in physical proximity to a progressive congregation, but also in allowing gatherings over large distances that don't require travel.
And here I am looking at you General Synod! We made good progress on caring for creation in our resolutions during this General Synod, but how much more would our carbon footprint be reduced with at least every other biennial being virtual?
Don't jump to the negative, just give this a moment's thought. If you have been a delegate to General Synod, think about your experience during plenary. You likely never spent time away from the table of your delegation seeing and hearing the debate via projected images and amplified sound. Why couldn't that happen at conference offices equipped with good audio-visual equiptment and fast Internet connection? It could, and I would argue, should. The times of gathering are very important, so much so that we should gather more often by using the virtual gathering tools at our fingertips.
The Rev. Ian Lynch is the Pastor of the First Congregational Church UCC in Brimfield.