An Explosion of Engagement with Technology

There is much that could be written about the hardship and the pain of the last month, the individual acts of heroism, and the quiet determination carrying many of us through. In time people will no doubt reflect not just on our response to the crisis, but how it has perhaps highlighted inequalities and injustices central to our society, as Graham Tomlin has noted in the Church Times this week

But for the moment I’d just like to share a few thoughts with you about how St Mary’s has been responding to the suspension of services in the building. Not being able to come together in the building on a Sunday has been one of the hardest challenges of lockdown, and I can’t wait until we can come back together again. But in the meantime, what have we been doing to try to fill the gap?

The fact that you are reading this now on the internet rather than printed in our magazine means that you either have access to some of our modern techno-wizardry or have access to a friend or relative with a printer…. Either way, you are part of St Mary’s connected family regardless of lockdown.

St Mary’s has seen a bit of an explosion of engagement with technology in the last month. With a regular email newsletter, virtual coffee mornings on Zoom, and a range of different services and worship music both live and recorded, there’s a lot going on.

As human beings we have such an urge to communicate, to see, hear and touch other people and connect with each other. I believe that this stems from the fact that relationships are at the very heart of our understanding of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, living in perfect community together and constantly seeking relationship with all Creation (including you and me). God is constantly seeking us, offering his love in relationship with us. Our response is to reach out in love and care to each other, and thank God for his love.

I thought I’d use this article to share a few observations made as I’ve been involved in organising and enabling some of the online life at St Mary’s.

First off, our services on Facebook have a greater reach than when they were only within the walls of the building of St Mary’s. Some of this has been time-shifting, seeing viewing figures rise for a week or so after the event has been fascinating. I lead Compline recently from my front room and racked up over 400 views, including at least one from a family member in California. Inviting someone to church has never been easier!

But it wasn’t just the numbers that were surprising. While balancing my phone on a cushion and working my way through the beautiful language of the Compline service

I had the wonderful experience of live feedback popping up on the screen as I read. Imagine standing at the front of St Mary’s, with people holding up placards every so often with feedback, or pressing ‘Like’ buttons in the pews! In leading that service I felt both separated from people more than ever, alone in my front room, but there was also something very intimate and engaging about it.

Our homegroup meets via Zoom, allowing us to chat, catch up and support each other in prayer. We were able to watch a video together from a Bible Society course, and learn and share together. We now meet weekly rather than fortnightly – again, the technology enabling a closeness we’ve all missed in lockdown.

St Mary’s fortnightly informal Encounter group is going strong on Zoom as well. All are very welcome, and in fact we had a couple of friends of St Mary’s who now live further away join us last time. We miss meeting face to face, but the wider fellowship and connections made have been an unexpected blessing.

So what to make of this? God is love and lives in loving relationship, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and with us. We yearn to connect and love one another, and this must be expressed somehow. Technology can enable that God-given urge to bless one another, and we are called to use it as part of our attempts to reach out in love to all.

If you need a bit of help getting access to the online community at St Mary’s then do get in touch and we’ll do our best to help you. Hopefully I’ll see you online very soon, and I look forward to seeing you face-to-face (albeit two metres apart) before too long.

Peter Bennett 2/5/20