Friday, October 14, 2011

Online churches offering a sense of community

This week I explored a Christian virtual church created by the Pastor of Harvest Church in England. I also referenced an analysis of this virtual church done by Stephen Jacobs, a professor at the University of Wolverhampton. The Pastor and creator of this Virtual Church stressed the importance of making the online church sacred, a key aspect of Scheifinger’s article on Hindu online worship, but also making it as identical to the physical church space as possible. He does this through the different “rooms” you can enter into on the website such as the “Main Hall,” “Prayer Room,” “Worship Room,” and even the “church office.” He further achieves this with the multiple means of allowing viewers to feel the “sense of fellowship of the Christian community.”  Jacobs along with Chris Helland, the author we read in class, both touch on Durkheim’s theory of rituals being a social tool; of bringing a community together. Jacobs quoted that Durkheim viewed rituals as practices that unite adherents “in a single moral community.”  Likewise, Helland quotes Durkheim by saying “ritual [is] a powerful tool for maintaining social cohesion.” These outlets for interaction are what I found different about this Virtual Church than the Hindu or other religions virtual rituals we’ve seen in class. One point I find crucial to determining whether online religious activities can be seen as authentic is whether or not the community views communal worship as necessary to their faith. We say in the Hindu case study that individual worship was acceptable but Christianity prefers communal worship and this virtual church does an excellent job of incorporating this practice, making it more authentic in my opinion. They facilitate this through the Prayer room by allowing viewers to post requests, prayers and testimonies. There is even a live chat where members or visitors can talk to one another instantly while visiting the virtual church, although the pastor did state that “online interaction could neither replace nor fully replicate the physical co-presence of fellow worshippers.” Two main Christian rituals Jacobs touches on are prayer and communion or “collective worship.” While this Virtual Church offers a great space for prayer, collective worship is an aspect of the Christian Faith that the virtual environment could never fulfill. Another interesting feature of this Virtual Church was that viewers are encouraged to “sign in” when arriving at the online service, an act the Pastor says gives them a “sense of belonging.”  Jacob also includes several responses from people who have visited this online church. One, whose names were kept anonymous said, “When I go into the Virtual Church, just as if I was going into a cathedral or a modern type of church building, I find a real sense of peace. There is a real sense of that. You can go there and it can be a sort of hiding place if you will.” This idea of a “hiding place” is a key feature of an online church that is absent in a physical offline church.

I recommend you visit the Virtual Church:

Jacobs, S. (2007). Virtually sacred: The performance of asynchronous cyber-rituals in online spaces. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(3), article 17.

No comments:

Post a Comment