I was delighted to be invited by my former lecturer at Cranmer Hall and friend Rev’d Dr Pete Phillips to contribute to a new Grove Book written during lockdown. It was a truly collaborative process writing this booklet in the middle of a pandemic and was the most ecumenical project I’ve been a part of. I wrote a chapter entitled ‘God For All’. Colleagues Fr Matthew Pulis, a Roman Catholic priest in Malta and Rev’d Jo Cox-Darling, a Methodist Minister contributed chapters on the ‘Digitally mediated Rosary’ and ‘Gateway God’ respectively.
As we reflected and wrote about our experiences of ministering during a pandemic, although all 4 of us involved in this project have a special interest in online ministry, we found that everything we did was mixed-mode – or what we’ve now come to call ‘Hybrid Church’. I’ve never felt that online should necessarily replace offline/face to face but is just part of the various ways in which we can engage with one another. I was fascinated to see how Fr Matthew, ministering in a rural part of Malta, was able to engage families and elderly people in praying the rosary together. I was also inspired by Jo Cox-Darling’s use of inspirational messages in chalk for dog-walkers and passers by to read during lockdown in rural Staffordshire.
My chapter, ‘God for All’ explores these three themes:
It is an exploration of the ways in which I continue, as a priest in my particular context, to reach out to these three groups below. Where do you find yourself? Where are your energies currently? I find this a helpful check to ensure that I am including as many people as possible:
The terms online and offline are shorthand for those who spend time on the internet and those who don’t access the internet at all but engage in our worship in other ways (in our buildings and over the telephone). Offline does not imply ‘inferior’ or something ‘lesser’! I wanted to avoid the use of ‘in real life’ and ‘virtual’ as those terms also have negative connotations.
I think in 2020 we’ve seen these three circles in the above diagram (curious observers/online congregation/offline congregation) become closer and closer with the central area getting bigger. Many have learnt how to watch videos on Facebook and YouTube, some for the first time, for example.
To read my full chapter and the other contributions you can order a copy of the booklet for £3.95 from Grove Books direct, a PDF version is also available for purchase. My thanks to Pete Phillips and my fellow contributors for letting me be a part of this fascinating project and little piece of history!