If there’s a theme in recent postings by #digidisciples it seems to be: Help, Bex has reminded me I need to do a blog post and life is getting in the way! I reckon I could perpetuate the theme quite easily. I, too, confidently replied to Bex that I would have my post ready in time and now find myself up against the wire.
I could easily blame the fact that I am involved in too many things I suppose, but there’s been an exciting reason to be busy. At the beginning of the week I heard that Anglicans of Second Life (AoSL) is one of the finalists in the category ‘Creative Use of Social Media’ in the Christian New Media Awards 2012. As I was first made aware of this via a comment on our blog, I did wonder if it might be spam. Investigating the long list of awards I was able to confirm that AoSL really is there; an email later confirmed this. Since then I’ve spent time letting our community know the news and engaging in conversation about it.
Obviously the chance of recognition as a ministry is very exciting. It’s encouraging to know that our contribution to social media-ifying our Christian walk (as Ali Gledhill might call it) is being noticed and seen as valuable enough to shortlist. However, is there a risk in gaining some fame? Might it distract us from our core purpose of sharing the Gospel in the digital world?
I sincerely hope we don’t get diverted. As a ministry, AoSL – probably like many Fresh Expressions – is used to being scrutinized and researched. At a particularly busy period, when researchers seemed to be everywhere, one of our Leadership Team referred to us as ‘lab rats’ – I have some sympathy with her view. It’s quite difficult to feel like anything other than an interesting specimen when people breeze in, ask their questions, accept the answers (often without saying thanks, sadly) and zoom off to write some erudite paper.
Far more valuable is when researchers choose to join our community, to share our life, to converse and then to write from a position of lived experience. Recently I was able to publish on our blog a paper written by Bishop Christopher Hill of Guildford which examines the issue of whether it’s possible to celebrate sacraments in Second Life. Sally Coleman, in her post ‘Priorities, priorities’, reminds us that Jesus came to us touching people as God with “skin on”. Likewise Bishop Christopher emphasizes the physicality of the sacraments and for that reason concludes that sacraments in Second Life are not possible. Having shared our life, one member of our community is writing her dissertation on sacraments and Second Life. I know she is drawing from both offline and online experience in what she writes.
Perhaps here is something digital ministries can offer the Church. Being so very different, I suggest such ministries can cause people to go back to what we do as a Church and take a good look at what it really means. What is the essence of a sacrament? Can it be translated into the digital world? Is it even necessary to translate it or can we find new ‘sacraments’ or similar which are peculiar to our context?
Returning to my initial thoughts about why I have been busy, I also had a weekend away for the induction to my distance learning theology degree. Distance learning is another instance of not being physically in contact with those with whom you are sharing an experience, at least for most of the time. Being able to meet up now and again is a real bonus. I really appreciated the time to listen, eat and worship together. Perhaps the most valuable part of the weekend for me was the chance to be prayed for an anointed, particularly for my role as Lay Pastor of AoSL. Here, as Bex commented, the online and offline worlds blended in a very helpful and life-giving way. It’s definitely the way it should be.