Transitioning in A Global Information Age: Questions For Church Traditions

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As a follow up to my reflections on Quaker Heritage Day I wanted to post a list of Questions I’ve been thinking about, many of which came because our travels to the north and many because of what I have been studying over the past quarter.

The Church in the Global Information Age

My PhD advisor, Ryan Bolger, has an article coming out next month discussing how culture is shifting and how this shift will effect the church. The web and other technologies, along with a new emphasis mobility all help to downplay the importance of physical location and instead favor the idea of “shared space.” Right now we are sharing the space of my website, even if you’re in another country reading this!

In other words, shared space can happen over a cell phone, the internet, television and more. Further, we are seeing things like social networks help fill in the gaps for human relationships. Now we can be friends without always having to be in physical proximity to one another other, we can interactions that keep us connected with what’s happening in our lives, see pictures, videos, listen to music all from our respective places.

Shared Space, Physical Locations and the Mission of the Church

This shift from physical to shared space is something many people are writing about, including social theorists like Slovoj Zizek whom I’ve really been enjoying lately (I just finished On Belief), and I think it’s going to be an important topic for the church to consider as well. This new set of questions will help to shape the mission of the church in the coming generations. I admit that many of these questions are difficult to understand, scary to think about, and for some may just be a little too much. But,in any case, we know that a majority of people, especially young ones, can be found on the web almost all the time, we are always connected to each other in someway, and this alone raises new questions about the church, practices and how we live our faith in light of this.

In times past we would hire an anthropologist to study a given location such as Pasadena to find out who the people are and what their culture is, but in today’s world that anthropologist would also have to be versed in popular culture, the web, and the effects of globalization on a small community. There is no one influential culture anymore, there are many cultures influencing all of us, and it’s being done through a variety of outlets.

And as a future missiologist I wonder what all this has to do with the shape of mission for the church? Do we outright reject these trends, pull away, tuck tail and run or do we engage these changes and look for where God might be in all this? How can we help bring about the transformation that only comes from the Kingdom of God?

And so with that short background, here are some questions I’ve been pondering.

A Few Questions About Quakerism, and Transitions in a New World

  • Where are there signs of life and renewal in the Friends church? What are some of the creative ideas for worship, new kinds of practices and innovative theology that we’ve encountered over the past few years? Does it have to be the same ol’ same ol’ or are we really willing to break the mold and see our orthodoxy in unorthodox ways?
  • One thing Chris M brought up was how blogging is a form of ‘vocal ministry,’ (similar to a traveling evangelist or preacher). Are we willing to let go of our preconceived notions about technology and what vocal ministry is enough to not say “yeah but…?” Will blogging and other forms of interaction in our global information age be allowed to be fully expressive of our life of faith?
  • Does the Quaker tradition have the resources within it to re-think it’s theology in ways that will make room for the continued separation between physical location and shared space we see by way of the virtual world, global media and mobility that rules people’s lives?
  • Can we have clearness committees, meetings, worship, and fellowship without sharing physical space?
  • What does it mean to live out our Christian witness in this kind of world? Will we continue with some of our tradition to retreat from all this? Or will we follow others who are finding ways of transforming the world by being a part of it?
  • What will it look like to practice Quakerism over long distance and on the web? What does it look to do peacemaking, hospitality, simplicity, silence and more with these new mediums?

These are some of the questions I’ve already been thinking about and think that they’re important to begin considering more seriously.

Here are some other posts where I have touched on these topics:

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Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

10 thoughts on “Transitioning in A Global Information Age: Questions For Church Traditions”

  1. Wes:
    I was pleased to read your statement this morning. We have formed a once-a-month Sunday morning gathering here at North Valley Friends Church in Newberg, OR. The purpose of the gathering is to look for ways of engaging with one another and our broader community through the use of IT and networks. I plan on using some of your good questions in our discussion this Sunday.

    Thanks for stimulating some questions in my mind. I will let you know how our discussion goes and what our next steps will be.

  2. Hi Wess, Oh criminy, you’ve written the post I’ve been working on. Well not quite, but a good complement to it. I’ve thought mine a little ponderous but maybe I’ll throw it up anyway.

  3. The virtual world of Second Life (secondlife.com) has an experiment of just the sort you write about. 15 or so people have been gathering for worship each Saturday for 4 or 5 weeks, followed by discussion. Members frequently gather at other times for fellowship or discussion. Many report that they experience spiritual nurture there. The first attempt at a meeting for business will occur this coming Saturday (March 17) following worship. The group includes people from England and across the U.S. Most of the steady attenders appear to be from unprogrammed meetings, but the descriptions I wrote when I set up the group and the space are as theology- and practice-neutral as I could make them.

  4. @ Scot, This sounds incredible, I am really glad to hear you and Friends at North Valley are considering these issues, please let me know how this all goes. And if you end up posting on it let me know as well. Also if I can be of any help to you I’d be happy to offer what I can.

    @ Martin, I really hope you write your article still, this is something we are just now addressing so there is a lot of questions to be asked and theology to be written on this topic. And who knows maybe we can have the first convergent Friends meeting as a second-life gathering!?

    @ Kenneth, good to hear from you, I was just reading your article, I like what you said there. I’ve checked out Second life a bit, and even have a character in there, but haven’t done anything with him in about 2 months. But it is something I am really interested in hearing how it turns out.

  5. I would be very hesitant about finding my primary spiritual community online. As a supplement, I find online communication helpful. But when I really want to talk and listen deeply, I want to be physically present with another person.

    As I have been preparing with a small committee, via email and other online tools, for a conference later this week, I know that I am hungry to see their faces, hear their voices, worship in Spirit and in physical reality with these Friends.

  6. Believe it or not, Ohio Yearly Meeting has been experimenting with ways to use the internet among other tools to maintain a sense of community among a geographically dispersed group of Friends. In our YM, answering queries is an important part of our business meetings. Some Friends living at a distance from their monthly meeting share their thoughts on a query via e-mail so it can be considered with the others during business meeting, and they receive the summary of the discussion in return. We have talked about developing some new queries specifically addressing the needs and concerns of Friends at a distance, but not much fruit has come of that yet. Our yearly meeting website has become a place where seekers find us and begin to have a relationship with us via e-mail.

    Sometimes I wonder if Ohio Yearly Meeting will end up being the first virtual yearly meeting, as resident Friends become fewer and older and new members come to us from all over the world because of their attraction to what they perceive to be our adherence to classic or primitive quakerism.

    I guess I feel blessed to be in the middle. I have had the irreplaceable privelage of sitting at the knee of some of the wise old quaker ministers and elders whose families have worshipped and lived the Quaker faith for many generations in much the same way, yet I live in a world that is vastly different in many ways than the mostly rural communities of Ohio Yearly Meeting. Worshipping with them, visiting them in their homes, traveling with them in the service of the Lord, experiencing first hand how their constant attention to the movement of the Holy Spirit informs everything they do and say, these are gifts that will not be easily shared in our post-modern world via internet or any other means.

    Yet we must try to do so, and if we are faithful, God will show us how to love one another in that which is eternal no matter how far and wide he scatters us.

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