Virtually Sacred Time

I continue to ponder the nature of church, community, and technology, wondering how the tools around us can be used to build up the Body of Christ. This is largely speculative; I’m not looking for quick answers here, but for reflection.

During last week’s four-hour-lunch, one of the topics of conversation between Human Hankie (and beverage connoisseur) Ted and I was about the nature church and the “missing generation” of young people (roughly, oh, high school graduation through baptism of firstborn child). Why do folks my age not go to church?

And, understand, I’m kind of a bad person to ask, because I do. I go to church a lot. Like, five days a week.

But for the most part, I think young people, professionals building their careers, and fledgling families have two big problems with church, or rather, are lacking two big things that would help them get to church:

Sacred space.

Sacred time.

The sense of a permanence of place and an identity shaped around place is significantly lacking in many people in my generation. We travel a lot more than our parents did; we’re more likely to have moved out of the house–out of the state–out of the time zone–for college, and are more likely to relocate for our jobs. We’re more likely to drive additional miles (provided we can afford the gas) to go to a better grocery store or movie theatre, rather than practice loyalty to one nearby just because it’s there. We’re more likely to see the space around us change shape and be able to separate those changes from any importance the space around us has. Place is fluid, dynamic, not a constant. Why, then– how then, can it be considered sacred?

If place has lost some of its sacredness, that’s nothing compared to time. Time is no longer a clear measure of the hours of sunlit productivity, or a steady count of days in a week. Many people in my generation work flexible hours, from home, from the car, from the office, on a train, over an internet conference call in the middle of the night with a colleague in Asia. Many people in my generation communicate not instantaneously via meetings or phone calls, but over email and text messages and Facebook updates, which can be accessed when the mood strikes and when time allows. What does it mean to meet at a particular time? Is there a way information can be dispelled on time delay? Can I TiVo it and watch it when it fits my schedule? In such an understanding of time, how can we define any of it as sacred?

I see two responses to this.

First, we can get upset and try to ‘fix’ the emerging understanding of time and place. We can insist that people should make a priority of sacred space and time, and rage against a system that increasingly tells us that location doesn’t matter (unless you’re in real estate) and that being on time is a nuisance (your schedule should fit you, not visa versa), that Sunday morning at ten o’clock is the best time for golfing or picnicking or sleeping in, that school clubs and games can and should schedule matches Sundays at eleven. Many of us do this. Heaven knows, when my sanctuary is looking a little empty, I do.

Or we can ask if there are ways that we too can be fluid in our understanding of what it means to gather in a time and place. If Christ is present wherever two or three gather, is not all space sacred? What about “space” that is a collection of electronic signals? Can virtual space be sacred? If God is eternal and present in all time, then cannot a gathering take place with a time-delay?

I’m intrigued, if not wholly convinced, by ministries like NuFaith Community, a United Methodist Church that exists, at least mostly, if not entirely online. A new church start, NuFatih doesn’t yet have a building, but that doesn’t stop them from having church. Go ahead, poke around a bit and tell me what you think. Try the online worship, sermons, prayers. Is this a gathering? Is it church? Is it sacred space? Sacred time?

I don’t know what the best response is to all of this. I do know that we need to have better responses, that we need to make better use of the tools at our disposal to equip, nourish, connect, uplift, and share the news of the people of God.

But there’s something else, too. There’s something that the church is missing that, whether people tune in online or in the pews, at 10 a.m. Sunday or when the mood strikes, we still need to provide.

We need to give people a reason. A reason to carve sacred space out of their lives and their websites, a reason to schedule sacred time in the dayplanners and iCal(endar)s. We need to have something real and authentic and honest and lifechanging to offer. We need to have a relevant Word and a timeless Word. Too often we step back from who we are called to be (God’s people) and worry about how we might do that (our programs). Really, people will make accommodations in their lives for anything, as long as we are willing to let those accommodations look a little different than we might expect, and as long as they can see that its worth it.

Give us a reason, my generation screams. Tell us–no show us– why God makes a difference in life, why church is vital. Gimme one good reason to consider your time and space sacred.

What’s our reason?

6 thoughts on “Virtually Sacred Time”

  1. Not sure our reason can fit in a comments section at the end of this post 🙂
    But, my quick 2cents:
    As a sociologist of religion, I gotta say that young people bailing on church till it’s time for their own kids’ baptisms has been the prevailing pattern amongst US Protestants for generations.

    But I do like your comments about new conceptions of (sacred) time & space.
    Some megachurches seem to make ALL “free” time & space sacred by making everything happen in the church – day care, dry cleaning, adult recreation leagues, cafe/restaurant dining & nights out at the movies – all that now can happen inside church property.

    Not entirely a fan, but it points towards the physical connection that can be missing at “places” like NuFaith. I know some kids who spend all their free time on Second Life, but can’t look you in the eye & converse in person for all the semiconductors in a computer factory.

    So, “my” reason – enduring community. People whom you’d actually know if you passed them on the street. Who are physically there when you need them – regardless of how poorly developed your social interaction skills are. C’mon – how’s an online community going to pick you up from the hospital and make you chicken soup?

  2. @ Sean,

    Well said, and I think it’s a good reason.

    My “virtual community” will send emails and cards and love when I’m down, but the chicken soup would get pretty messy over the computer!

    I think we all crave connection with one another. Online connection feeds part of that need, but leaves us wanting more.

    And there’s something to be said that the community of the church is not just a social club community, but a network of care and love and seeking God together.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments!

  3. On the one hand I find a pastor who is in touch with Today’s challenges and realizes that the old rules of an 8 hour workday and even a 7 day week have very little meaning for many of our generation very refreshing. On the other hand, one of the Church’s roles (in my humble opinion) is to help people understand how to live better lives-and 24 hour connectivity with most family and friend contact happening online and zero borders between work and home life just isn’t it.
    Yes, new approaches need to be tried to get this generation listening to The Word, but once that’s been achieved, shouldn’t part of the lessons also be that there were (and are) really good reasons for days of rest and homes being places of solitude when needed? There’s a really fine line between using new tools to communicate the Good News and losing the nourishing and uplifting value of that message through faceless ‘communities.
    As for the ‘reason’, there’s another potential trap. Our generation are on an obsessive cycle of buying material stuff in the hope of gaining happiness from it, without realizing they’re more likely to get that happiness from _not_ having so much stuff. So how do you appeal to someone who’s stuff obsessed without an equally shallow ‘reason’?

  4. @FlintZA,

    I agree, and I think a key problem is finding a line between using new tools to communicate the Message and actually endorsing the interpersonal disconnection that those tools can sometimes foster.

    Essentially, I think the tools the internet and other technology should always be used *in addition* to interpersonal interaction, to enhance it rather than take its place.

    You’re right; asking for a reason does seem to feed into a consumerist mentality– I hadn’t thought of it that way before. I guess what I am trying to say is that we can’t take for granted that people are just going to show up at churches or make God (or even their families and friends) a priority. I think we need to teach people and show people why God and community are important, to counteract the voices in our society that are saying they are not. Our lives should express our reasons for what we do and what we believe.

    Thanks for the very thought-provoking response.

  5. Grace and peace to you. Thank you for sharing Nu Faith Community with your community. On April 6, 2008, Nu Faith Community started continuous weekly worship. As a new church start, virtual church offers persons who are unable to leave home and persons who work odd hours a place to connect as they experience the Word of God. They can hear prayers, participate in Bible Study, and request pastoral prayer. People are searching all the time for a church that offers relevant worship; Nu Faith offers both in person and via the internet options to help them grow in their faith. Loving Jesus Christ through worship and fellowship happens; ministry and outreach happens; lives are being transformed…many have found Nu Faith on-line and are now part of developing a brand new faith community in Houston, TX.

    Again, thanks for bringing forth the questions about sacred space…feel free to join us for Bible Study on Thursday evenings on-line or by telephone. Check out Study @…Be Blessed, Jacqui King

  6. @Jacqui,

    Thanks for responding, Pastor Jacqui. As I said, I think the ministry of NuFaith is fascinating. I’m glad to hear how it’s bearing fruit! I do want to check out some of the Bible Study and prayer pages some time.

    Thanks again for reading and responding. Blessings on your unique ministry,

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