Henry Mace has an excellent piece in today’s Financial Times that I give a h/t to the illustrious Christopher Lamb, of the London Tablet for tweeting this morning.
What’s interesting about this article is that it talks about all the ways that religions have had to innovate during the pandemic and that people are responding in new ways and are participating more often virtually than they did in actual services. Dig this:
“Alpha, an evangelical introduction to Christianity run by Holy Trinity Brompton, the Church of England’s largest church by congregation, has more than twice as many participants online as it did in person. Its seven-week marriage course normally has 80 to 100 couples attending; 5,500 couples have signed up online since lockdown began.”
And a more longitudinal factoid:
“A quarter of Americans say the pandemic has made their religious faith stronger, while just 2 per cent say it has weakened it, according to the Pew Research Center.”
David Mitchell, a Rabbi noted:
“More happily, his seder, which normally takes place in central London with about 200 people, was held on Zoom with 650. There have been online prayers, classes and even an online bar mitzvah.”
This has also been my experience, several of my priest friends have noted that more people are engaging with online weekday Masses than they had coming in person before the pandemic. I’ve noticed that when I was doing “one minute meditations” on instagram that people really responded to them and shared them readily.
And I’ve been saying this for about 20 years now: People are more open and interact with others online MORE and in more profound ways than they actually do in person because they are less guarded. This guy agrees with me:
“In a church on a normal day, quite a lot of social distancing goes on. It doesn’t matter how big your church is: someone will sit in the back row . . . On a screen, people are looking for eye contact, they’re not looking for you reading a script.”
Gumbel is not sure why Alpha course sessions, where strangers discuss big questions about life and faith, work better online. But he is convinced they do. “This is the thing that astonishes me: people are more open online than in person. Maybe they feel more relaxed because they are at home.
“One small thing: on a Zoom call, you can see people’s names. So, right from the start, people are using each other’s names . . . I will never stop doing Alpha online. I will never stop doing church online either.”
So let’s admit that this is going well. While not a pure replacement for going to the church building, this is doing not only interesting things, not only essential things, but profound things that should continue long after this is over. Amen. Alleluia. Thanks be to God.