So are honored today to be speaking with Dr. Tim Hutchings. Dr. Tim Hutchings is Assistant Professor of religious ethics at the University of Nottingham, and the author of the texts that we'll be discussing today, Creating Church Online: Ritual Community and New Media, available from 2017. From Routledge. Dr. Hutchings. Thank you so much for joining us today. Dr. Hutchings. We'll dive right in, in your book, which by the way, is one of the very best books that I have found on technology and the history of the church in the recent past. So I was just just delighted with your piece. I probably can't say enough good about this, but thank you for writing this book. Firstly. Secondly, you chronicle the history of online churches in the early part of your book and you go from the very earliest signs, these earliest signs of life of online church communities in the 1980s, even through the 90s. And then you settle into discuss at length this landmark event in 2004, the so called Church of fools that comes up. How did you first become interested in this study of online church communities?
So and this is a story that might give a heart and encouragement to anyone who's in the kind of academic supervising trade, which a lot of us are, and I originally applied for a master's degree at Durham University in the United Kingdom. And I put together a proposal that was really focused on Christian theology. It was picking up one of the aspects of Christian theology I had learned about in my undergraduate study I was really excited about and it was a proposal to bring a feminist theological lens to bear on the question of God's communication with humanity. Which is, you'll guess, a little ambitious for a master's thesis, but I didn't know that at the time, I thought, Oh, you know, this, this seems pretty, pretty doable. And, and I came to my university and they said, This all looks, you know, this looks great. And as soon as I started, they gave us a couple of weeks of introductory courses. And then we had a meeting with the head of research in the department where we sat down, and we figured out what I was actually going to study. And I proposed this project and they said, Well, you know what, you've got about 10,000 words, and you've got a year to work on this. And you cannot even begin to imagine how much has already been written on this topic. You're not going to solve the problem of God's communication with humanity in your master's thesis. Is there something you can think of that would be a new issue that hasn't really been studied very much at this point, and this was like the year after the Church of England and the Methodist Church. In the UK had both set up at the same moment online churches. So I said, What do you know that there's churches on the internet now? And the Director of Research fell off the chair and said, well do that, for goodness sake. That's the new thing. And so I scrapped the project I had been planning to work on and instead did this short Master's dissertation, which was Braille building on contextual theology and trying to develop a contextual theology of the internet, looking at and in looking in depth to online communities.
I loved the research, I discovered this new research method of ethnography, obviously, I did not discover ethnography, but it was new to me. And I was beginning to research in different ways. I have new questions that are emerging, and the project just kind of spiraled from there and from for a Master's, it turned into a PhD and for two churches, it turned into five, and eventually they had to price the PhD out of my hands. Tell me it was finished. And and then from there it kind of spiraled on into this book. And so it was a it was a project that really came out of one conversation with somebody who I sure has forgotten all about ever having told me that. And that then shapes the rest of my career really, to thing I've now been studying for 10 or 15 years.
How did you first become aware of the so called Church of fools this project from the Anglican Church to create a virtual reality church in 2004.
So, and 2004, and a lot happened in British Christianity, all at the same time, the Church of England launched a group called a church, which was part of the Diocese of Oxford in the Church of England. So it's, we're in the English speaking world, at least it's the first and the first church to be launched on the internet that's actually part of a denomination in that way. And the method This church and with a bit of funding from the Methodist Church and a bit of funding from the Church of England created Church of fools. The example you're thinking of which is a getting closer to a kind of virtual reality creation. It's a small virtual world, launched just a couple of months apart from our church. And they both got a huge amount of attention. And for journalists, I think this was a real shock story. It was the first big news story about online churches, and that the idea of these big, cumbersome institutions trying to do something on the internet was electrifying for a lot of reporters and church of fools particularly, got some publicity around the launch and then immediately started running into social problems and which we have a talk about later on, but around griefing and hostility with people Tried to cause problems in the in the church space. And, and the organizers very successfully spun that into another wave of media publicity. So journalists all around the world were kind of interested in a church. But the idea of a church that was having a fight on the internet was really exciting. So that's what got loads and loads and loads of publicity. And, and that's just to have three or four similar projects that happened all at the same time in the same place in the United Kingdom. And in the same year, the Church of England and the Methodist Church published a very influential, and document that launched the fresh expressions movement, and which was a mission check, check. That's the way it was jumped out of my head. So it's a report called mission shape church that basically called on these very structured institutions to rethink how they did church in the modern world and to start looking for ways of doing church that went outside the parish and into networks and imagining kind of new and creative ways of being chairs together with other people. And that was not so that the the the online churches were talking about launch just before that report came out, but they were able to dovetail in with some best interests because they were such good examples of the kind of thing that was being discussed, and which really shaped a lot of conversation around church in Britain for 10 years or so afterwards, maybe maybe longer than that. So there was a real moment of a lot of creativity happening around what it meant to be church in this particular part of the world.
I've been aware of the fresh expressions movement within the English church. Is there a formal connection between all of this virtual reality church experimentation in the early 2000s in England and the fresh expressions movement
Yes and no. And the, the the church of England's version called it church was launched as part of something that was a it was a particular Diocese of Oxford project, which pre existed fresh expressions, but was actually very similar. And, and it was quite clear early on that the kind of thing that the fresh expressions movement was calling for was the kind of thing that these online churches were already doing. So if you went along to fresh expressions, conferences, you would meet people from these online churches. And so some of the pastors of online churches were writing blog posts for the fresh expressions website, this kind of thing. And, but also quite quickly, I think the fresh expressions movement started discovering that trying to list who counted as a fresh expression was a loser's game. Just not something to touch. And it seems, I think, maybe at the start that it'll be quite straightforward to say, Well, you know, the following churches are doing fresh expressions. And these are the examples we should all look to. And but then you started meeting people who said, Well, I'm doing my very, very best to do a creative church experiment. And those people say it's not fresh, which wasn't at all what had been planned, I think when that movement started, and so so it became less clear over time, what formerly counted as the first expression and what didn't. And but there's also there's also, I think, a difference in the kind some some aspects of the motivation and the audience that these online churches attracted and that may be something that we come on to talk about later on. I don't want to jump ahead on your list of questions.
Very good. Dr. Hutchings. Your your text creating church online is an ethnographic study of several online church communities. Church of fools from the Anglican Communion in 2004 st pixels, the follow up movement from church of fools, the Anglican Cathedral in Second Life at least those three of the five churches that you study and I church, if I if I name a fourth are all connected to the Anglican Church and particularly the Diocese of Oxford if I have that correct, you can correct me there. It is there anything in this? Is there anything in Anglican tradition and mission that would particularly make the Anglican Church ripe to to experiment in in online church movements.
And so it's one kind of small correction to start with the the Anglican Church is involved with several of those. But the Methodist Church was also very important, so we should not lose the Methodists from the start. And the there are some theological parallels. And particularly for Methodism, there's a great article that was written by Simon Jenkins, one of the founders of Churchill falls, where he draws on Methodist theology to explain what he's doing by talking about the founders of Methodism, and the way they traveled around from place to place, preaching outside churches going where the people are that kind of idea. And, and you can see the sort of parallel between Socrates writing and going online to reach people. And the the Anglican Communion has a much less flexible history, we might say. And historically, the the Church of England was was very reluctant to move into the new emerging cities in the industrial revolution, this kind of thing. And there's a lot of rules and regulations around church planting. In the Anglican community. The country is divided up into parishes and you're not supposed to enter other people's parishes and take their territory. And these these are not rules that really lend themselves to experimentation. But partly because of that, this is something people are well aware of. And there's an anxiety around this that led to things like the first expressions movement that was saying we there's a problem with the inflexibility of our tradition, and we need to try and do something new. So that might be part of this issue. And
the diocesan structure of Anglicanism
means that there are bishops, there are particular territories, there are committees, there are ways in which things happen. And that did support some of the church experiments that I'm thinking of. So I church, for example, as part of the Diocese of Oxford, and was able to draw on a certain reputation for stability, maybe which when I interviewed people who were part of that church, a lot of them said, it's very important to me that there is a bishop who oversees this. And it's important to me that this is it's not just a real church, but it's a real church with something behind it. So it's things go wrong, there are people we can go to and ask for help. And so that that was relevant. But I think also the the perish idea, basically in in a British context at least, says you have a neighborhood of a certain number of people, probably not very many who see each other every week. And the job of the church is twofold. I guess the job of the church is to look after the congregation who come together every week, and it's also to try and serve this wider network, a wider neighborhood of people in a particular area. And, and that that worked quite well as a starting idea for a certain kind of online church. One of the big challenges for online ministry is scale. This is something that will come up in all of the case studies you want to talk about and an online community. struggled a lot with size, certain media lend themselves to particular sizes of group. And an email list can expand to a certain size. And a virtual world space can reach a certain size and, and that it seemed like online, online churches in that particular kind of 2004 moment. We're using media like forums and chat rooms that really lend themselves to a small parish neighborhood kind of feel.
so this is slightly before the rise of, for example, big mega churches in America broadcasting their sermons online. And if you're broadcasting a sermon, you can have one preacher talking to 10,000 people live, you can't do that in a chat room or a zoom conversation like this. And so there was something about the technology that lent itself to a parish I did. There are also some
different I think and
theologically, the, the particular Anglican model of the parish is upset is that you have a church and the church serves a neighborhood. So there was always a question for a church particularly about, well, what is our neighborhood. Our job is not just to be a gathered congregation, it's to be a congregation that serves others. And one way that a church has tried over time to address that is to have a kind of inside and outside division. So you have an inner community of people who talk to each other all the time, but there's an outside publicly accessible part of the website where they try and talk to casual visitors. And it's not quite the same thing as a neighborhood but but it's sort of hinting at the same ideas. And in the same way, the Anglican Cathedral of Second Life, which was was not formally part of it. ISIS in quite the same way, and served a gathered population who came very, very frequently. But it also served as a well known landmark, where a lot of people would just kind of pass by for a spiritual conversation from time to time, and or pass by needing support or help with a particular issue.
I'm going to add one more thing. This is the danger of asking big questions. And the other thing I recommend is interesting about this point is the style of worship that happened in all of these churches. And so the Anglican idiom and
has a particular liturgical style of worship,
focused on communion but not quite focused on the mass to the extent of the Catholic Church, and focused on preaching but not quite to the extent of an evangelical church or perhaps Methodist Church, and it was a style of worship that worked pretty effectively in the technology available in chat rooms. And a chat room is a text based chat room is a fantastic place for a very traditional column response liturgy. And one of the interesting things, looking at all these different churches is that even though actually, the people coming to them had quite different theologies, they tended to develop into rather similar liturgical spaces, and that were sort of copying rather traditional Anglican styles that liturgy and visually, they looked very traditional. So that's true of Churchill's although it had Methodist funding. It looks like, to me at least it looks like a very old Church of England medieval style of stone church, and to the Cathedral of Second Life, tries to look or try it. Point to look as much as possible, like an English Cathedral. And, and one of the things I found is that, that people put huge amounts of work into that visual authenticity. And when I read other scholars or Christians commenting online, online churches, they would often be rather dismissive of this and say, Well, you know, they all look very traditional at the moment, but something much more imaginative is coming down the pipeline, just wait and see. And, and in the research, I did the, these groups were trying to be more and more and more visually traditional, they really wanted to keep that. And I think the visual authenticity gave freedom to experiment in other ways. So you knew it was a church because it looked like a church. And because it looked like a church, you didn't need to worry quite so much that the person running, it wasn't ordained. And nobody was in the same room as anybody else. And you weren't going to be doing you Chris this week, and so on. And the visual authenticity gave freedom to be different in other ways.
Dr. Hutchings that is really incredibly helpful. And one of the one of the particular strengths of your text is not only that you're writing about something with academic objectivity, and with a solid research base behind you, but you have a lot of lived experience with these particular communities that you talked about, which is really rare and actually impossible to replicate because you can't go back in time to these spaces. So it is a unique resource there. What parts of traditional church life transfer Well, in your view to online environments, and what parts of church life really can't be translated or translate very poorly to online platforms.
Oh, man, that question of lived experience. I'd like to recommend that methodology to any of you people watching this who may be working in similar areas.
particularly perhaps In Christian theological writing about the internet, there has not always been a lot of interest in lived experience. There's a bit of a tendency for people to write books in which there'll be an anecdote that says, Well, I went into a virtual world and I looked around and I talked to five people, and I came back, and here's my analysis. And you'll know you're not going to get anywhere with that. The only way really to write about particularly online relationships is to make friends online. And that means spending a lot of time with people, the only way to write about the validity or the other ways of online worship and online liturgy is to spend enough time doing that, but it means something to you. And it is it's not immediately obvious. The first time you walk into an online space that what is happening there is meaningful, and you really need to commit the time to, to learning how to feel about it in something like the way that the other people participating feel about what's going on. So maybe coming out of that, I don't think we can say in advance what parts of church life will work online and what what. And the only thing you can do is to get used to a particular medium until it is just a natural part of what you do. And then you realize what can be done there and what can't. And that does mean that it's often very difficult to talk to conventional religious authority figures about what's happening online. And it's because you're trying to convey not only here's something I'd quite like to do, but this really does mean something. And you're trying to convey that to somebody who's maybe never even switched on one of the devices that you're talking about, and which can be a challenge.
for example, One of the great debates to this run throughout the history of online churches is whether it should be possible to do some sort of a communion ritual online. And baptism, interestingly, I think has not raised quite as many debates, it seems to be convenient that that has been the more controversial of the two. And baptisms have happened online more often than convenience, I think. And but for, for me, this is something that comes out again, it's kind of Anglican tradition that we've discussed. But for certain kinds of churches, the act of doing communion together is really central to the definition of what it means to be church. So if you have a group of people and your wonderful friends, and you talk every day and you pray together and you worship together, then for some people in that group, at least often that question of can we do communion is not so much about I think not so much about meeting a kind of spiritual need not not, you know, I need communion to nourish my soul. It's we need communion to tell the world who we are. We're who we are His church. And and it can be very difficult to convey that I think to people who don't have the same experience who haven't invested in the relationships in the same way. And so, the debate has been, can you do communion? And if so, how, and that there are not that there's a kind of limited range of options. You could use bread and wine that sits in front of you on your desk, but actual physical food and drink that sits in front of you and the blessing or some sort of ritual comes through the screen. And, or you could have images of food and wine up on the screen that your virtual character consumed. And or you could try and replace that with something that has equivalent meaning within the virtual conversation. So for example, an emoji Eucharist, and not necessarily pictures of bread and wine, but send each other heart emoji or something like this. And then the theological argument that would be the point of view, Chris is that eating is what sustains life. So in order to do that in a, an online forum, and we need to find something that sustains our online life. And so this is an online equivalent of food and drink.
I have not yet found anybody who's willing to take that argument seriously. But it's an argument that gets made from time to time in theological essays that pops up from time to time in online communities. And I think it makes a kind of sense within the logic of the online community and it's not An argument that you can convey to your Bishop very effectively. I don't think the heart emoji means life. To me. It's just it's not something that bishops want to hear. I don't think. And that doesn't necessarily mean it's a good theological argument or not, but the lived experience is part of the theology, I think. And anyway, so that's one part of an answer to your question about what parts of church life can be transferred online and what kind of rituals are difficult, I'd say.
Teaching seems to work pretty well online.
And emotional support works pretty well online, possibly more effectively online than in local communities. And because online, you can find somebody who's willing to talk to you any hour of the day or night prayer, like quite a lot of these online communities really flourished around prayer. Because you can find somebody who's willing to pray with you at any hour of the day, which is not always possible in your local neighborhood church. And the groups that I looked at, did not spend a lot of time doing evangelism proselytism, outreach kind of activities, and an online space is you come to an online space because you're looking for it. So your way of looking at it is quite difficult to send evangelists out
to start conversations.
But I think also
the particular groups I was looking at, had congregations who were mostly and people who already went to church, or they had previously gone to church and they stopped. And, and it seemed like a lot of them really needed a space where they could could relax with other people who knew about church culture and kind of pick it apart a little bit. And they were not necessarily communities who were willing to unite around a single simple message. This is what Christianity is, and it's great and then go out and tell that to as many people as possible. And so that there were there were few different issues there. But occasionally, somebody would say, I feel like we're supposed to be doing evangelism and it was either just not the mood of the group or the audience was very hard to find orbit of both.
I, another thought, is child
focused education. And that's a really important one I think.
sociologically, religion runs in families.
It is relatively unusual for adults to be converted from One religious tradition to another. And the online churches that I looked at were all exclusively adult focused. And, and in some cases, they just had children contract because they didn't want to have to deal with the safeguarding issues around having small children running around in an online space.
that's a that's a real problem if if
online church is going to be self sustaining,
because if you if you are a church goer, and you've got children, where do they get their experience of church from? And they're probably not interested these small children in joining an online forum where people have debates about the Trinity 10 hours a day. And yes, so you so in that case, there's a there's a difficulty which I have not seen very effectively solved yet.
Dr. Hutchings that is really, really helpful. Thank you for those insights. Comments. online activity still has an aura of strangeness for us and you, site or you, you give us this quotation on page 152. I'm going to restate that I'm sorry. I'm going to take advantage of the fact that there's a video editor coming behind me. Dr. Hutchings. Thank you so much for those insightful comments. On page 152. You write this worshipping online, communicating with God in the company of people scattered across the world, while remaining alone is a strange and novel experience. I highlight that quotation because I think it encapsulates beautifully this this era of strangeness around online communication. We're speaking with one another, but we're in separate rooms alone. Thank you for summarizing that. you've participated for a long time in online church worship services, does worshiping an online church today carry that same sense of strangeness for you?
Most mostly No.
But I think so. And
online communication becomes very natural. I think it feels to me completely normal that if there is a person who I need to communicate with, and whether it's a work colleague or a friend or a family member, some of our communication is online, and some of it is face to face, and that's just how it is. And similarly, I think if you're interested in religion, why would you not be doing some of that online, it's just, you know, that's that's how communication works. And, and just as chatting to someone on Facebook stops being strange, praying with somebody in the chat room or watching a YouTube video and praying along at home stops being strange. But at the same time in the groups that I was looking at
strangeness we're beginning Continually brought up in conversation as a running joke. And which which has been true in all the online communities I've been part of, which is quite a few now over the years, and there will be certain kind of in jokes about what a wacky bunch of people we are to be doing this wild thing. And
in so thinking now of a, not a non religious online community, and the the rise of the smartphone has made a bit of it have made a huge difference, of course, since 2004, when I started this, this research, and because now instead of having a community on the internet, you've got a community that you carry with you all the time. And so I see a metaphor of the pocket coming up a lot. Well, this is my pocket group of friends. I think if I were doing the research from the book, now, people were talking about their pocket change rather than their online Some other compensation. But for example, one of the groups that I studied and would have a ritual every day, they would do that press. And at the end of the press, they would have a very elaborate roleplay about going to the bar and getting a drink together and particular person would be the bartender and some would tidy up the chairs. And it was it kind of extended riff on how silly it was that none of us were in the same place.
And as I interpreted at least.
So that's, that's one thought about this. And all of the all of the groups that I've looked at, have been very aware that they are translating something that was designed for face to face use into an online
environment. And, but there's also
a really interesting lack of shared memory around online churches, I think, which is something I briefly touched on in the book. But it is very very striking to me that even in 2019, when we're having this conversation, you can find people who are launching the first online church. And the things they're saying about the first ever online church are exactly the same things that were being said in the 1990s in the 1980s. And and I'm never quite sure if these are people who genuinely don't know about the history of the internet and think that they've invented something new and or if they feel kind of pushed to talk about it in that way.
and you know, you can, if you're specific enough, you probably can find something completely new that you're doing the first step of virtual reality church you're the first ever virtuality Pentecostal church, you're the first Anglican virtuality church, whatever it might be. And
did genre of writing about Christianity and the internet does not have a Canon, I don't think and the books that were published Was 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago seem to have disappeared from collective memory quite a lot. And my sense is that there have been waves of Christian thinking about digital media and look like a cluster of books come out altogether that are sort of referencing each other and are sharing a similar approach to digital media. And then there's a pause for a year or two and then a new cluster comes out.
somehow, this is a medium that is always strange to the church. It's always being rediscovered for the first time. There's a there's a kind of practical, cynical interpretation of that and the theological, cynical interpretation. And the the practical, cynical interpretation is that a lot of these groups thrive if they can get journalists to write about them. And the only way to get journalists to write about what you're doing is to do something new. So there's a there's a there's a requirement really to to present yourself as something radically new and exciting just to get people interested. And but it's also interesting to me that a lot of the online church pioneers, I've looked at talking about themselves as missionaries going into the mission field, and they're bringing light into darkness. And that that kind of language gets used a lot. And And the interesting thing about missionaries is that you have, you kind of have to have darkness to bring light into it. It's very difficult to say, I'm a missionary going into an area that already has 6000 churches, and has, you know, centuries of Christian tradition. And you've, you've kind of got to start off by saying, These are dreadful sinners, who have never heard the light of truth and I am bringing my church to them and So I wonder if that self understanding of being a missionary going into the mission field, maybe encourages people not to pay too much attention to what might have gone before.
Dr. Hutchins, thank you very much for your response. If you were writing a second book on online church, and you probably are, what do you imagine the future of online churches to be?
one project, certainly that I would like to see. And maybe one day I'll get around to, and is a historical survey of the kind of things that we've just been discussing, and an attempt to give digital Christianity a history. And one of the things that I saw that this if you've got PhD students watching, as I'm sure you do, and this is not what you're supposed to do, I wrote my PhD, I got my research finished, and I then started postdoctoral research projects, and it actually took me a long time. To get back to this book, to PhD projects, to turn it into a book. And what I found when I went back is that suddenly I had 10 years of research, and which actually was very helpful. I think that's, that's something that I felt strengthened the book. There are not very many kind of long term studies like this. And I was able, at the end of the book to say, look, I started looking at these groups in 2004. Now, I can go back and tell you 10 or 15 years later on, what's happened to them. And, and some things stayed the same. So the point I was writing this book, there was still people launching new churches with the same rhetoric that had been used a few years before, and something had moved up. And I really like to broaden that out further, I think you can find the obvious antecedents of the online church movement. goes in radio and television churches, although again, we were talking about the strangeness and there are many, many debates about whether you can do communion and baptism online. Of course, we had those debates. And absolutely 100 years ago with radio and television and other media. And it's it's rare, I think, to see people trying to build that historical connection to say, what can we learn from the past or what we're doing now. And but one of the groups I mentioned, just in passing, is the Church of the larger fellowship, which is a project of the Unitarian Universalists in North America. And they've been doing church by distance since the 19th century, as I understand it, using postal systems and then moving on through telephone and and all sorts of different mediums they became available and that transferred online. And there's a fantastic potential research project to be done there on an online church that in a sense is 100 years old. At least But one of the things that I found also and doing this research for the book when I started, what I was researching was the Church of the future.
the church Falls Church were launched as experimental projects that were finding out how church was going to be done in the future. And you can see the same kind of thing in George Barna published a report in the 1990s called the cyber church is coming, which had all sorts of wild predictions for the amazing things that were just around the corner, in which people were just going to stop going to church face to face because online was so much more convenient. And by the time I finished working on the book, it was fairly clear that future wasn't going to happen. Maybe and The energies of, at least in the British context, the energies of the big denominations had had not really followed up those experiments. The experimental churches discussed in this book still exist, most of them are still going. But you didn't find every church, every church diocese and the Anglican Communion setting up its own online church. And there are one or two experiments. They still exist. The energy has moved on elsewhere to more networked things and more use of social media to try and engage local churches with their local neighborhoods and so on. And there's a maybe a hint there of just kind of chasing the latest trend, perhaps. And I would be really interested to know how that intellectual shift happened. I think the kind of people who would do Church online experiments in the 80s. The 90s 2000s and today are not the same people, which is quite interesting that they don't necessarily have the same backgrounds. And it's, it seems like it's more common now to find big digital Christian projects run by people who have a background in industry in Business and Commerce, bringing the strategies of the business world into the church, rather than people who are church pastors or theologians experimenting with the internet. When one possible consequences of that thinking again, back to that need to build a history for digital Christianity, it seems to me that in the 1990s and the early 2000s, there were books being published that were trying to encourage or call for an experimental radical digital theology. And, and it seems like that's gone. A little bit digital theology has been replaced by a much more pragmatic, how do I get more followers on Twitter kind of strategy. And but at the same time, though, that was only ever one style of online church. And so the kind of things I'm talking about here, the experimental projects created by big denominations. And you also had American and other places in the world mega churches, broadcasting their preachers online that's only continue to expand. And not in that case, necessarily trying to do anything particularly experimental or constructive, perhaps, but taking the voice of somebody with a message and transmitting that as widely as possible. And that seems to be continuing to grow. And, and you also find, and this is particularly true in the virtual church realm, I think you find the couple Kind of experimental, individual approach is still continuing. And so rather than the Church of England funding an experiment to report back and find out what the future of church looks like, you might find somebody who is an independent individual pastor or just an individual with no particular theological training, who thinks it will be fun to run a church, setting up something in virtual reality and just see what happens. And and those projects are not necessarily as big, but they can be quite exciting to watch and just see what what comes about them. And so predicting what comes next is very difficult in that we have very different styles or approaches to online church and they have kind of flourished in parallel over the last few years. And I would certainly expect the kind of amplifying approach the turning preachers into social media influences That will continue to flourish, it seems. But I'm hoping that the more quickie and experimental small scale operations will still be continuing as well.
Dr. Hutchings. Thank you so much for your responses. If I can close with a question that we've been asking all of the interviewees on this program, and that is this, what would it mean for the church to be united today? How would we recognize this unity? And what is it that we can do as individual Christians to pursue the Unity for which Jesus prayed in john 17
as maybe a different approach to this I, so I don't know if this is really come across this interview. But I'm much more of a sociologist than a theologian. And the general principle of ethnography is that you listen to how people define themselves, as I understand it. So for example, if people say they're a church you
call them and
but on a kind of sociological level, I would suggest that the church is already more united than perhaps you think. Because in digital context, the platforms that we will use for our communication have been consolidating. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, it doesn't really matter what church you're part of, you've probably got accounts in the same space, which means that you are connected to all the other people who are using those spaces, and you are maybe seeing each other's messages and interacting with those. And you might find that the social media giants continuing to segment people so that you see more and more content that is like you and but you have the opportunity, at least, to use the platforms that we're all already connected to, to expand your own horizons and start following other religious traditions in your local area, which I've been doing a lot of this year or
Following the Facebook page of every church in a 10 mile radius and just see what they're up to.
So that's not really been possible before, I think quite the same way. And
so we might find that theologically.
Christians are divided in their ideas, and structurally the ecumenical church
where we united
will do all of our communications within the same shared platforms, which brings us into more contact than before. And so we might turn that more theological question around and ask what the church should do about existing in a world in which we're already united in a way that churches perhaps don't acknowledge.
That our pleasure today to be speaking with Tim Hutchings, author of the text creation A church online ritual community and new media available in 2018 from Routledge and assistant professor of religious ethics at the University of University of Nottingham. Dr. Hutchings, thank you so much for being with us today.