As we emerge from the shadows of the COVID-19 lockdowns and start to rebuild our world full of human contact, we face many challenges. One of these is how do we adjust to the world of worship, emerge from our digital hibernation, and physically engage in the holy sacrifice of Mass and other aspects of Christian worship.
During the COVID exclusions the obligation to attend Mass was set aside and many churches and places of worship were closed. Being innovative Christians, we used technology to its full and worshipers could attend Mass online and join virtual prayer groups, engaging in communal worship in a digital space. This digital convenience ensured access for everyone and anyone, it opened the doors of the church to a wider audience. We were able to share in Mass and spiritual celebrations online from anywhere in the world. It was and still is a fantastic experience to be part of a digital congregation, one of the benefits of lockdown was the way in which the Church responded in reaching out.
However, whilst this virtual engagement was adequate, many missed the tangible experience of physically engaging in the celebration of mass and sharing their spiritual space in person with others, being part of physical worship. When the doors of the church were closed it was a shock to the system. We were being denied the right to practice our faith in public, a throwback to the days of the Penal times.
As the doors to the church reopened, albeit with restricted numbers we witnessed many returning to physical worship and a somewhat reawakening of our faith. The return to physical worship was and is limited, congregations whilst consistent are somewhat stagnant in physical numbers. Online attendance is still strong as many chose to worship from home and indeed chose to attend Mass in a location far from the Diocese of Dromore.
This internet is a real benefit to the church and to Christians. It allows for choice not only informing what we believe but also helping shape how and where we believe. It presents a tremendous opportunity for wider engagement and for the church to reach out, especially to engage with those younger generations and to those who have strayed beyond physical reach.
The news is full or doom and gloom prophets exclaiming that numbers attending and engaging in Christian worship is evidence that the church is in continual decline. Through the digital outreach practices and online engagement, we are beginning to see people especially young people intuitively recognizing and responding to the secular tensions of our day and using the internet to inform and shape their religious experiences and practice.
It is not a question of analogue or digital worship but rather a question of how we use both to meet our own individual needs and the needs of our faith community. We must make full use all the tools available to enrich, reach out, support, engage and promote the message of Christ. Life is full of choice, and we can use both digital and analogue channels to give people choice, opportunity and preference and widen the reach of the church, allowing and enabling all to participate.
We, as disciples have a real opportunity be it analogue and/or digital to help people recognise the light and the challenge before us, as we serve and lead our church communities. To overcome the secular messages predominant in today’s world, help people recognise the light, invite them to step out in faith, lift their collective gaze to recognise Jesus in all that we do and say and to go about the patient, everlasting and rewarding work of following him as a growing, robust community.