At our recent District Continuing Education Event for lay-workers and pastors, a presentation prompted me to think about the concept of a ‘digital cathedral’. Cathedrals were raised up to give glory to God. By the way their presence dominated the centre and skylines of the cities and towns they overlooked, they pointed to the grandeur of God, and to God’s supremacy over all of life. Think of earlier times when the outline of the cathedral’s cross would have been the first man-made structure that a visitor to that city would have seen.
Their size and magnificence meant that they not only dominated the skyline but also life at ground level. For centuries, as they were built, they provided work for countless families of artisans and other workmen and women. Since their completion, they have continued to send a signal to their surrounding communities by drawing the attention, of the people coming into their presence, to the greater presence of God.
The cathedrals were also attached to smaller, more intimate communities. Each cathedral was the centre for local parishes and churches, but there were also cathedral churches and perhaps cathedral monasteries attached as well. (The English word ‘monastery’ is related to the word ‘minster’, which is where we originally got the names West-minster and York-minster Cathedral).
Ok. What about a ‘digital’ cathedral then? What’s the link? I propose that the cathedral and monastery model, and especially the way they complement each other as ‘public’ and ‘intimate’ spaces might be a useful way of thinking about the church’s on-line presence and how it relates to congregational life.
We could think about a congregation’s on-line presence, its web site and the ‘services’ it provides there as being like the cathedral. It’s the first aspect of the church that captures the attention of a visitor, enquirer, or digital sojourner. A good quality, easy to navigate website, aimed at making it as easy as possible for strangers and newcomers to learn more about, and even access certain services of the church, should be a basic aspect of every congregation’s ministry presence. What we do on-line then, our on-line presence, our digital cathedral, becomes the portal through which we welcome all who might wish to engage more intimately with us – or not. The welcome remains open.
Already during lockdown, I’ve heard numerous anecdotes concerning newcomers seeking out the church via the internet. They’ve found their attention captured by the presence of a digital cathedral. In a number of cases, they’ve been looking for a local Christian community for further engagement. Some congregations have told me that they have more people in Bible study now (via zoom) than ever before. The impediment of leaving home on the weeknight, perhaps after having endured a punishing commute during the day has been removed. Others have reported:
“People have reconnected with worship. For some it felt ‘safe’ to do so via a zoom service.”
“A local Buddhist family were researching Christianity, and they wanted to check out some local Christians, they found us!”
“We finally got around to getting our web-site set up so that its useful. And useful not just to us, but useful in a mission sense, useful to those in our wider community who God is calling us to serve”.
Historically, the cathedral caught people’s attention and the communities that were associated with the cathedral, in their various forms, provided a place to belong, to fellowship together, to be gathered by the Word of God, nurtured by God and grown in His grace.
To visit one in any of our city cathedrals, is to wander in from the crazy frenetic busyness of the city, to a place of peace and tranquility – and to find a space that invites us to look beyond our immediate anxieties about life. What we offer on-line can be used by God to provide people with something similar. The stories that I’m being told confirm it.
Pr. Brett Kennett
District Pastor for Congregational Support – Lutheran Church of Australia – Victoria and Tasmania District
Associate Pastoral Supervisor (AAOS)