I’ve seen a bit of liturgy online this week. Last Sunday I was away from my own community and staying in a place where I had internet access but where there was a (locked) church but no service. What to do on Sunday in order to be part of the community? I settled on going to church online and set about looking for something to watch/attend. In the end, I was surprised how difficult it was to find something. However, I settled on a webcast from one of the bigger Cathedrals in the USA.
Now, I’ve been interested in this for a while, thinking that it might be the kind of thing that we should be doing. However, having experienced it as a user, I’m not so sure. Simply webcasting a big service does not make you feel involved really. Whenever we do radio services from St Mary’s, I’m struck by how much work needs to be done to present it in a slick enough way to make sense to someone who isn’t there. You have to work very hard to make that seem effortless. It may be that simply putting cameras out to webcast a big service is not really the best way of going about it.
I was involved in managing a theology degree programme for the Scottish Churches Open College a few years ago, before its sad and unnecessary demise. There, we used to talk about equidistant learning rather than distance learning. The idea was that whoever took part would receive the same experience wherever they were and that those who were physically most remote from the central organisation would not receive a second rate education but something that was as good and engaging as everyone else. I’ve a feeling that the same kind of thinking needs to be applied to the online liturgy experience. It needs to be part of the discussion about the two interrelated questions, What Shall we do about the Reserved Sacrament Abuses in Scotland? and How Do You Solve a Problem Like Argyll?
Anyway, in similar manner, (ie on my laptop, I got to see the Papal Mass yesterday. Its hard to do a service like that in the open air with 70,000 people. It was fascinating to compare it to the last time a Pope came to the UK. There was an extraordinary fervour that time, especially amongst the young people. Sally Magnusson kept telling us that Pope Benedict would be interrupted by “that famous Bellahouston roar” during the service. You can hear the response during the last visit in a youtube video this video at about 1 minute 5 seconds in though I think that might have been at Murrayfield, I’m not sure.
Well, the current Pope clearly had some liturgical ideas to stop that kind of vulgar response happening again! It did rather feel as though the great stone of liturgical reform had teetered and begun slowly and gently to roll back and safely cover the opening of the tomb once again.