Who’s in your network?

Wireless world, networked ministry — Part III of a series

by Rev. Rick King

Much is changing in the institutional church today, and the pandemic sped up the change in the past year and a half. This new series of columns is based on the book “The Digital Cathedral,” by Rev. Keith Anderson, to expand our concept of Church beyond the bricks-and-mortar, exclusive-membership, financial and flesh-and-blood institution we’re used to, allowing God to birth the NEW reality, already underway in the world.

There was a time not long ago when it was the norm for the local church to be the center of many people’s lives. It was the social, moral, and even civic center where the majority of people’s faith and ethical foundations were formed from birth, and the place where most people took action in social witness and service to others.

I’m just old enough (b. 1962) to remember THAT institutional church and know that it’s not that way anymore. People no longer find all of their identity, belonging and significance in the structures of the institutional church.

But today, our lives are connected in a different way, and in a different kind of unity made possible by multiple networks we are part of that arise organically through our social interactions each day in the many spheres of our lives.

Keith Anderson tells of Rev. Laura Everett’s ministry: Laura is UCC and the executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches. She uses bicycle travel as a way to connect and embed herself in the daily life of Bostonians. She uses her iPhone and her bike to develop “networks of understanding and collaboration across denominational and interfaith lines throughout Massachusetts.” To use Anderson’s language, Everett has made her city, state, and Twitter her CATHEDRAL—the nexus of her vast network of relationships in which she interacts with a wide variety of humans in her ecumenical ministry.

If the institutional church of yesterday was organized according to a Newtonian understanding of the world as a big machine with a system imposed on it from the top down, the way to describe a networked understanding of the world is through quantum theory, where things hold together in an organic unity that develops naturally as people connect with each other from the ground up.

To illustrate what he means, Anderson points to our historic church and institutional buildings, which were developed under the Newtonian mindset and reflect and enforce that mindset and worldview. But he says networks are challenging the inflexibility of those buildings and all the assumptions they carry. A Pew research study found that Millennials in adulthood are largely detached from institutions and instead networked with friends. And this trend has been accelerating among younger generations for nearly a decade.

What does this mean for churches like ours and the Church as a whole? He proposes “a networked ecclesiology” or concept of church taken from what cathedrals have practiced for centuries: “The historic mission of cathedrals lends itself to life in a networked digital age, and can exist in some measure alongside or within the parish model through social media, local gatherings, and engagement in networks beyond our congregations.” All this is a result of what he calls “the triple revolution” of the internet, social media, and mobile devices.

This fall, as part of our annual stewardship pledge campaign, we’re launching a hashtag campaign called #FHCWhatGroundsUs. If you’re on social media, take or share a photo of yourself doing some activity that “grounds” or roots you and in which you find joy and balance. For me, working out at the Y is one of those activities, and it has a spiritual dimension. Then share your photo on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter (whatever’s part of your network) with a brief explanation of how it grounds you, and then add the hashtag #FHCWhatGroundsUs. It will be grouped with all the others people share under that hashtag.

In November, I’d love to see what you all have shared that grounds you—in God, in your body, in nature, and as a whole person!