“Can your church help out with that? Isn’t this what churches do?”
I heard that question on two separate occasions as I planned for the arrival of my firstborn child.
Could church members bring me meals for the first week home after surgery?
Do any church members have used baby stuff I can borrow or buy?
Can’t someone come by and take my teen shopping for school supplies?
There was a time in my life where my church would have done all this. It’s one of the many reasons I like small churches. (By “small,” I mean membership of 20-120 people). We know each other well. We support the minutiae of each others’ lives. We’re invested in each person’s well-being. We become family to each other.
But I now live in a larger city; I attend a larger church. Geographical proximity comes in tens of miles, and I couldn’t imagine asking anyone to get on a busy freeway during rush hour.
As I explained this to my inquiring friends, they declared, “No problem,” and took off to their computers.
With the help of social media and phone technology, friends and strangers became my church.
There’s nothing explicitly religious about this. A social organization, cadre of friends, or nearby family can be supportive community. But this is one way church has functioned in my life, and I’ve always seen it as an extension of our understanding of Jesus’ teachings to be neighbors and family to one another.
I told them as much. Sometimes, the new media communication facilitated face-to-face encounters: Picking up the stroller set from someone I’d only emailed twice. Shaking hands with the representative from the diaper service who did the demonstration. Eating snacks together at the baby shower held at a friend’s house. When I had the chance, I told this online web of friends, strangers, and services: “You are church to me.”
Has new media helped you find church in ways you used to find it in person?
Monica A. Coleman, a research fellow for the New Media Project, serves as Associate Professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religions and Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Associate Professor of Religion at Claremont Graduate University in southern California.
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