Explaining cybercommunion

Eucharist 02Sometimes I'm surprised at how little the media covers the vibrant world of online religion. Snejana Farberov of Columbia News Service penned a piece about, loosely, God and the internet. She describes how churches broadcast their sermons online:

Trinity Church in downtown Manhattan has managed to keep up with the changing times by getting wired. When one of Trinity's parishioners moved to China in 2000, the rector of the church came up with the idea of online worship. Seven years later, a new rector was appointed to head Trinity, and he, too, embraced the Internet, naming cyberspace the third sacred space -- right after Trinity Church and St. Paul's Chapel.

On a recent Sunday, a female vicar opened the sermon by welcoming "those who are worshipping with us on the Internet." Donna Presnell, Trinity's assistant manager for public relations, said now every service begins with those words.

Trinity offers live and on-demand Webcasts of its services and weekly choir performances to about 4,000 viewers from as far as China and England.

It's good to write a trend piece about how churches are utilizing the internet. And it's balanced in the sense that it gets quotes from folks who are critical of churches not doing enough to reach out on the World Wide Web. But there's a glaring omission:

Back in New York, inside Trinity Church, worshippers are enveloped in the sweet, smoky scent of incense and soaring hymns. Following the sermon, members stand up and warmly shake hands with strangers, accompanying it with the phrase "peace be with you."

"It's little things like that, that people at home don't get," Presnell concluded.

Yes, the consolation of fellow parishioners, beautiful music and sweet incense would be missed by online visitors. And when reporters write about online Christian communities, they rarely fail to mention these things. But why is there no mention of Holy Communion? Not only would this seem to be one of the major concerns about online worship among liturgical Christians, it just strikes me as the most interesting avenue for a discussion of online worship. What are the doctrinal questions that need to be answered if worshipers migrate to virtual instead of actual worship? Do different Christian groups handle this in different ways?

Writing about God on the internet is not exactly breaking news. But if you're going to treat the subject, at least treat it substantively.

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