Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Difficulties and Benefits of Online Congregations

A friend of mine who participates quite actively online at one particular Mormon-themed blog asked me a couple of years ago how I felt about the possibility of the LDS Church establashing online wards and/or branches.  The following was my response to him (again, a couple of years ago, so the initial information is a bit dated by now):

It is happening now in some areas with Seminary for those who can't attend the traditional early morning classes. Our stake is part of the pilot program, and I have been impressed overall - even though I was skeptical a bit at first, given my background in education and instructional software. In a couple of years, when the Church has gone through the entire four-year cycle of classes and has time to work out system bug issues, I can see it being rolled out broadly for all students who have been doing home-study Seminary. It is not designed as a replacement for traditional Seminary, but it is a wonderful program and effort.

I agree totally with the recent statement in General Conference about the danger of losing tangible, physical contact in the temptation to interact more and more online, but I also believe strongly in the power of online interaction - obviously, given my rather prolific participation in the Bloggernacle. There is great potential for something like that to be a positive force, but there also is great potential for negative influences in a setting like that. Can you imagine a testimony meeting (or any meeting, really) in a setting where concerted hacking is a possibility?

There are issues that would have to be reconciled (like how to handle things like the sacrament), but if the sacrament is not being taken anyway (since the people aren't attending anyway) . . . [Note: My friend suggested mailing congregants a packet of pre-blessed bread and water that could be used at the appropriate time.  There are plenty of factors about that suggestions that concern me, but I don't rule it out automatically.]

Overall, I really like and would support the idea if it could be limited to those who are in locations and situations where they simply can't attend. I wouldn't want it to be a substitute for physical attendance with people who are capable of attending the traditional services. To me, a HUGE part of charity and true Zionist community is learning to interact with, serve and actually love those with whom I disagree, even passionately about some things - and I'm not sure a virtual ward would be able to provide that in quite the same way as a traditional ward can.

Rather than seeing it as virtual ward (with all of the callings associated with the traditional organization), I can see the basic format of the Sunday Meetings being broadcast live - with talks, prayers, classes, etc. provided by a core group of members. Again, however, it probably would need to be "restricted" to members identified by their Branch Presidents, Mission Presidents and Bishops as not being able to attend the traditional services - through a user name and password like is in place to access's stake and ward directories section.

That was my initial reaction. I certainly am open to other views and suggestions.


DM said...

BYUtv does have a live weekly ward sacrament meeting - music, prayers, talks, sacrament administered to those attending in person.

For me the inspirational part of that was helpful when I had my knee surgery and could not attend meetings in person.

However, the priests brought the sacrament to our home. I think one does not truly appreciate that ordinance until unable to experience it on a weekly basis. I can't imagine the same impact of that ordinance in a mailed packet of bread and water that I "pass" to myself.

The symbolism of the Aaronic Priesthood preparing, blessing and passing the sacrament - among other things, the designated authority to do what they do and only what they do, the service represented - is meaningful and would be lost if I opened a packet of a morsel of bread and vial of water via the postman rather than priesthood authority.

(I think those who take the tray and then take the sacrament are missing the impact of the symbolism. Of course, if there is a huge gap on the bench between people, it is sometimes necessary to take the tray first, but that should be an exception, not the norm.)

I can also see a "meeting" online getting out of hand if comments from those "attending" were included as in a classroom situation.

ji said...

I think the ministering of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is always supposed to be person to person, neighbor to neighbor. And wherever two or more people gather in the Lord's name, He joins them there.

The Lord's servants go and visit. That's good.

Matthew said...

I find it interesting that the church maintains such strict institutional control over the sacrament, only allowing it on Sundays at designated places, under direct ecclesiastical supervision. Not sure if it has always been so, and I am not convinced that it needs to be so.

ji said...


Yes, the Church's leaders want to keep sacrament meetings under "strict institutional control" -- if they ever lose it, they'll never get it back -- but maybe it isn't so strict after all -- at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, the LDS chaplain appointed by the brethren in Salt Lake City conducts a sacrament meeting every night of the week at 7:00pm in the summertime -- and I've been to sacrament meetings in other places on days other than Sunday -- the key is priesthood, priesthood serving Saints, and priesthood under authority.