Sunday, 25 February 2018

All Saints; the online parish church #cofelabs

Yesterday was the inaugural Church of England digital labs day #cofelabs.  I can't quite believe I made it all the way through to the end. God was definitely with me. More than that, God brought together a small but passionate team who caught my vision for an online church for people who can't get to church.

Did you know that, at current estimate, 29% of the UK population are affected by disability, chronic ill health, immune suppression treatment or are caring for someone they love and therefore can't get to church.  That's a huge number of people who we could bring church to online.

In a 5 hour "sprint" process we took the idea through development, testing and honing ready to pitch to the dragons den style judging panel.  We created a video for our pitch, allowing no one to be physically present, but all to be engaged - a representation of what online church can be.

Through the testing phase we had heard concerns about how the sacraments could be offered and about safeguarding, two important issues which we know we need to get to grips with but were a level of detail too far for the day. 

We also heard concerns that this would segregate the able bodied from those with disabilities; on this we are clear - this is not a get out of jail free card for physical churches!! All churches need to be accessible for people with disabilities; and this means more than just a ramp and a hearing loop.

We also heard "why do we need another online church" - and yes there are dozens of online churches, in many forms and which we have a huge amount to learn from, but this vision is for a fully accessible video and text based online church which uses British sign language and clear English and goes above and beyond to be for those who can't get to physical church, or prefer not to. 

Thanks to Kyle, our team member from life church, we developed a model, using their "church online" software.  This free to use platform facilitates real time, shared leading and participation in services online (rather than just watching services online).

We developed a model for a fresh expression of church online; a new parish for the CofE with a BMO (bishop's mission order) in place.  A new parish church where people would be in community online, where they would attend services and, when ready, share the Bible reading from their homes (live or recorded), and lead the prayers or deliver a sermon in the same. A model with church wardens, who would administrate the discussions and prayer teams who would support prayer threads etc. A model with cell groups and discipleship courses and prayer meetings; an online church which does everything great churches do but online. Pete and James did an amazing job creating an initial view of how it would work technically and look as a user, they blew my mind.

We knew at this point that our idea was too big for the #cofelab; that it needed major funding. Rev Graham estimated £2m over 3 years for development, streaming and staff team.  But we were asked to bring crazy, disruptive ideas to the #cofelabs so we kept developing the idea, with the view to get excitement in the room, traction for the idea and eventually backing and funding from the The Church of England renewal and return team.

By tweeting through the day we have had interest from Disability & Jesus and we look forward to that; and lots of buzz about what potential this has for the hidden population in your town and on your street.  There are also lots of concerned voices, but as a pioneer I'm used to that and I trust that if this is something God wants to see happen then it will

On a personal note I loved the day. It took every ounce of energy I had and I've barely slept due to the pain kick back.   It inspired me and filled me with hope for the future of the church and gave me a renewed passion for this idea I've been brewing - perhaps this is my next pioneering project after all and not just a crazy idea.  I look forward to talking more with the amazing development team, without whom this would still be an idea rather than a proposal.  If you've read this and would like to get involved then please let me know, this needs to be a team project and many hands make light work.

To end I want to show those of you who can see photos, the amazing team who took "All Saints; the online parish church" to the pitch; Kyle, James, Graham, Pete and me.

Sadly didn't have Clare with us at this point due to get becoming unwell, but she was emailing us her ideas and contents from home all afternoon, proving that online collaboration works.

And finally, here isithe logo Pete designed for us.