By Matthew Messenger, a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary.
I have a dear friend that when I started down this path into the ministry (however you want to define that) said to me “It’s about the community.” She was, and is, correct.
In The Digital Cathedral, Keith Anderson explores the cathedral as a both a means and a model of community engagement and presence. He explores the history of the cathedral as gathering point for the community. He uses a medieval waterworks map of a cathedral to show how the immediate area surrounding the cathedral was and is part of a larger inter-connected system. He argues that cathedrals by their nature have been (and are) big enough to hold all the various community comings and goings as well as serving as spiritual loci for both the faithful and for the seeker.
After laying that groundwork, he explores the cathedral as metaphor for doing ministry and how that means getting to know your neighbors and being in community with your neighbors. It’s the community that matters. He explores this in the context of a rising population of “Nones” and how relationship, authenticity, and community are far more important than an hour in a social club they don’t know that they want to subscribe to. That club could be your bowling league or your church.
One of the more interesting parts (to my always reforming heart) was Anderson’s discussion of the idea of the everyday sacred – of finding the divine in the mundane. I might draw a parallel to the idea that work is prayer, or more specifically, that some people will find that work is how they encounter the divine. Its not just encountering the divine in everyday tasks, but it is also about recognizing the sacred spaces in everyday life, be those at the local coffee shop, library, or pub.
Anderson goes on to argue that social media is about building and maintain relationships. I would agree. One of the most common conversations I have with parents and adults in my church about “youth and their phones” is about how in my experience, it’s about continuing the conversation, not about ignoring the one in front of them.
I remarked to my wife as I was reading this book, maybe it’s just best to do the work where I am, in my community – instead of hunting for a job that make take me hours away from the support system and community I am and that built up around me. I can see both sides of the argument for staying and going. But, to use Anderson’s definition, I live in the midst of my own cathedral. There are lines to be walked and communities that have, will, and are gathering. There are people to get to know, and there are relationships to be formed. There is always work to be done.
It may be my own bias, but in The Digital Cathedral, I read a call to be in relation with the people in our communities. Use the tools not as a way of distancing ourselves from them, but to expand and deepen the conversation. Understand that a cathedral, physical or digital, is a place for meeting people where they are, not with an agenda, but about being present with them and being in relationship with them.