By Nathan Taylor, a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary.
It is incredibly rare that I read a book that I agree with so much but do not enjoy reading. The Digital Cathedral was one of those books. For me the long introduction before any concepts are presented is like reading J.R.R. Tolkien describing a long walk while you are reading an instruction manual. The instruction manual is incredibly useful and the stories are good too, but the book’s problem is a separation between principles proposed and stories told. Nevertheless the book presents some incredible suggestions and is essentially a roadmap for redefining ministry in a heavily networked world.
The book answers the question: “if people aren’t coming to church then how does the church come to the people?”
It does this by using an extended metaphor of a Cathedral as the model for modern ministry.
Cathedrals were integral to the networking of their towns, thus our ministry should be in the community.
A cathedral’s story includes the community’s story thus ours should too.
We need to see our ministry as threefold, networked – seeking to use the tools available to us 24/7, relational – where we value the other not as a commodity but because of their intrinsic value, and creative – creating new ways of being together digitally and face-to-face.
When the world gets too busy to spend time on a mountain top retreat we are confronted with God’s presence in the mundane and ordinary. We need to call out and name the holy in our everyday lives.
We need to create an extra-theistic space were people can communally be present without pressure to convert.
We need to inhabit the third space between home and work that others inhabit as well.
Our job in ministry is to come along others and join them where they are.
And because one of the largest third spaces is online social media we should be educating faith and evangelizing through methods that cathedrals have used. We can educate about faith through visual means and quick lessons like the stained glass did for its community.
Finally we should follow a rule to keep us diligent and accountable.
At one point in the book the author is dealing with criticism of social media such as its supposed isolation but we see pictures from before phones of people staring at their papers rather and interacting. However it does not deal with the more serious criticisms of social media through research that show social media makes us less happy people. It is thought that this is because social media is a curated view of people’s lives and we see the best of our friends’ lives and want it.
So while I didn’t particularly enjoy reading this book it’s suggestions are so incredibly amazing that it will inform the future of my ministry greatly.
The most insightful concept in the book is proposing that social media presents an opportunity to embrace cathedral-like systems of faith education. Stained glass was once the main education for people in the church and now we have an opportunity to create highly visual pieces of art and content to be shared through social media. I love art and I love sharing it. I want to find a way to create something beautiful that will educate through social media, a combination of photography or drawings with words. But my biggest dream is to create a third space centered around a table. A restaurant with one table where people are seated intentionally with others, and the environment is intentionally designed to create sacred conversations and spark theological intrigue. This is easy to do, just have large blackboards with the beer and wine list surrounding a large piece of word art that begs some theological question. Again even this third space is reliant on a highly visual system of educating about the faith and creating intrigue about it.