Technology In the Sanctuary: The Story of a Revolution

What happens to the social and cultural foundations of a traditional institution and its members when they are pushed to embrace new technologies of the internet? Or, phrased differently, when these new technologies force their way into the most sacred spaces?

If I were talking to educators working to foster new mindsets, practices, and perspectives of teaching and learning, the answer most often would be, “Not much,” or even, “Nothing.”

Education is one of America’s sacred spaces. Today, though, I’m talking about a different institution. It even has its own icon: a boulder in a patch of grass on the Plymouth, MA waterfront.

Plymouth Rock commemorates the landing of the pilgrims in America. As the story goes, these deeply religious Christians made the pilgrimage from England because they wanted to worship freely. This form of Protestantism, characterized by exacting behavioral standards, became the bedrock of the new colonies. Conservative Christianity remains a powerful force in today’s nation. It’s the institutions of Christianity, the churches, that I wonder about in my opening question(s).

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

**. **. **

About three years ago, I moved to the west coast. Part of settling in was finding a church, which took about a year.

Not long after, I found myself on the church’s communications committee, affectionately known as ComCom. ComCom was a new committee in the church. More accurately, it was a committee resurrected (no pun intended) and in the process of redefining itself.

Some months later, when the chair of the committee moved, I found myself drafted to take over her role as chair, as well as step into her seat on the church’s governing body. We went from what we thought was a simple task, creating a pictorial directory of church members, to being at the center of a technological and organizational maelstrom. To be honest, it was a maelstrom we played a part in making. But every time we asked a hard question that exposed a new issue that needed addressing, we also took the lead in finding solutions.

Now, two years later, we are months into the COVID-19 crisis. ComCom again finds itself as a key player in how the church is responding to the ever-changing circumstances. Our pastors and church leadership say we, as a church, would not be where we are today without ComCom’s work.

Where, precisely, is that? What happened to get us here? What are the implications?

More specifically, what insights might the story of one church’s communications journey offer to other social and cultural institutions, in particular, the world of education?

My gut tells me there are important parallels to explore. Maybe I’m wrong. But a pandemic stay-home order provides the perfect opportunity to start thinking– and writing– like an ethnographer.

So, hello, blog. I’m back.        




Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay

6 responses to “Technology In the Sanctuary: The Story of a Revolution”

  1. Cindy R says:

    Love this Karen 💖

  2. Heather says:

    Welcome Back!

  3. Welcome back, Karen. I think you’re on to something with the parallels between the communication needs of schools and churches. (Of course, with some private schools, these needs are exactly the same.)

    Regarding schools, I’ve never quite bought into the myth of the digital native that says young people are naturally inclined to be more tech-savvy and tech-preferenced than older generations. That might be true when it comes to instant-messaging and gaming, but after that, they are just as lost as anyone else. The remote learning challenges seem to be bearing that out.

    As with most education dilemmas, either/or thinking doesn’t get us very far. What I’ve seen in my own household is that using the technology to deliver or receive what would have happened in person requires more energy. More of energy that would have been used to facilitate interpersonal communication is now going to a machine or a platform which doesn’t give back warm fuzzies in the same way that classroom communities do.

    • Karen says:

      I have to think abut your last comment, Gary. Devoting energy to a communication should guarantee some kind of reward. If it’s not a warm fuzzy, then I wonder what it is? What keeps them/us going back? Is it like junk food, where the more you have the hungrier you are?

      In terms of the connection to religion, there’s a lot to be said about worshipping at the altar of “English”– more about that to come.

      Thanks so much for reading, thinking, responding.

  4. First I get a postcard and then I get a blog post … it’s a good week … happy to see this in my RSS feed (remember those?) I think this line of inquiry will be helpful and insightful in many ways ….

    • Karen says:

      Thanks, Kevin. I hope so. And if not for others, at least for me. And, yes, I’m just re-claiming my RSS feed…. It’s good to be moving back online.

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