Luke Walford introduces this new resource

Being aged twenty, I struggle to remember a time in which the internet was not the complex, ever expanding tool we have now. The huge computer screens, floppy disks, and mobile phones of the past (ones that could only be used for telephones), all feel like relics in our technologically advanced lives. As soon as socialising became an important aspect of my childhood and teenage years, we were able to use the technology at hand to communicate outside of school hours. As the rise in social media contributed to all my school friends and I sharing funny videos, as I got older the internet helped support my growing interest in Christianity. I shortly found myself moving around ‘Anglican Twitter’ and ‘Catholic Twitter’, unofficial micro communities of people sharing their experiences, stories, and prayers. 

Following the rise of the coronavirus pandemic, churches were closed, and clergy took to the internet to share their services of Holy Mass, Daily Prayer, as well as their many other groups. As the vast sanctuary of the church was replaced with the make-shift altar of the dining room, Twitter was flooded with high-quality content from Catholic Anglican churches and communities throughout the country. Priests, deacons, and lay leaders found themselves thrust into an environment that they had not used to share media in the way they are today. Not only did many ministers give it their all, they have done an incredible job! 

In mid-April, I decided to research the idea of creating an online resource for Anglo-Catholics so they could easily engage with church online. This was because I had identified a few minor issues in the way we engage with the world of online church. Generally, most social-media sites function through who you follow and if for some reason you are not following a certain church or community, you may miss the stuff they are doing. Additionally, if someone does not have social media at all, they would be unlikely to encounter the mass of online content that has been produced over the past few months. Therefore, I wanted to create a site that could be accessed through the sending of a link via text or email, meaning that as many people as possible could access church online. 

With all this in mind, I discovered that the tool ‘Google Sites’ allows for the creation of a free website. I quickly began developing the resource, creating the tabs and layout it has now. The Anglo Catholic Companion to Online Church (or Online Companion for short) now includes:

• The readings for each Sunday.

• Embedded services of Holy Mass each Sunday, where possible, from All Saints, Small Heath and St. Albans, Highgate.

• Links and information for Mass from a range of Anglo-Catholic churches throughout the country.

• Videos, links, and resources for Daily Prayer

• Finally, there is a tab dedicated to Our Lady with information from the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham.

With an extremely positive response at launch and regular engagement with the site throughout this period of pandemic, I hope the Online Companion has been helpful for people. Although as we move out of lockdown and churches are set to open again, albeit just for private prayer, the future of this online resource seems uncertain. 

My idea of creating a resource allowing people to easily engage with online church is not a completely unique one. An online community that springs to mind is Disability & Jesus, a community I enjoy engaging with. Throughout the period of lockdown there have been stories and testimonies from people who, because of disability or chronic illness, are unable to engage physically with organisations and facilities. Some memorable accounts are from people who for the first time in a long time have been able to visit museums, theatres, and music venues. Like the Church, cultural institutions have made some significant strides in developing their online content. There have even been accounts of people who have been able to engage with the Church more fully as we have moved online.

As we envisage a world post-coronavirus, there will still be many people who will be unable to leave their homes. It is vital they are not forgotten. Although the resource I have created has generally served its purpose, I hope I can still update the Online Companion with new content and weekly videos from churches. My ambition is that Anglo-Catholic Christians who are housebound can be more fully included within the life of the Church. In sacramental worship there is naturally a focus on the material and physical, but our development and discussions around the practice of Spiritual Communion is important for inclusion within our catholic communities. Furthermore, there are some people who, for years, have missed seeing the inside of churches, gathering in community, and receiving instruction through the readings at Mass and the homilies of ministers. By streaming worship and providing space for people to practice Spiritual Communion, our church communities can be more inclusive. That is not to say that every church has the resources for this to happen, but possibly dioceses and Anglo-Catholic societies could help facilitate these services? These innovations in online church could be vital in outreach and including the entirety of the Body of Christ within our sacramental, traditional communities.

You are more than welcome to visit the Anglo-Catholic Companion to Online Church and I hope you will find the resource useful. The site can be accessed through the link below:

Luke Walford is a student living in Birmingham.