This post is reprinted with permission from Episcopal Church Foundation Vital Practices www.ecfvp.org, March 9, 2017.
Nearly every morning, I enjoy morning prayer time with a group of friends. I think most of us are Episcopalians, but I don’t know for sure. We come from all over the United States, the Caribbean, and beyond. We read a meditation on the appointed scriptures for the day. We share our thoughts about it, enjoying the rich diversity of our experiences and vantage points. Sometimes we share memories or words to songs that speak meaning into the day’s subject.
“We gather each day in one place – even though we’re there at different times and physically located in our own homes, or on the train, or on the beach.”
We’ve done this so long now, we call each other family. Sometimes people share their worries, ask for prayer, or admit struggles and questions. In response, many prayers and words of encouragement are offered. New people easily come into the mix and are welcomed. Anyone can participate.
I’ve never seen these friends. For you see, this is a virtual family of faithful people, formed on the Forward Day by Day website, a prayer resource of Forward Movement. We meet at the electronic version of the Forward Day By Day meditation book (probably distributed at your church in paper form). Because of the magic of the Internet and technology beyond my understanding, people can leave comments underneath the daily meditation and they show up on Facebook. My bishop, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Douglas E. Sparks, Diocese of Northern Indiana, uses the term faith community rather than congregation, “to highlight not just the aspect of ‘congregating’ but gathering in community for a particular purpose.”
In that way, yes, the readers of Forward Day by Day online are truly a faith community. We gather each day in one place – even though we’re there at different times and physically located in our own homes, or on the train, or on the beach. We share the purpose of growing in faith, of seeking a closer relationship with Jesus and a better understanding of God’s Word. We are inspired by meditation authors and by each other. I cannot describe it better than the way one of us, Beth Haun Coetzee, did recently:
“Elowah, this morning I give thanks and praise for this FDBD community. We come here each morning to rest in your embrace, ask for manna, and to grow to Your glory. Each devotion is so much more than a webpage. Each response is so much more than a comment. The people here, for a few moments a day and all eternity, are in community. What a gift. Thank you again and again. May the musings of our minds find delight in Your ways…may we see the holy, name it, and give thanks.”
I don’t think any of us FDBD regulars would leave our “real” communities of faith – the physical church buildings where we worship, pray, learn and uphold others, in favor of our virtual gathering. But we are also hooked on this new way of community. It begs a question all can explore: How do we make our church faith communities safe, welcoming places for expression, questions, seeking, learning, caring and praying for each other?
Linda Buskirk is a capital campaign and strategic planning consultant for the Episcopal Church Foundation.