The journal Heiliger Dienst of the Austrian Liturgical Institute recently published a thematic issue titled liturgie@internet. I was particularly interested in the essay on the “internet church St. Boniface.” This online church is maintained by pastoral staff from the German dioceses of Hildesheim and Osnabrück as well as by several religious orders. St. Bonifatius offers a chatroom for conversations with chaplains, a board for intercessions, Compline once a month, and a number of additional activities. One of the intriguing insights from this online church, which has been in existence since 1998, is that “anonymity creates great openness” (p. 67). I find that quite convincing, actually. The Anglican Cathedral in Second Life, for example, offers a similar – albeit digitally more sophisticated – space.
I am curious whether there are any Catholic, English-speaking internet churches, like St. Boniface in Germany? Is there a diocese in the U.S. that supports an online church?
Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD (home of the Rebuilt Church movement) is growing in their internet ministry. They live-stream all of their weekend services and have video archives of the message (homily) for each weekend stretching back several years. During the live-stream of each Mass, they have a chat pane running on the side of your screen where you can chat with their online host ministers. The primary audience for their online ministry is the lost: unchurched and de-churched Catholics. For people who might be thinking about going to a church for the first time or first time in a long time, this offers an approachable way to check out what goes on inside that building before taking the sometimes difficult step of showing up some Sunday.
They don’t publicize numbers, but I get the impression that as many people view the services online as attend in person, perhaps more. Some are people like myself who are professional ministers studying what they do, but thousands of online viewers can’t all be liturgy directors.
Online streaming of liturgies, especially ones with a wide and enthusiastic following, present many questions. I remember hearing that Rev. Robert Schuller designed the Crystal Cathedral as a sound stage, built for broadcast media. It was essentially a television show filmed in front of a live studio audience. That works for a word-based service, but how does that translate to sacramental worship? Yet can we just dismiss broadcast and online ministry if it proves to be a fruitful means of evangelization?