Washington Post on technology in church

This morning’s Washington Post has a front page story on the role of technology in churches, though the article is long on its role in worship and almost silent on its role in education, administration or mission. Still, it brings up the contradiction that the use of wireless connectivity, broadcast and projectors — as described by proponents and detractors — focuses or distracts worshipers.

I think some of these protests are more than a century too late. Revival-based American Evangelical Christianity and its descendants have liturgically and architecturally focused so much on the person of the minister (and choir) that the criticisms of today’s tech adopters seems like sour grapes. Didn’t get your overhead projector in twenty years ago? I think. It’ll cost you to catch up.

If a bandstand-like church then, why not a concert or television studio today?  That said, I don’t go to that kind of church. But the liberals have sometimes done the same thing: read lyceum for bandstand. (Unitarian and Universalist changes, since World War Two, have muted this experience. But don’t get me started with that Unitarian standby, “fiddle and lecture.”)

Oh, and I’ve never understood the liturgical fixation so many Unitarian Universalist ministers have on the act of the offering. I doubt it is a foundational liturgical practice, knowing how churches were funded in the past. Certainly not a stellar idea with our crippling history around money and class, and the inconvenience and liability of handling the cash and checks.  I’ll take direct deposit any day. More about that later.

As usual, feel free to comment.

Worship Goes Big-Screen and Hi-Fi, With Direct-Deposit Tithing” (Washington Post) by Virgil Dickson and Catherine Rampell

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. The reliance of technology, especially in worship, can be a crippling factor. It raises the cost of conducting worship when it becomes viewed as an absolute neccessity. To worship, you then need sound boards, projection screens and associated visual equipment, and electricity. The implications are, “No technology? Then God can’t be there.” But are these things foundational to the experience of God as a gathered community? I shudder at the thought of a God (or Goddess) that requires high technology to mediate the Divine pressence.

    I have come to appreciate groups that do not need these things to experience worship and communion with God. To me, they seem to have stayed with the foundation, instead of getting caught up in the tools. Quaker meetings have no need for technology in worship. They just gather in silence, and wait for the Spirit to move. I also have a powerful memmory of a childhood, Lutheran eucharist, conducted outdoors with a boulder for an altar. We had the pastor, the elements, our Books of Worship, and we sang everything without accompaniment.

    To my thinking, technology in worship should always be viewed as optional. And we should always ask, does this help the experience of worship?

    As somebody involved in religious education, I have, however wondered about the use of the technology in RE. At the foundational level we always have the ancient and time proven low-tech tool of teaching via story telling. But what technological tools could we OPTIONALLY use well with RE? The age of the 1950’s felt board is over, but I do not feel well equipped to use DVD materials, and other higher-tech tools for religious education. It isn’t sufficient to be able to turn the equpment on, pop in a DVD, and tell the children to passively absorb what is on the screen. How do you use such technology MOST effectively in teaching?

  2. Scott — You write: “I’ve never understood the liturgical fixation so many Unitarian Universalist ministers have on the act of the offering. I doubt it is a foundational liturgical practice….” Not sure just what you mean by “foundational liturgical practice,” but here’s an excerpt from The First Apology of Justin Martyr, in which Justin describes an early Christian liturgy:

    “…On the day which is called Sunday, all who live in the cities or in the countryside gather together in one place. And the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as there is time. Then, when the reader has finished, the president, in a discourse, admonishes and invites the people to practice these examples of virtues. Then we all stand up together and offer prayers. And, as we mentioned before, when we have finished the prayer, bread is presented, and wine with water; the president likewise offers up prayers and thanksgivings accordings to his ability, and the people assent by saying, Amen. The elements which have been ‘eucharistized’ are distributed and received by each one; and they are sent to the absent by the deacons. Those who are prosperous, if they wish, contribute what each one deems appropriate; and the collection is deposited with the president; and he takes care of the orphans and widows, and those who are needy because of sickness or other cause…. Sunday, indeed, is the day on which we all hold our common assembly….” [emphasis mine]

    This is from a photocopied sheet attached to my lecture notes from a history of liturgy class I took ten years ago, so I no longer have bibliographic information on translator, etc. — sorry.

    I also remember another, similar, passage in an early church document, and I believe the offering was brought up before the eucharist; in this other passage, my recollection is that the offering consisted of food (I remember bread, cheese, olives being mentioned) — the food was offered up for a communal meal following the worship service. I thought maybe it was in the Didache, but I can’t find my copy of the Didache — I can’t find the passage in my small collection of early church fathers at the moment — but now I’m curious, so I’ll keep looking and see if it turns up.

    Anyway, I’ve always thought of the offering as being a foundational practice in the Christian tradition, and worth holding onto no matter how post-Christian a UU church might be. But I will agree with you this far — I don’t know of many Unitarian Universalist ministers who are intentional about linking today’s offertory with early church practices.

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