Our guest blog post come from Kay Morgan-Gurr
A friend of mine, Bex Lewis, tells me that to most people today there is no difference between the realities of the online and offline worlds. Each is as real as the other.
It’s taken a pandemic for the church world to catch up with this, and yet today I still see ministers and congregants alike saying that online is second best and they look forward to getting back to ‘real’ church. Many have quoted bible verses to ‘prove’ that to be a real church we have to meet in person…. In a building… and do everything we have done before and in the same way.
My heart is screaming NO!
We cannot and should not go back.
There has been much written in the last few weeks on this, showing how online church is a very real church so I won’t add to it.
But I will ask however; why was online church always seen and put down as ‘lesser’ before this pandemic hit us?
Take a look into the reality of disability and you will see that online church is necessary and very real. There are millions of people around the world for whom this isolation is their permanent reality, and many have been saying ‘welcome to my world’.
Online church has been around for a long time before this and has largely been an invisible church of people who either can’t physically get into buildings, or for whom pain and fatigue makes attendance in person impossible. It’s been there for when families have been asked to leave their church because of having a child with additional needs who is considered a ‘safety’ risk. It’s there for the many people of any age who just can’t engage due to the sensory and people overload that church is for them. This online sanctuary has also been a place of safety for those with mental health struggles when church has been less than safe.
There are many more for whom online church has been their only lifeline when then their own churches have either rejected them, refused to do things like streaming church services because ‘It can’t be done’, or just seen them as being too needy.
When you look at this situation and the fact the church has had to adapt and learn very quickly how to work online, is it any wonder that those with disabilities are largest, unreached with the Gospel people group. The figure is 94% unreached, and it is that high because many disabled people need an online fellowship to connect with, because church – for many reasons, is not accessible to them.
Even with the online church now being more prevalent, we need to remember there are still some who cannot connect easily due to not having the technical means, or not being able to cope with the sensory overload it can sometimes bring.
We also need to remember that for some this virus has widened the chasm of difference and difficulty in society, especially for those who have complex and multiple disabilities. For many there is no support, no care, and no ability to shop due to being overlooked for shielding. They are completely alone and need The Church to reach out practically.
But, for online church there are now lovely stories of people feeling more connected to their churches than they have ever been before.
I’ve been hearing from parents that their autistic children are engaging with online church in a way they have never engaged with physical church before, which means parents are able to worship alongside their children too.
Disabled people are talking about being able to reconnect with church families they had missed for many years.
Adults with learning disabilities are able to find a few people doing online services that they can understand and engage with.
There are services with BSL interpretation, and some You Tube services that have closed captioning enabled to help those who are hard of hearing (not to mention helping us to understand a heavy accent!)
Disabled people are being asked to serve their church families, to read, pray, even teach when in the past they were overlooked. The internet can be a great leveler – disability in many instances becomes irrelevant in a way it should be without a lock down in place.
And a few church leaders have apologised in the public space of Twitter for not realising how they had excluded and damaged so many people with disabilities by refusing to do for them what their congregations are now demanding.
But amid the good news stories is a worry. When isolation is over, will they have to go back to having no fellowship, no teaching and total isolation? Will their gifts be once again ignored? Will families with children who have additional needs have to go back to being told they can’t come to church…even online, because ‘we don’t need that anymore’.
I hope not. I don’t want this massive and previously invisible church to return to that state of permanent isolation.
I don’t want the Church to hanker after what was, but instead to look up, then forward and become the place of belonging it should have been all along.
Kay is chair of the Children Matter coalition and co founder of the Additional Needs Alliance. She also serves on the Evangelical Alliance council and is the disability and additional needs advisor to the Spring Harvest. Kay was originally a Paediatric nurse specialising in additional needs and disability before training with Scripture Union as their very first intern. She is married to Steve, loves to knit and crochet and gets around on wheels (a powerchair called Pippin) rather than on foot.