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The Digital Cathedral: Imagining Networked Ministry in a Wireless World

When the great cathedrals of Europe were built, they were built to encompass entire communities. Within the cathedral grounds could be found breweries and bakeries, granaries and gardens, monasteries and markets. Beyond the church walls, the cathedral was understood to encompass the town and countryside, so that ordinary people understood themselves to live 'in cathedral;' that is, "in relationship to one another within an expansive, everyday understanding of 'church'," writes Keith Anderson, pastor at Upper Dublin Lutheran Church outside Philadelphia, and co-author of "Click2Save: The Digital Ministry Bible," and "The Digital Cathedral: Networked Ministry in a Wireless World." Unlike then, Anderson continues, today when we use the term "church," we mean it "in the narrowest sense to refer only to 'the building' itself rather than the people who move through it in the course of their worship and everyday life." Nor do we think of it in the same way as encompassing the neighborhood and city within which the church resides and those people move. What we need, Anderson observes, is to reclaim the wider meaning of church and cathedral, one that includes all of our daily activities not only in our local communities, but in our online communities as well.

Today, "the places that are 'in cathedral' are both local and digital." In a series of posts on the blog of the New Media Project, a research-oriented project that helps the church theologically interpret the massive changes in communications and technology taking place today, and helping to create a constructive framework to help pastors and religious leaders understand how to employ new media in ways that strengthen faith communities, Anderson explores aspects of his upcoming book's thesis that embracing the concept of a "digital cathedral" can be "the recovery of the premodern sense of cathedral, which encompassed the depth and breadth of daily life within the physical and imaginative landscape of the church." Because there is no longer an institutional pull toward the local, brick-and-mortar church, "today's ministry leaders must be networked leaders" who are "present in … local and digital gathering spaces, cultivating relationships, and creating opportunities for people to connect." Across the series, Anderson addresses networking, relationship, incarnation, community, the power of real and virtual imagery, and the trend among Millennials to organize common life in terms of networks rather than traditionally conceived institutions. Also see our feature articles, "Do You Tweet? Here's Why Your Church Needs to be Online" and "Social Media Goes Spiritual."

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