Magazine article The Christian Century

Wired Religion

Magazine article The Christian Century

Wired Religion

Article excerpt

Trappist monks selling caramels on the Internet. A chapel flashing huge, peaceful scenes of waterfalls in the sanctuary to calm and welcome Christian worshipers. Solitary browsers finding a place to convert to Hinduism in cyberspace. "Every single religious group is having to reassess how to be who they are in the new electronic culture," declared Frances Forde Plude, communications professor at Cleveland's Notre Dame College of Ohio. "It's very big stuff. It's as if all the tectonic plates the churches stand on are shifting beneath them. And what they are experiencing now is an earthquake."

Plude was among more than 125 church representatives who met recently at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, to participate in a conference called "Sharing the Gospel in the Electronic Age." Jennifer Proudfoot, a United Methodist symposium organizer, said, "The gospel is still the same story--the story of hope and love--but we need to consider telling it in the new media so that folks might hear it."

Robert J. Eiber, president of Conference Masters in Bedford Heights Ohio, has expanded his business to install large, computer-operated projection and sound systems in churches. Some churches have spent tens of thousands of dollars to spiff up their electronic presentations. "When you are able to look up on the screen, it's an uplifting experience," remarked Eiber.

"It's a very different experience from everyone with their head buried in a hymnal.... These systems appeal to the thirtysomething crowd with a four-year-old son or daughter," Eiber said. "And these are churches willing to take risks. They are musically oriented, child-oriented and they like their energy levels high. Projection in the sanctuary appeals to these folk." Colleen Jones, Conference Masters' project manager, put it even more bluntly: "A pastor told us that to get young people in church, you don't show them video games, but you come close."

The trend strikes many as sacrilege. Eiber, a former elder at Old Stone Church, a downtown Cleveland Presbyterian landmark, said his pew mates never would tolerate watching adult baptisms, music lyrics or children's Easter pageants projected into their sacred space. …

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