Report of YOUNG THEOLOGIANS CONCLAVE “Ecclesiology in the Cyber Age”

National Council of Churches in India organized a Young Theologians Conclave in partnership with the support from 2014-06-26aw0483bapThe Church of Finland and with help from promoters and partners from Church of Ireland and Church of England in Ecumenical Christian Centre, UTC, Bangalore from June 26-27, 2014.

The theme of the Programme was “Ecclesiology in Cyber Age”. The aim of the Programme succeeded by gathering Young Theologians who are techno savy and cyber oriented to come together to devise plans and ideas to respond to the changing definition of Church in the Cyber Age. The diverse Challenges that were faced by the young people were discussed, the threats posed by the Cyber age were brought to the fore and the action plans were devised to ensure that we respond so that the Church will become a relevant Church even with the growing challenges of the changing times. The various presentations have thrown light on the Cyber Age, Cyber space and the Cyber Church.

The Inaugural worship was led by the students from United Theological College, Bangalore. After this, Rev. Sweety Helen welcomed the gathering, and the inaugural session was led by Rev. Sunil Raj Phillip. The Programme was creatively inaugurated by all the participants after which Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad  lit a virtual lamp. The inauguration encompassed the use of symbols such as Cross and various technologies available with the participants.

 The Bible Study followed by the Inaugural was led by Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad, General Secretary of NCCI. In his Bible Study, he emphasized that humankind has gone through different ages of history. Though technology as a prominent character has not accompanied the diverse ages, he said that, “it has been present all through the Human history”. He highlighted the different ways in which the Church has molded itself with the changing context and has always tried to be relevant to its people. He clearly portrayed in detail the transition of a ‘personal God’ to a ‘Community God’ and then to a ‘monarchical Ecclesiology’ and later to a scripture based Ecclesiology. He concluded by saying that ‘Ecclesiology has continued to be influenced also beyond the biblical period and has shaped itself accordingly’.

The keynote address was delivered by the Most Rev. Dr. Michael Jeffrey Jackson, Arch Bishop of Dublin. He titled his presentation as TOWARDS AN ECCLESIOLOGY OF THE INTERNET AND ITS AGE – SQUARING A CIRCLE WITH A TRIANGE? In the presentation he made it clear that an ecclesiology of an internet age needs to take into account the fresh perspectives on God, and on ‘being one another’s neighbour’. These have become possible in a world of cyber communication. He emphasized three ingredients that are essential for an Ecclesia: Communion, Community and Communication. The primary communion in defining the church is the communion of God; and then the communion of saints; and then the communion of people. He said that the Cyber Age calls us to celebrate the creative skill in communication as never before envisaged. He also said that “Technology is inextricably linked with innovation and with connectivity”, and concluded by saying that  “The remembrance of what Jesus Christ has done for us must be dynamic and must change us and change all around us daily; This is ecclesia”.

The presentation on the ‘Overview of Cyber Theology’ was done by Rev. Dr. Peter Singh.  He emphasized that our theology is influenced by virtual reality more than in any other context. He said that the Cyber space poses many challenges because of the digital divide and hence poses new challenges to our ability to formulate a new theology and thus to fashion a new faith community, i.e. the Church. Cyber theology must be understood as the intelligence of faith in the cyber age which influences the way we think, learn and communicate and live. He highlighted the thesis that ‘Cyber theology bridges the digital gaps, and will be able to reconstruct their lives and will reconstruct biblical interpretation’. He emphasized the triune needs of Cyber ecclesiology and names it as Cyber Worship, Cyber Spirituality and Cyber mission. He concluded by saying that ‘Cyber space, rather than eclipsing the sacraments or destroying liturgies, provides space for a covenantal vision wherein it bridges people from North, East, West and South as a world community’.

Rev. Dr. Sham P. Thomas, while talking about the “Ministry in the technocratic World”, said that we have become electronic beings rather human beings. He focused on the oral communication and then on written communication and later the print media and reformation. He noted the significance of the changes that media  brought in both the church and society. He concluded by saying that the Church is called to communicate through its being and witness critically using various media available today. However he also issued a caution against technological idolatry.

Rev. Dr. Prasuna Gnana Nelavala, while talking about “Fellowship in Cyber Age”, underlined the disadvantages of the cyber age. She reviewed the issues through the case studies of young people whose overuse of mobile phones posed a threat to the life in Fellowship. She questioned the credibility of the Cyber Church and the Cyber mission that is promoted by a few, and raised concerns over whether the virtual Communion can become a true sharing of the meal.  While acknowledging the new dimension of virtuality that the technology has brought, and its corresponding new situations and opportunities, she highlighted the threats and dangers it poses to the fellowship of people. In conclusion, she depicted the different metaphors that are used that serve to emphasize fellowship, community, hospitality and freedom, and wondered if the Cyber Church can offer these virtues of the Physical Church.

 Rev. James Cecil victor discussed about “Power and Authority in Church “Cyber Exousia”” in his presentation. He started his presentation with the eye opener,  “Ecclesiology is not only the biblical understanding of the Church but it also includes forms of Church government, leadership offices etc.”. He said that internet which was devised to store and exchange data, has transcended the boundaries that were created to accommodate and facilitate an interactive media where experience of religion also is possible. He highlighted some points deriving insights from the cyber space. He said that the church can develop proper communications among bishops, clergy and laity so that there is free flow of ideas in diocese, parish and community.

Rev. Caesar David and Rev. Sunil Raj Philip, while talking about “Rural Implications in the Cyber Age”, gave attention to the digital divide especially in the rural places. The inaccessibility of internet and other technologies leave most of the people in the rural places cyber illiterates. They said that the process of bridging the divide has to go hand in hand with providing basic developmental services like education, employment and the initiatives for social inclusion. They pointed out that the mission of the Church cannot any longer be rooted in the Old Colonial Model and brought to fore four shifts (based on Sri Lankan Ecumenist S. Wesley Ariarajah’s concept) that are needed in the mission. Firstly, the Shift from an exclusive to inclusive understanding of God’s mission, Secondly, from conversation to healing, thirdly, from majority to minority and fourthly from mere doctrinal issues to deep spiritual concerns. They proposed that the church, with a view to supporting the socio-economic development of the people can use its existing network and infrastructure towards community development;  The Church can be a catalyst for development at various points of the process ranging from developing locally appropriate applications and creative services, supporting organizational efforts, improve access to information, training, research and educational resources and so on. They challenged the Church to extract maximum advantage of the Cyber age and asked “Can it be possible perhaps for the Church to challenge itself to partner with corporates and other agencies enough to benefit from the superior technology, resources and development plans in order that it can be strategically used to the advantage of people?”

Rev. Raj Bharat Patta while speaking on the biblical perspectives of cyber age titled his presentation as “From Oral Text to Print Texts to Cyber Texts: Textual Textures in the Terrain of Texting: Interrogating issues of Cyber-hermeneutics”. He spoke about the oscillation between the oral texts, printed texts and cyber texts and privileges the oral texts which is also part of the cyber texts and says that these still remain the subaltern texts and subscribes to understand the diversity of the texts of our times. He called for deconstruction of the print texts and challenged the Church to recover the oral texts and adapt to the newer forms of the texts such as the cyber texts and allow the dynamism of God’s revelation, which is beyond forms, rather than be understood in letters alone. He emphasized cyber hermeneutics as well. Finally he concluded by saying the blogs that are highly in use are the cyber pulpits which create a small community around itself and compared the cyber pulpit as a creative innovation in the cyber age. He invited us to celebrate the oral texts and move from printed texts and use the cyber hermeneutics which is relevant in the cyber age. He said that the online landscape of our Churches and communities needs a theological audit for the cyber ecclesiology to be sustained.

The second day began with a worship led by the students from St. Joseph’s college, Bangalore followed by a Bible Study led by Rev. Vinod Victor. Rev. Vinod Victor took the passage from 1 Samuel 1 and titled it as “Elkanah’s Split filial Affinity: Challenges to Cyber Ergonomics”. He began by saying that Elkanah’s split filial affinity offers us several challenging possibilities that could be used as methodological tools to delve deeper into the intricacies of the cyber world, cyber- ecclesiology and cyber theology. The Ergonomics of Cyber Space therefore must be redefined with newer ethical codes of design and expectation. Comfort must be understood as optimum good for all and at the centre of this designing should be the ones pushed to the peripheries. It is with these factors that a relevant ecclesiology must be sought, found and experienced.

Fr. Jerry Kurian while speaking about the “Relevant Theologies in the Cyber Age”, made it clear that he is an apologist of the cyber world and would not like to use the word ‘Virtual space’ or ‘Virtual world’ which mean that the internet world is an unreal world. He said the internet and the cyber space is a space which offers potential for freedom of expression, existence, voice, identity, and body and gave an overview of its theologies. He mentioned the peculiarities of the cyber space as a space of freedom, a space where relationships are affirmed, the expression of truth becomes clear, and knowledge is also back with the people with their interaction in the cyber space. He however did not undermine the disadvantages of Cyber world which result in cyber stalking, cyber bullying, internet addiction, pornography, anti- internet laws digital divide, cyber salvation etc. He concluded by focusing on the different ways the Church can engage itself using the cyber space.

Rev. Anilal Jose and Mr. Gnana D. Hans presented their views on “Digital Harmony in Cyber Communication: Zeitgeist of Ecclesial Communication”. They affirm in the beginning of the paper that The communication process in the Church has witnessed myriad of transformations through the changing times. They evaluated that the church did not adequately include the zeitgeist of the digital era due to its exclusive attitude. They also acknowledged that the advancement in computing and cyber technology with a multi-disciplinary approach has paved the way for effective convergence of communication media with the introduction of new ways to facilitate the active participation of the people. They believe that rather than analyzing and approaching the media skeptically, a critical-creative approach in including the cyber media in Christian communication would help to bridge the gap and to reach wide group of people.

In the Action Plan, Rev. Asir Ebenezer gave a brief overview of all the papers presented and split the participants into three groups to discuss about the way forward in making ‘Ecclesiology in the Cyber Age’ and making the dream of creating Cyber friendly Churches a reality. The Action plan was drawn for years 2015-2017 and the methods, goals and focus of each year was charted out.

The initial Programme on Ecclesiology in Cyber Age which was held at the Ecumenical Resource Centre from June 26-27, 2014 with the support of the Church of Finland, Church of Ireland and Church of England, focused on the diverse challenges related to it and focused on initiating discussions for the Churches of India to become Cyber friendly and utilize the opportunities the Cyber world offers to us while being aware of the threats and dangers it poses.

Reported by

Rev. Ch. Sweety Helen

Executive Secretary

Commission on Youth, NCCI

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