25 September 2007

Trading real bishops for virtual bishops

Giles Fraser, writing for the Church Times, says this:
Call me old-fashioned, but I think the diocese is necessarily a geographical unit. It is geographical because communities are necessarily geographical. It may be the web that is responsible for the idea of non-geographical communities. On the web, I can be a member of a discussion group for dachshund-lovers, Star Wars fanatics, or like-minded Christians. But these are virtual communities, not real ones. Real community cannot be had at a computer screen, behind a fancy security system and high fences. Community is not a safe cyber gathering of the like-minded. That is why these new bishops are effectively virtual bishops, perfectly appropriate for the unreality of cyberspace. They are just not real bishops.
Setting aside some of Fraser's disdain for Cleveland (a fine American city) that permeates the rest of his piece, he makes some good points.

The church is not meant to be a place for like-minded, similar people. It is meant to be an icon of the Kingdom of God, a place where the invitation of Jesus Christ is extended to all. When we form virtual church communities (whether they're online, or extra-provincial prelatures) we are missing an essential charism of the church.

There is something remarkable about a parish or a diocese. You run into people who astound you -- sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a troubling way. You run into people who inspire you. You run into people who challenge you. But you're always running into surprising people, ready to manifest the mystical union of of all Christians in a fresh way.

As +Rowan said last week to the ECUSA bishops, we are not complete without others. All these parishes (and dioceses, apparently) keen to sever local ties are missing out. They're missing out on the fullness of the surprising grace of God.

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