The e-Ward

I love the way this piece about telecommuting opens: “Work is no longer a place but an activity.” For most of the work I do, there is little reason for me to be in the office; only the occasional human interaction (i.e., a call to my boss’ office) necessitates my presence. I find that I can communicate as meaningfully, and effectively, over electronic media as I can in person.

I think we should consider electronic worship, at least as an alternative forum for those without access to meetinghouses. What are the bars to members meeting on-line, worshipping together on-line, and teaching each other on-line? Are we really going to suggest that the Spirit can’t work effectively over the Internet? Are we more concerned with human interactions? Because I can see how communication online would smooth our interpersonal relationships, not remove them. Let’s ignore for the moment problems of economic disparity within the Church; in North America, at least, those problems are minimal. Certainly we’re making strides towards minimizing the amount of time spent in needless meetings — the e-council is something I’ve blogged about before. But what’s to keep us from saying, “Church is no longer a place but an activity”?

On a side note, why are there no LDS televangelists?


  1. Kristine says:

    “If all the participants had microphones on their computers you actually could do an online choir/opening hymn. “


  2. “why don’t we just read the talks of the GAs right out of the Ensign?”

    Because they’re talks, not posts. It’s a totally different creature for style and content. As for the sacrament… a tough one, I admit.

    I guess this post is slightly in jest, a way of examining why we consider communal worship necessary and desirable. It’s clear that everybody can identify elements of church worship that would be difficult to replicate over the Internet, which I find interesting, considering the frequency of gripes about how their church experience adds little.

    Perhaps we undervalue our face-to-face interactions. Attending Church may be more important and central than we tell ourselves.

  3. Am I really that bad!? Wow….

  4. Aren’t the people who don’t have access to meeting houses the same people who don’t have access to the internet?

    I like the idea of the e-council much better–I agree that in the wired world, many of our leadership meetings could be moved on-line or done by conference call, but dial a confession probably wouldn’t work.

  5. Communal hymnsinging is done while we teleconference. You’d be surprised how flawless the transmission can be.

    I can’t sing bass, whether in the Matrix or in the real world. I’m a weak tenor at best.

  6. D., I’m not sure that I entirely agree with you. I think many of our online conversations are meaningful and more spiritual than stuff I hear face-to-face. It’s a different dynamic, that’s true, but not inherently inferior.

    Besides, most people have never seen the Prophet face-to-face — what exactly would they be missing?

  7. D., she was actually referring to the kind of music we play in our meetings. :)

    My memory is very hazy right now, but I remember President Hinkley teased her about the comment at some fireside.

  8. Last_lemming says:

    I don’t know about sacrament meeting, but I’m all for on-line seminary. CES could offer on-line classes at reasonable times of the day instead of 6AM.

  9. D. Fletcher says:

    I don’t understand how it would work at all.

    If it’s just a matter of typing out your “talk,” then why don’t we just read the talks of the GAs right out of the Ensign?

    The only way that the congregation really participates in the normal service is hymn-singing, amening, and private contemplation while listening to prayers, talks, sacrament blessing, etc.

    And taking the sacrament. How would you do that?

  10. I just posted at on a similar topic “Virtual wards and other possibilites”. I sent a trackback to this post which shows up when you click the trackback link, but the trackback count is still listed as (0), not sure why.

    The link was
    Time constraints meant I didn’t add much commentary of my own, but I linked to an interesting article about the possible uses of technology on church pratice, such as sacrament meetings and endowment ceremonies.

  11. I might add that having me in one of my raging apostate moods mocking it is also a risk, albeit a small one. I’m a fairly mild-mannered apostate. Others have not been so fortunate.

  12. I occasionally do my visiting teaching over email. I live in a crazy busy singles ward and some contact is better than none.

  13. Kristine says:

    I think you’re crazy! Mormonism, of all religions, is least amenable to being disembodied. Just think about what makes Sunday worship helpful; most of the time it’s not the brilliance of the sermon–it’s a hug, the feeling of singing a hymn together, the sacrament. You can’t do any of that online.

  14. I understand there are many people who think our meetings lack “soul.” Didn’t Gladys Knight say something along those lines shortly after her conversion?

  15. If all the participants had microphones on their computers you actually could do an online choir/opening hymn. Of course, the biggest problem is that I don’t see how you could do ordinances over the internet. I’m not sure that a sacrament prayer performed some thirty miles away would cover bread broken in my home.

  16. D. Fletcher says:

    If Gladys Knight did say that, she was probably referring to something else.

    But many of our meeting do lack the “spirit.” They’re admittedly boring.

    But if our meetings are boring, imagine our e-meetings.

    Which reminds me: a couple of years ago we had an Area conference in New York. The Area President spoke from the Plainview, NY Stake Center, and the meeting was televised from there. But I was asked to choose the hymns for the meeting, and the hymns *weren’t* televised, but were performed live in each building (about 10 different buildings involved).

    It was…a pretty weird experience. We all had to do the hymns at the same tempo (using separate accompaniment in each building).

    At least in one case, when we finished singing, the next speaker had already begun. I guess we were too slow.

    I should say, when the hymns began, the video monitor would go black. It wasn’t as if we were singing along to the broadcast — we were literally singing on our own.

  17. It seems the Church already recognizes some value to “electronic worship”. BYUTV broadcasts LDS worship services regularly. Of course, you can’t sit at home and have the TV services consecrate bread and water for the sacrament, but there is clearly some value or the Church wouldn’t be producing them.

    I mentioned Eugene England’s point about the benefits of the Church’s geographical organization. These benefits would be difficult to realize if Church were strictly an online experience.

    Plus, it would be way too easy to tweak attendance numbers to get a bigger ward budget…

  18. Karen, I envy you. It’s always been a thorn in my side that counting a visit is much easier than counting a home teaching!!

    Kevin, I think what you’d see is that people would gravitate a bit more towards pre-existing habits. The slackers would drop off the earth, and the gunners would dominate. We would need to build in some mechanism to encourage participation and discourage overbearance. I don’t think that’s impossible, given the way some online forums currently have such mechanisms. As for forced interaction with people you don’t like, I shudder to think it, but I think in a way you’re right – we grow and develop by experiencing foreign and often unpleasant things. Making it all online would perhaps make it too easy to just stay in comfort zones…

  19. Karen, those are all perfectly valid arguments to make against the e-ward, but frankly I can see how we could get around them with a minimum of effort. Most online communities today find ways to combat these same problems, and they do so with some reasonable success.

    Also, couldn’t you also claim similar things against an in-person ward? I don’t see how meeting face to face is necessarily going to guarantee better results. Perhaps it will suit our previously-established expectations in a better way.

    So far, the most interesting thing to me is the participation in ordinances. But again, that’s not a real problem to homes with priesthood holders. For homes without the priesthood, it’s a little trickier, so I’d have to figure a way around it — maybe something akin to site validation certificates?

  20. Kristine,

    I’ve heard Steve sing, and I can assure you that you’re not missing out on much. In fact, you may be getting a spiritual gain from the lack of physical proximity for singing. :)

    Besides, Redeemer of Israel doesn’t have a particularly memorable bass anyway.

  21. Kristine, I am sending you an e-hug right now. Check your inbox.

  22. No, they’re not necessarily the same — I was thinking specifically of travellers, I guess. But I see what you mean. What about situations where a meetinghouse is just inconveniently located, say several hours away?

  23. Kristine says:

    OK, but can you sing bass with me while I sing “Redeemer of Israel”? You’re never going to convince me that we can do without communal hymnsinging.

  24. D. Fletcher says:

    Perhaps more pertinent, why are actual schools needed?

    Many parents might already agree.

    And yet, I think the contact with others who are investing in the same worship or activity is not only necessary — it’s the most important thing we do. Learning social skills is part of worshipping or going to school.

    The talks are just advertising — enticing us to come to Church.

    (It doesn’t always work.)

  25. Reminds me of when we first got on the Internet about 8 years ago. We were enthralled with Talk City and hung out in the Christian chat rooms. They were filled with evangelical Christians of course and rarely a day wet by when there wasn’t a prayer given by someone. Maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t typing a prayer go against that whole close your eyes, fold your arms thing? Granted, you still bow your head.

  26. Steve,

    The problems:

    1. No accountability. You know how a few people wind up doing most of the work in the ward? Well, it’s the same dynamic online. A few people talk, and thousands lurk. At least in church the talkers can see the lurkers, make friends with them, encourage them to participate etc. Online interaction is far too self selecting.

    2. No sincerity. Steve, as much as I think you’re just peachy, for all I really know, you’re just a con-artist who’s trying to hook me up with a pyramid scheme. (Okay, so that can happen at church too, but there are more checks there–like eye contact and third party tongue clucking.)

    3. No service. Acts of interpersonal service are spurred by interpersonal relationships. Now, again, I realize that there can be e-exceptions (like the very kind help Steve has given me this week with some editing) but by and large that would be lost in an e-congregation.

    4. Misunderstanding. How many times have each of us had to either a) apologize or b) swallow our pride and get over a perceived slight. Some people communicate better by typing, but for the vast majority of people a smile, kind eyes, a sincere hand shake, or hug softens or focuses the message coming out of our mouths.

    5. The blasphemy problem. In a closed room, ordinances such as the sacrament are sacred, but in cyber-space, there is no guarantee of respect or privacy.

    Have I misstated or missed problems?

  27. The best Home Teacher I have ever had, bar none, is someone I know from the internet. Because I live in a Cool Place (New Orleans) and we used to moderate an LDS usenet group together, we have met in Real Life. But even before we met, he would sometimes post things that would genuinely bring me closer to God.

    For some, Craig was more reliable than their home teachers.

    I don’t think a cyber-ward would work the same way a live ward does, but the opportunity to share genuine, thoughtful spiritual experiences does exist on the web. In an open forum like this one, making those experiences possible means being careful about who you let in. That sounds really elitist, but any chance of sharing a real spiritual experience is hindered by the possibility of an evangelical whack job mocking it.

  28. D. Fletcher says:

    There is something missing from emails/posts. I used to think it was tone-of-voice, a wink, a natural humor. With this thread though, I now realize what’s missing from posts is the soul. No matter how eloquent a typewritten message, it cannot compare to face-to-face contact. This is why our meetings featuring the living prophet are so jammed with people. Certainly they could see and hear him better on a video monitor.

  29. Think about the very serious problem of insincere worship. IÂ’m talking about the doing it to be seen by other members of the ward phenomenon all to common growing up in suburban Salt Lake. I of course could never tell for sure, but it seemed that far to many people participated in various aspects of church service to improve their personal status – increasing their religious capital (did I just coin a term here?). Would online worship just get rid of these people, or would they re-emerge in a new and possibly even more annoying form. Remember when a professor in college included participation as a part of the grade? Some people never stopped talking because they were so intent on impressing the professor by sheer quantity of participation, which was often of a very low quality. Is it possible that the insincere would dominate the online space all in the name of the glory of men?

    How would we determine which unit (ward, stake) that you belonged to? Would we be able to choose them ourselves? (IÂ’ll attend the vegetarian Mormons against the war ward) I am of course kidding, but virtual space does tend to result in a kind of homogeneity amongst members. Though it gives me headaches at times, I do believe that one major benefit of church attendance is the forced interaction with those whom we may otherwise avoid.

    There would of course be the tremendous upside of doing home teaching by emailÂ…

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