When is church not church? - When its un-gathered? That was the question I had buzzing in my mind this morning as I was driven home from Wokingham after speaking at the morning service at All Saints. (Don't worry, I haven't got myself a chauffeur, yet - a colleague was preaching in a nearby church so we were saving the planet by sharing a car!) All Saints was very gathered (ecclesial) - good Anglican worship, well led, with a responsive and obviously committed congregation. It was a conversation over coffee afterwards that raised the question.
Having preached on mission (what else?) I found myself in coversation with a church member who is part of i-Church, the Oxford diocese attempt at internet faith community. Never having attended (is that the right word?) a virtual church myself, I was interested to hear about the missional challenges of 'being out there' in virtual space for God. Obviously the internet is a great place to connect, and it is increasingly being used for evangelism, but the struggle seems to be to understand how physical (present to each other) the 'gathering' of God's people needs to be in order for it to function as the Body of Christ. Virtual gathering? Virtual Body? Is i-Mission a route to i-Church or must it lead to something more gathered, more tangible, more touchable? I left the discussion in no doubt about the importance of Christians inhabiting virtual space, and claiming that space as God's, but the question remains - church, ecclesia, gathered, virtually gathered?