Progressive Christian Channel
A Church Online: An Interview with Bruce Reyes-Chow
A blog post titled "We're Starting a New Presbyterian Church" hardly makes you stop and stare these days. But when the post is by recent moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Bruce Reyes-Chow, and the proposed new church is an online one, maybe we should pay attention.
As the founding pastor of an emergent Presbyterian church in San Francisco and the first moderator to engage social media successfully in his outreach (especially with his Twitter and Facebook accounts), Reyes-Chow may be an ideal candidate to plant, and grow, a new church online.
We spoke with Bruce recently about his decision to plant a church online, and the central question that's been fueling his days: "Can church be church when it's lived and manifested online?"
The last time I interviewed you nearly two years ago, you were finishing up your term as the Moderator of the PC(USA). What's led you to plant a new church online?
I wish there was a linear progression to all of this! I don't think anyone is surprised I'm doing this. First of all, it's become clear to me, that if this online community thing is to be taken seriously, we should be able to live out our faith with a significant component of that being online. If it isn't, then we've discovered the limitations of online community. I really feel like we need to push the bounds a little bit to think about what church can be, and for me, all of the things that have happened in my life have converged to this place of well, of course it makes sense for me to do this with a significant online component.
The second part is, I miss church. I did leave a congregation, and it was time. But I'm feeling the need to find out where my pastoral voice is going to be. I'm doing lots of speaking and writing, but I've also been fulfilling this pastoral need for a lot of people in an unofficial way through my online presence, so I figured, let's try to gather some people together and do this.
What's been the process of beginning this community, and what's your vision for this new church?
I called together some friends, an initial leadership team of other Presbyterian pastors and teaching elders, and we've been doing some thinking for about two months or so. The initial plan was not to announce anything until after the summer, but as much as we hoped for things to stay under wraps, that just wasn't going to happen. So we wanted to get out in front of it and try to define it a little bit more before people defined it for us.
I really think we can create a church that happens to be online. We're not using the word "virtual" or "cyber." We're even flipping it and calling it "a church online" instead of an online church at this point. We don't want people to assume that the only thing about us is that we're online, when really the thing about us is that we're just a church. And at the end of the day, if we're not able to just be a church, then it's a gimmick. And that's not what church is to be about.
Deborah Arca joined the Patheos team after more than ten years managing programs for the Program in Christian Spirituality at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Deborah has also been a youth minister, a director of Christian Education and music/theatre programs for young people and has served as a music director for worship and special retreats.