retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Okay, I have to be honest. I like to think that I'm pretty open-minded about the enormous possibilities when it comes to the impact of technology. I'm with Jean-Luc Picard on this one: "Everything is impossible until it's not."

But I have to admit I never saw this one coming.

The Wall Street Journal over the weekend had a story about Central United Methodist Church in Concord, North Carolina, where Rev. Andy Langford, the senior pastor, has a uniquely modern approach when it comes to Holy Communion. People who can't make it to church on Sunday can go online to watch the services … and while doing so, can "grab some grape juice and any bread or crackers they have in the house, and consume them after the pastor, in the sanctuary, blesses the juice and bread as representing the blood and body of Christ."

It is not an approach universally accepted.

"On Friday, the denomination's leading body, the Council of Bishops, declared a moratorium on all online sacraments, including communion, and called for further study of which practices would be acceptable online," the Journal writes. "The moratorium was declared at the request of an influential group of United Methodist ministers and theologians, who said in a statement that communion is understood to be celebrated 'within a physically gathered community'."

Rev. Langford, a 61-year old expert on liturgy and church teachings, is described by the Journal as being anything but a rabble-rouser, but on this one, he is taking a very 21st century view: "The way we operate now, if you want to receive [communion], you have to come to my church sometime between the hours of 9 and 12 on Sunday morning. I don't think there's any other institution in our country that can survive on that kind of business model."

There's little question in my mind that Rev. Langford is right about how business models work in the 21st century, and that institutions failing to adapt to modern realities are unlikely to survive. And he seems like a man of faith, with no interest other than ministering to his flock.

When you think about it, this is an extraordinarily interesting discussion, no matter what one's religious persuasion happens to be. Some may equate Rev. Langford's approach with sacrilege, but these same people seem convinced on some level that "community" has to be physical to be meaningful, at least in the religious and sacramental sense.

And that's the real question, isn't it? And unlike many questions, this one may not have a definitive answer … because it is all a matter of faith. And perhaps even how religion is defined - and certainly practiced - in a digital society.

It is an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: