Last Saturday was All Souls' Day. After a bare mention on Twitter, 1500 names and tributes were sent to St Paul's and put into a Book of Remembrance which was presented at the altar during the liturgy. As we all know Twitter shares soared when they were floated on the Stock Market during the week and clearly investors believe that we are only just at the beginning of the evolution of the Twitter-sphere.
It is obvious to the most technically maladroit Christian that the church porch is now located on the web. Yet too often we have found it hard to re-locate resources and re-design the training of those in ministry to recognise the fact. Much of the time ministers are still being trained in methods which would have been familiar to the church in Jacobean England. Your important conference is doing something to redress the deficit.
It is of course true that lives are most profoundly transformed spiritually not so much by more information as by relationships. Face to face local assemblies for Christian worship have an enduring value. During the past week I had the privilege of being shown the potential of a site which was new to me though not I suspect to many of you – YesHeIs.com. The ambition of the animateur of this site, Bob Edmiston, is to reach a billion people for Jesus Christ. It was over 42 million at the last count.
As you probably know the site consists of a large number of shorts which you are encouraged to re-tweet. The rap version of the fundamentals of ecclesiology, chanted against a background of graffiti, was especially effective. But the point is that once people are intrigued and desire to go deeper in exploring Christian faith then it is necessary to have a network of living Christian communities to which they can be referred. There should be more of partnership between the local church and the world-wide web.
Much is already happening but some of the traditional Christian bodies are showing too little energy and imagination in adapting to the new world. Cyber space is the new town square and we need dedicated cyber friars to ensure that the Christian voice is not only represented by the deeply weird and furiously judgemental but that we are able to engage aptly in the fundamentally theological debates which are happening well outside any of our churches.
As a Christian believer I have always been humbled by the relative success of economists and scientists in developing a genuinely global conversation. By contrast those who represent the wisdom traditions in the world have been very slow to develop the institutions and interactions to permit profound mutual learning and encounter. Could it be that the web is a major agent in generating what the Jesuit scholar Teilhard de Chardin called the noosphere – the sphere of human thought which girdles the earth? He believed that we were moving towards ever greater unification and integration when as we believe all things will be summed up in Jesus Christ.
For the moment of course the possibilities opened up by the web are very novel. We are experimenting; playing with the toy box and things are moving so fast that even what we say together today is likely to look quaint in only a few years time. We have access to a vast range of knowledge and information to the point where one of my friends has requested that the inscription on her tombstone should read "she died of a surfeit of information". As T.S.Eliot remarked in his chorus from the Rock "where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge; where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"
It seems to me that generations following us will have to develop not only critical minds to sift the results of surfing but also a capacity to listen more profoundly in a hectic and distracted world. Electronic devices are already so pervasive that manners are changing and communal meals are often disrupted by constant reference to incoming messages.
In the beginning was communication; God chose to communicate with us through his Son Jesus. He is God's plan for the spiritual evolution of the human race. God so loved the world that he was generous and communicated himself to us. If we are to hear the annunciations when they come then we must develop a depth of listening in step with our own greatly enhanced capacity to communicate. But mindful of the organiser's plea that we keep to time, I end there with the words of St Ignatius of Antioch in mind – "a bishop never more resembles Jesus Christ than when he has his mouth shut".