[This story was updated to reflect the i-church initiative of the Diocese of Oxford]
By ACNS staff
The Church of England's Lichfield Diocese has broken new ground by advertising for a lay or ordained diocesan pastor to connect and support young people online.
According to Bishop of Stafford Geoff Annas the Diocesan Online Pastor is "a brave new role" with a focus on enabling teenagers and young people to "build up and nurture each other in the Christian faith".
Speaking on the Church of England's weekly podcast Bishop Annas stressed that while it was "not a substitute for face-to-face contact" the role would help the church meet needs that young people had and that weren't currently being met.
"The emphasis is about how [young people] can better join in in their churches, but it's also about keeping them aware of what's going on in other churches," he said.
"A lot of young people nowadays don't see themselves even in denominational terms they see themselves as young Christians and the way they live out their faith is very different from traditional ways. It's all part of reimagining of what it means to be 'church' in the coming years.
"I think where we've got problems is that young people see church in a totally different way. We're not going to get them to sign up to endless meetings...the Church of England particularly is at an interesting moment. It's at a turning point."
Archdeacon of Stoke on Trent Matthew Parker told the Church of England's Jillian Moody that success in this role "will look like more of our young people feeling that they are involved, connected. Relating not just to one another, not just to the wider church, but ultimately relating to God in a way that feels appropriate to them and speaks to where they are."
The job description (which can be found here) states, "To reach new generations we recognise that we must learn to relate more effectively to the world and the experience of young people and young adults. Increasingly, this generation inhabits a virtual environment sustained by an array of social media applications and digital devices".
It cited recent research that found that adults in Britain spend more time in each day using devices than they do sleeping. Those aged 16-24, doing more than one task at a time, squeeze 14 hours and 7 minutes of media activity into each day, in just over 9 hours.
The job advert continues, "If Christian mission requires a commitment to going where people are and speaking the language they speak, then we cannot afford not to have a focussed and engaged online presence if we wish to reach new
generations with the gospel."
The Online Pastor’s work would enable younger people to:
- become Christians through hearing the gospel in the language of digital media;
- grow in their faith and discipleship if they are already Christians;
- connect with other Christians in the diocese both on and offline;
- worship regularly and participate in their local church as well as a wider fellowship and lived out faith online;
- receive invitations to local Christian worship, events and gatherings appropriate to their age group;
- engage online in fellowship and the lived-out faith of transforming communities and practising generosity;
- receive alerts, post and respond to prayer requests, access daily devotional material and discover links to appropriate and helpful online communities and resources;
- safely report any concerns they may have to the appropriate person (particularly in respect of safeguarding issues)
This is not the first time an Anglican has been appointed exclusively for an online ministry - the Revd Mark Brown was ordained to a digital ministry by the Anglican Church of Australia more than a decade ago and, among other things, set up an Anglican Cathedral in the online virtual world Second Life.
England's Diocese of Oxford has also been running i-church since 2004 as an experimental online community in the Benedictine tradition.
Nevertheless, this is thought to be the first time a Church of England diocese has appointed someone specifically to support young people living out their faith in the digital space.
For more information visit http://bit.ly/1Cj29ua and to hear the podcast interview on this topic visit https://soundcloud.com/the-church-of-england/podcast-22nd-january-2015