The unexpected post-Corona Virus pivot to online everything gave rise to a whole host of issues that few had explored outside of the evangelical community. Within the first few days and weeks a host of articles appeared either embracing or rejecting the move to virtual worship. While a few of these were helpful and many reflected the anxieties and excitement of those early days of the “great online pivot of 2020”–rare indeed were articles rooted in years of research and the rigor of an academic liturgist who had given patient and methodical thought to subjects like “Spiritual Communion,” “Virtual Presence,” and “Church Membership.”
As pastor wrestling with issues like whether and how to celebrate Communion with my dispersed and socially-distant congregation I embraced the most recommended book I could find on these subjects–Dr. Teresa Berger’s @ Worship. Published in 2017 this book could not anticipate how urgently the church world engage the issues it explores, and the lack of urgency is part of the appeal of this book. Dr. Berger, the XXXXXX Professor of Liturgics at the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale University, carefully picks apart both the opportunities and unique theological problems created by these new technologies. She sees the “digital turn” as yet another step in a continuously unfolding relationship between people and God mediated through shifting technologies. Understood within this larger historical frame, the pivot to online worship ought to be both as promising and problematic as the invention of the printing press or the engineering achievements necessary to create medieval cathedrals. In every case emergent technologies threaten the status quo but also give rise new expressions of the human response to God’s grace.
This is not a book for those looking for easy answers to complex questions, but rather is a helpful overview and analysis of the key theological and liturgical questions raised by online worship. It sharpens and refines the questions being asked of us, and also provides a deeper historical context. One of the things that particularly delighted me was hearing about online worship practices that I had never encountered. These helped broaden my perspective about not only “what is possible” but provide a wonderful catalog for testing out new positions on a vast array of issues which are often only being discussed with comparisons to a very narrow set of post-COVID experiences. As Dr. Berger reminds us, this moment is just one paragraph is a much longer story of Christian worship.
This book is not cheap, even the Kindle edition costs $62.95 as of this writing. However, if you have access to a Library that can lend you a copy or a generous professional development budget I promise a compelling read for worship leaders seriously contemplating the theological questions raised by the “great online pivot of 2020.”