This Virtual Pilgrimage: How our temporal journey is leading us in a new reformation

Published: 5/10/2017

In the last of the 2017 series of The Ebor Lectures, journalist Ruth Gledhill will be looking at the magnificent and challenging terrain of the online revolution.

Examining it in the context of the great journey stretching behind us across the centuries, Ruth will discuss how we can discern certain similarities between then and now, there and here and how we find ourselves in nothing less than a new Reformation.

Everyone is a publisher now, and while there maybe mystery in the technology which wings our output to the far side of the globe, the words themselves are all too plain. They require no translation from the Latin, no mediation from the priesthood. Behold the Church, struggling manfully to articulate the word made flesh in a world made virtual.

How is all this impacting on the church? Should it be embracing or resisting such change? Working with Professor Stephen Bullivant, director of the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Theology at St Mary’s University in Twickenham, Ruth will attempt to read the latest data runes to understand where we are now, just how we got here, and perhaps even see where the path will lead us next.

As part of the lecture, Gledhill will look at aspects of authority, she has commissioned some research to see where people are turning for advice these days. The research revealed a range of insights into where people look for help with 6% of respondents saying they would use prayer, 4% social media such as Facebook or Twitter and just 2% would turn to a priest or another religious resource, such as the Bible or another Holy Book.

Gledhill, who is outgoing editor of Christian Today and starts a new job as multi-media editor of The Tablet at the end of the month, said: ‘I was terribly surprised by how few people use prayer, or a book such as the Bible or a religious source such as a priest as their first or second choice to turn to for advice. I was also surprised that such a large number turn first to friends and family, which comes out way ahead of search engines. And equally, I was also interested in how low down the list Facebook and Twitter and other social media come. Although the number who would turn first or second to prayer is very low, it is still higher than the number who would use Facebook!

‘I think these findings represent both a challenge and opportunity for the churches. The opportunity is in the clear pre-eminence of friends and family as sources of wisdom when making difficult decisions, even in today’s online world. The challenge is for the local vicar to become seen as one of those friends that we turn to.’

Ruth Gledhill is a contributing editor for Christian Today. She is passionate about faith and its power and potential in the world today. Her journalistic career began with indentures on The Birmingham Post and Mail. From there she went to the Daily Mail and then in 1987 to The Times, where she began specialising in religion from 1989. She contributes regularly to Sky and BBC television and to radio as a commentator on religious affairs. Gledhill volunteers as an intern at the West London Mission, helping them to raise their media profile, and also helps a number of local organisations where she lives in Richmond with their social media profiles. She is currently involved with Refugees Welcome in Richmond, trying to help find properties for Syrian refugees under the Government’s resettlement scheme. She has also been training to join the Street Pastors scheme in Richmond.

The Ebor Lectures aim to promote public conversation and relate faith to public concerns. This is the last in the 2017 Ebor Lecture series showcasing Journeys: Changing Places, Minds and Beliefs.

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