Through this past year, one thing has become increasingly clear: It’s not the locale that makes the community; it’s the people.
One of our stories today explores some of the unexpected fruits of that particular lesson. When churches shut their doors to comply with restrictions on in-person gatherings, many religious leaders discovered new ways to nurture and grow their communities online. In some cases, that meant former parishioners who had moved away could rejoin a loved community. In others, it meant a chance to bring new people into the fold, regardless of where they live.
Our story focuses on Christian churches, but other religious communities have discovered unexpected benefits in making space for virtual gatherings.
When the annual pilgrimage to Mecca was restricted last summer, virtual offerings suddenly made participation possible for Muslims who could not afford or otherwise manage to travel to Saudi Arabia. Similarly, in Jewish communities, virtual shiva enabled a broader range of friends and family to join in the traditional rituals of mourning.
Virtual communities aren’t entirely new. People have been convening online in chat rooms and digital forums since the 1990s. But for the bulk of society, a clear dividing line separated the digital world from what many consider real life. The pandemic changed all that.
A crisis that isolated us has also brought new ways to connect.