You might not observe your religion on a Sunday. It might be Saturday night, or Friday, or special days of the year. Maybe you’re so involved you go several times a week. Your spiritual organization holds book clubs, prayer sessions, guided meditations, and other types of meetings. But what about people who can’t be there in person?
2020 brought the phrase “social distancing” to public consciousness when the COVID epidemic struck all over the world. People stayed indoors and tried not to gather in large groups to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus. This forced a lot of congregational businesses, such as schools, to adapt to online protocols, and houses of worship were no exception.
In the United States, many states imposed curfews and lockdowns to keep large gatherings from taking place. These fell during the most important Christian holy day of the year, Easter. Churches responded by holding their ceremonies on streaming services, where congregants could go to a website and watch the ceremony take place. People have actually been going to church online in this way for some time, and even becoming ordained online, but the epidemic opened up possibilities for worship and spiritual practice online.
Online spiritual practice isn’t limited to church and didn’t begin with social distancing. Online meditation found its niche in the form of apps for both PCs and devices such as phones and tablets. Both beginners and the advanced can use the Internet to begin or enhance their meditation practice using apps like Headspace or Calm or myriads of videos and audio recordings on YouTube or various websites. As spiritual organizations try to reach people with their message or to guide them on their spiritual journeys, more of them have turned to the Internet as a way to form online congregations.
What started out as an emergency measure could easily become a long term trend as more people are using the Internet in everyday life. As more of daily life goes online, more of spiritual life will follow, especially as people become interested in religions outside the region in which they reside. Congregations are also turning to apps like Zoom and Skype to make online prayer more personal and to fulfill prayer requests from individuals.
During the COVID crisis, online worship could be seen as a necessity to keep entire groups of worshippers from sharing more than just their religion. In its aftermath we could see more spiritual gatherings taking place in real time online. The realm of the Internet, like the realm of the spiritual, is full of powerful forces we cannot see but that are guiding our lives in important ways. It was only a matter of time before they joined forces.