For Anna, Luna and Emily, three European students of Leiden University, religions and religious practices are one of the themes that they are most curious about as future anthropologists and sociologists. For this reason, they chose to search about this issue and its application through technology in the current context of the pandemic on a worldwide level.
“We started off researching different religions and groups meeting online out there until we found the Alive in Christ website. Christianity as a religion is closest to our own cultural backgrounds and so we were happy to see that this might be a good fit, and it was!”, said Anna.
For Luna, the most important aspect to go deeper into the study is “how the Christian religion connects people and especially how the online platform influences this feeling of connectedness”. Regarding the Shalom online groups, young people from different parts of the world, with their different cultures and time zones gather weekly to pray and share their Christian faith.
“A SURPRISING EXPERIENCE” IN THE WEB
These young adults had the opportunity to join one of the “Alive in Christ” meetings and were surprised by the welcoming joy of its members, the bonds of friendship between them and their fraternal experience that goes beyond the weekly online meeting itself.
“This experience was a completely new experience for me personally. I have been to church, but never online and not in a long time, so it was very interesting to be a part of this experience most of you have weekly. I was very thankful for the open invitation and kind welcomes we received! Initially, I was quite nervous, just because I was afraid of what us being there as ‘researchers’ could do to the dynamics of your practices, but after the introduction round, all that nervousness faded and I felt comfortable being there”, said Anna.
For Emily, it was impressive to see how the members of the prayer group reacted to each other in such a good way. “(They were) making fun of each other and catching up, there is definitely a close bond that has been formed and it is very nice to see that online people can still create a meaningful friendship”.
“I noticed people experiencing religious moments differently, for example with their eyes closed, their hands woven together, or with their camera turned off. They all had their own way of experiencing Jesus. In the sense of connectedness, I think it was especially the case that the informal talks around it, make what connects them. They have a separate religious experience, but they share this same religion. This part, what they share and also being able to talk about this, is what it looks like, what makes them feel connected”, Luna answers in one of the questions about what caught her attention most during the weekly “Alive” prayer group in which she joined.
WORLDWIDE YOUTH UNITED IN CHRIST
Shalom Alive in Christ prayer groups are characterized by being a multicultural and international community, as the members of the groups come from the five continents of the world and in this way are divided into groups in English, Spanish and Italian.
In the ‘Alive in Christ’ group, the students of Leiden University could testify to the fact that although its members come from different countries, cultures, languages and time zones, it does not decrease at all the possibility of making real bonds of fraternity and friendship among them.
“What I noticed really fast when we got added to the Whatsapp group chat, was how the people from the community also share a lot of things outside the Zoom meetings about their religion. I saw religious songs coming by, events from the Shalom community, bad news about people passing away and more. What I even found the most interesting is how I saw people asking if the other members could pray for particular people and situations in their life, and other members responded by giving them this”, Luna affirms.
In the Alive in Christ prayer groups, prayer goes beyond the weekly prayer and becomes part of the life of its members, as a community of intercession and support to its members through technology.
“There were still geographic boundaries I hadn’t considered in relation to religion, and seeing how important and successful a group like this can be to help people feel supported and connected was beautiful to discover”, Emily ends up.
María José Aguilar
Reviewed by Meera Gopaul