Lots of churches have overseas links. Individual churches, dioceses, even whole provinces of the Anglican Communion often have links to places far afield. They are sometimes successful, sometimes not. But they are often built on the curious last century notions that relationship depends upon physical contact and that travel is easier than communication.
Of course, the world has changed.
So what would international links between churches look like if we took as our starting point the modern world with all its potential and did not simply base our expectations on Victorian (colonial?) ideas of partnership?
Firstly, I don’t think it is about doing it all online and never travelling. It is probably both/and rather than either/or. (Isn’t it always in our lovely postmodern world?)
Secondly, I think we might expect relationships to be shorter in length rather than longer. What if we decided to twin our diocese to another for a short period – Lent, say. And what if we got the geeky ones to do it by arranging for skype video or google hangouts. How about a small group from one church meeting with a small group from another church on the other side of the world for a Lent study group rather than the dreary weariness that can characterise such groups if we keep doing them the same way with the people from round the corner every year? Or what if clergy from matched churches just got together once a week for an hour’s coffee and a chat – boiling the water thousands of miles apart but sitting down to chat through what their week was like, peer to peer, distance no object? Bible study, coaching, chat and gossip are all possible. They feed off one another anyway.
Thirdly, I’ve been learning recently not to underestimate time differences when doing real-time stuff in the interconnected world we now live in. However, I’ve also been learning not to be defeated by it.
Fourthly, would doing this kind of thing disenfranchise those who don’t do internet stuff? Oh yes, but then the need to travel to do linking work used to disenfranchise far more people who couldn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t travel or indeed, those who just couldn’t raise the money to go.
Finally, it is worth asking the question whether this kind of linking would be better organised formally in a structured way or simply to just let it happen in a kind of free for all environment? (And is it either/or or both/and, once again).