Stations of the Cross: a digital experience
Although I often write about helping people find God in the digital space, our digital platforms can also help people experience God in “real time” by enhancing their immediate, physical reality while simultaneously taking them to a deeper understanding of their faith.
During Holy Week at my church, like many churches, we offer a service which includes the Stations of the Cross. This features a slow and solemn procession, moving one by one to each of 14 framed prints hung around the perimeter of the sanctuary. At each station, we stop, listen to the readings and pray the prescribed prayers. While it is a sacred experience, it sometimes feels a bit sterile, utterly removed from the noise, chaos, crowds, confusion, and uncertainty of the real trek to Calvary. Furthermore, by focusing on the historical experience of Jesus, we perhaps miss out on the opportunity to connect the sufferings of Christ to our own individual and collective daily struggles, our own crosses to bear.
This Lent, a unique exhibition in Washington, D.C., offers a more visceral Stations of the Cross experience. Throughout the city, certain designated works of art tell the story of the Passion in a new way, for people of different faiths and backgrounds (shown, Station 10: Jesus is Stripped of His Garments, Timothy Schmalz, Homeless Jesus, 2013). Rather than a lap around the interior of a church, participants can download an app with an embedded Google map to direct them from one location to the next throughout the city. At each location, pilgrims can listen to podcast reflections by artists and clergy associated with the project, and reflect on questions included in the downloadable devotional guide. The intent is that, “…instead of easy answers, the Stations aim to provoke the passions: artistically, spiritually, and politically.”
For those who can’t get to D.C. to visit the exhibit, here are some suggestions in how to use digital media to expand on their own Stations of the Cross experience.
- During Lent, invite participants to read and reflect on each of the Stations of the Cross, and to select a contemporary image to evoke each station. Images might come from personal photographs, or might come from images in the news. In a recent workshop, one participant suggested a newspaper image of toppled headstones in a Jewish cemetery for “Jesus falls for a second time.” Gather the images and share them on social media, organized by station, each with a brief written reflection.
- Consider gathering a group of people to physically travel through your neighborhood or city, taking photographs to symbolize the various stations. You could create a corresponding podcast and share that with the images, offering others a chance to follow your path. If the locations you photograph are permanent, you could add them as pins on a Google map, which could be shared. For example, a dozen congregations in Jersey City, New Jersey have gathered together to do a Stations of the Cross walk to draw attention to gun violence in their community and to pray for the victims.
- Using the devotional guide associated with the Washington, D.C., Stations of the Cross, ask participants to consider and reflect on the questions posed. Those who are comfortable sharing their reflections could provide recorded responses in advance for a podcast as well as photographs or other physical artifacts to enhance their responses. These could be displayed as prayer stations in lieu or in addition to other traditional stations of the cross depictions.
- Remember when using hashtag-oriented social media platforms such as Twitter or Instagram to share stations, use one hashtag that connects the stations back to your church (#stppgh, for example, for St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh), so as to enter into greater relationship with participants, and use another more generalized hashtag (#stationsofthecross, for example), to increase awareness beyond your immeadiate social media connections.
However you choose to experience the Stations of the Cross this Lent, remember that being present in the digital space isn’t the ultimate goal. Our digital platforms are merely tools that help us further engage and invite others to more deeply grow in faith.
Our goal at Membership Vision is to help churches and other faith communities to tell their stories in the digital space. Each church, irrespective of size, has a living and active story to tell, and technology provides an opportunity to share that story in a way that is welcoming and engaging. Technology can also distract us and keep us from connecting with one another. It can be a burden to keep communications current, to engage in the many ways that members of your community connect with each other, both inside and outside of the church walls. We aim to remove technological hurdles and allow churches to communicate online in an effective and sustainable way. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (805) 626-0143 to talk about the ways we can help your church build a digital presence.