By Chris Stokel-Walker
When the Reverend Pete Phillips first arrived in Durham nine years ago, he was ejected from the city’s cathedral. He had been reading the Bible on his mobile phone in the pews. Phones were not allowed in the holy place, and the individual who accosted him would not believe that he was using his phone for worship and asked him to leave. “I was a bit miffed about that,” says Phillips, who is director of the Codec Research Centre for Digital Theology at Durham University in the UK. “But that was 2008.”
Next year Durham Cathedral will have been standing for 1,000 years. But its phone policy is now up to date. “They allow people to take photos, to use phones for devotional reasons – whatever they want to do,” says Phillips. “The attitude has changed because to restrict people from mobile phone use now is to ask them to cut their arm off.”
This more relaxed approach to phones is not the only tech-related update the Church has undergone in the past few years. The rise of apps and social media is changing the way many of the world’s two billion Christians worship – and even what it means to be religious.
The Reverend Liam Beadle became Yorkshire’s youngest vicar when he took up his role at St Mary’s Anglican Church in Honley, a village of 6,000 people five miles south of Huddersfield. He runs his parish’s Twitter account. A colleague runs the church community’s Facebook profile. The Bishop of Leeds, the Right Reverend Nick Baines – who is the head of Beadle’s diocese – was one of the first bishops to start a blog and is known in the church as the “blogging bishop”.