I was in a traditional English market-town church this Sunday, and as I scanned their weekly pew-sheet, I noticed that they had live-streaming of the service on offer. In fact, the vicar drew attention to this right at the beginning, welcoming any who were listening. There didn’t seem to be any issue or difficulty, and it turned out they had been quietly doing this for some years.
Live-streaming of services is not exceptional, but there is something about live-streaming of funerals that has attracted attention. Across the country crematoria are beginning to invest in appropriate technology and the availability of such a service is being made explicit. For many families, separated by geography, the opportunity to be present at a funeral service through contemporary technology is really appreciated. During a Church of England led service, whether in a crematoria or church or woodland burial ground, live-streaming means that all those affected by the death of someone they know can share in a sense of thanksgiving as the unique life of an individual is remembered in a deeply personal way. They can also draw strength and comfort from the hope that is offered as the story of God’s love is told and prayers are offered.
But being present is not the same as being there: all of us know that there is something different about being physically present at an event, whether it be theatre or concert, football match or worship service. At a funeral, being present may mean touching a coffin in a gesture of farewell, lighting a candle as we remember other losses or simply finding comfort through the reality of tears and hugs, hands held and memories exchanged. Live-streaming can help people to be present – but there will always be a need for people to gather together at funerals, to say farewell to the person they knew, and to discover the reality of God’s presence as they find their way forward into the days ahead. Whether that ‘gathering’ is through technology or by travelling to be there, the local church across the world is available with people to listen and space to reflect.