Saturday, December 12, 2009

Swapping the immediate for the mediated

It is not unnatural these days to do online counselling and priests need to be prepared to sometimes even go the extra mile as that would provide extreme relief to someone and also be a learning process for the priest himself. But is it really possible to talk to someone who is at a distance and make sense of what they are telling you? Can this be termed counselling in the strict sense of the word? How do I know who I am talking (chatting) with? What if someone is fooling me or checking me out?

Every technology will bring along with it sceptics who will question the need and efficiency of anything new and whether it is indeed needed. Can this really replace the good old face to face talk and camaraderie?

Chatting with people long distance is a challenge as it involves different time zones and understanding a language which may differ in the way it is expressed. Even a harmless smiley at the wrong moment could send the wrong signal. But this does not mean that counselling this way is impossible. Just the fact that two people are not doing face to face communication actually works in the opposite of what we think always. We cannot pause a direct talk but we can pause, think and answer during a chat online. Some people feel shy or scared to talk face to face while they open up more knowing they have the cushion of being at a distance.

Chatting with someone definitely qualifies as a counselling session which can be shallow or deep, depending on how much is shared. Usually we take up counselling sessions with people we know but there could be one off sessions with people we may not completely know but who nevertheless talk to us about something that is bothering them. It is not necessary to know who we are talking to as long as we know whether they are male or female and they are sharing the truth. We could be mislead and sometimes even fooled but anonymity in the church is something we should offer to members, especially women until they trust us enough to say what they want and share who they are .

The sceptics are a bit scared of losing ground here. Will the church building be replaced by an online, invisible church? What will happen to the present power arrangement? The biblical prophecy that mountains will become valleys and valleys will turn into mountains should ring clear in our minds. Change is inevitable. But one can only say how it takes place after it actually does so. So far people still cherish the pleasure of meeting each other in person and online activity helps or hastens this. But to ensure this immediacy, the help of computer technology is used and therefore we can call it a mediated technology, whereby we are in interaction with each other with the help of technology and this then leads us to commune in a common place later on. Truly very religious as well…what you see is not truth in entirety, what you don’t see is where truth lies in waiting…swapping the immediate for the mediated.


DeeAnna Merz Nagel said...

I think online pastoral counseling is a great option for churches who want to be able to reach out to their congregations and beyond. Be sure to use encryption for online communication.

Fr Jerry said...

Great site. Thanks for the advise and the link.