A practical theology of online and hybrid worship.


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This dissertation presents a historical, theological, and ethnographic study of media technologies and their use in musical Christian worship and other mediated community rituals. In this dissertation, I argue that responsible engagement with online worship and digital religious rituals necessitates being aware of historical patterns of how churches have responded to technological innovation, reframing four important concepts, and reimagining community by attending to the specific affordances of online media. Historical patterns can be seen in the arrival and impact of the printing press, the radio, and the television; each new technology raised pressing questions, challenged existing structures, and changed how church music was made and shared. These patterns can lead to greater understanding of the Internet and its effect on church music. In a time when online information and connections are overabundant, and human attention to meaningful relationship and formation are scarce, practices of Christian discipleship must take these cultural and technological forces into account. The four concepts mentioned above include participation, embodiment, mediation, and virtuality. These categories are sticking points in popular conversations around online worship practices, and the discipline of church music must deepen and clarify its understanding of and use of these terms in order for scholarship to meet the needs of practitioners and local communities. Examining these topics through an interdisciplinary lens allows the discipline of church music to move toward a hybrid understanding of music ministry that includes both online and offline experiences, as the rest of human life in the twenty-first century does. To further this conversation, I offer digital ethnography of several online communities. These communities are not all associated with religious practices per se, but they offer instructive patterns of the community-forming possibilities available in the digital age. This dissertation offers new perspectives on crucial issues facing church music in the twenty-first century. Particularly since the sudden shift to online worship in early 2020 necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, these questions are essential and of existential concern for the future of the church.