Today, we gather in person for the European Christian Internet Conference (ECIC). After navigating the challenges of the pandemic, it’s refreshing to reconnect face-to-face.
My name is Peter Reimann. On behalf of the local organizers and the board, I warmly welcome each of you to Cologne.
21 years ago, we met in Cologne for our first ECIC Conference. Reflecting on our gathering in Cologne in 2002, Church Superintendent Karl Schick articulated our focus more than two decades ago:
“The theme of the 7th European Christian Internet Conference was ‘In the Middle of the Media Society.’ I extend a hearty welcome to all of you in Cologne—a city that epitomizes this theme. Major media establishments […] have all made their mark in the media city of Cologne. As evident from the conference schedule, you will immerse in Cologne’s ‘Media Society’ not just virtually.
“In the Middle of the Media Society”—this statement deserves emphasis. Churches and religious organizations have moved from the periphery to the center of the “Internet Society.”
The days when journalists extensively covered the first online spiritual counselor are gone. Today, a church’s new online presence is no longer novel and might, at best, capture some local press attention.
This transition is clear: We are no longer outsiders. Churches and religious organizations have claimed their space in the “Media Society”, confidently navigating the digital landscape—not as the life of the party but far from being wallflowers.
In the religious realm, digital professionalism is now the norm. We are undeniably woven into the fabric of the Internet’s “Media Society”, underscoring the relevance of our conference theme.
Yet, I pose a reflective question: “Are we truly ‘In the Middle of the Media Society’?”
In every community, especially the “Media Society”, there exists a dual principle: “To see and be seen.” While churches have a legacy of observation and analysis, how do we ensure we’re perceptibly active in the “Media Society”? Who is our intended audience?
These are pressing challenges as we look ahead. Theologically, our aspiration is for the Gospel, the “good news”, to be a compelling “good message” that resonates and is understood. This encompasses online sermons, newsletters, and news services detailing church activities—essentially, all that resonates with individuals.
“To see and be seen” implies absorbing insights from online trends while ensuring the church is not just visible but distinguishably recognized in the global digital village. As discussions about creating or collaborating with larger web portals arise, we need to discern how we are perceived amidst the vast digital landscape.
“In the Middle of the Media Society” serves as both our foundation and our challenge. I wish you all an enlightening journey “in the middle of the COLOGNE-Media Society.”
Fast forward to 2023, our theme resonates:
“Embracing the Digital Age: The Intersection of Theology and Technology in Today’s Church.”
As digital waves sweep across our global landscape, the church’s thoughtful engagement with technology becomes paramount. The ECIC 2023 conference beckons us to ponder how public theology shapes digital dialogues, the significance of maintaining an authentic church digital presence, and the intricacies of navigating artificial intelligence. We’ll explore the veracity and accessibility of church content in the digital age, and the potential of technology in deepening faith and fostering connections. Together, let’s traverse the crossroads of theology and technology.
The church has evolved, integrating gracefully with the digital realm. Reflecting on the past two decades, the progression is awe-inspiring.
Here, we stand at the confluence of faith and the digital age, eager to explore through this conference.
Honoring ECIC’s cherished tradition, we will initiate this conference with a service, seeking God’s grace and guidance for our assembly.
So let us celebrate this service
In the name of the triune God
the Christ, and the
Our help is in the name of the Holy one, who made heaven and earth
Hymn: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
We have gathered here for worship, desiring to encounter You.
Yet often, we scarcely feel Your presence in our world and in our lives.
Day after day, we confront our powerlessness in the face of injustice and oppression.
War rages in one of our neighboring countries.
It seems as though weapons have become the last refuge to fend off injustice and to protect freedom.
When will this war come to an end?
What can we do to stand for peace and advocate for it?
We feel helpless.
We think of the victims of natural disasters. From where will their help come?
Even in our daily lives, we strive to live by Your commandments, but often we lack the strength to do so.
Let us bring our helplessness and distress before God and call out to Him: Lord, have mercy!
God does not leave the world alone, but turns to us:
Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
[Passing of the Peace]
[Scripture Reading Psalm 8]
1 Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.
2 Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them? c
5 You have made them d a little lower than the angels e
and crowned them f with glory and honor.
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their g feet:
7 all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
8 the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
9 Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Hymn: Praise, I will praise you Lord
Reflection on Psalm 8
In the annals of human history, few individuals have captured the imagination of our quest for knowledge as Alan Turing. His concept, the Turing test, set forth an intriguing proposition: can a machine be made to mimic human behavior to the point of indistinguishability? Fast forward to our age, and the question is no longer hypothetical. Machines not only mimic but excel. They sift through vast amounts of data, perform intricate tasks, and even produce art. As awe-inspiring as these advancements are, they invite a pressing question: What is the essence of our humanity in this digital age?
The verses of Psalm 8 encapsulate the wonder of creation: “You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.” In this vast panorama of life, where does the marvel of modern machinery fit?
The capabilities of Artificial Intelligence are beyond our wildest imaginations from just a few decades ago. Machines that compose music, that paint, that hold conversations, and that can even learn from their mistakes. Does their proficiency make them superior? If they rival or even surpass us in certain tasks, where do we stand? What, indeed, defines our humanity?
Often, we associate our value with our intellect, our capabilities, our emotions. Yet these definitions are transient and ever-changing. There will always be someone more intelligent, more capable, or more emotionally aware. If we measure ourselves by these scales, we will always find ourselves lacking.
Yet, the words of Psalm 8 offer us an anchor: “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Our significance is not found in our feats or our faculties, but in the profound reality that we are fashioned in the image of the Divine. Every one of us, regardless of our abilities or inabilities, holds a unique place in the heart of the Creator.
Artificial Intelligence, as magnificent as it may be, remains a creation of our hands, an echo of our ingenuity. Its essence is a series of codes and algorithms. Unlike us, they lack the spark of the Divine. They do not yearn, they do not love, they do not experience the depth of human emotions, and they certainly do not have a soul.
In these exhilarating times, as we ride the waves of technological advancements, let us not lose sight of our true worth. Our value isn’t determined by our accomplishments or our abilities to create advanced tools. Instead, it’s rooted in the fact that we are cherished by God, formed in His likeness, and are a personal being that no machine can ever emulate.
As we utilize and admire the tools and technology around us, let it be a testament to our capacity for innovation and creativity—a gift from the divine Creator. But let us always remember our unique place in creation, a place that no machine, no AI, can ever occupy.
In our journey through this fusion of faith and technology, may we continually find solace in the truth that while machines might mimic us, it is in God’s love, mindfulness, and care that our true being lies.
Hymn: Called together
Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi – adapted –
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
to be listened to as to listen carefully to others;
to receive attention as to pay attention to my neighbors;
to strive for online reputation as to show others respect online;
to be friended as to be a friend to others;
God, grant that I may not so much seek
for my content to be shared as to share the content of others;
for my tweets to be retweet as to retweet others;
for my posts to be shared as to share the posts of my contacts;
for me to be liked as to like others.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Let there be no day when you have to say:
There is no one here to protect me.
Let there be no day when you have to say:
There is no one here to accompany me.
For God wants to be with you with His blessing:
May the Lord bless you and keep you;
May the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.