by Erica Salkin
This summer, I had the privilege of attending the wedding of one of my husband’s co-workers. The ceremony was held at one of Spokane’s oldest churches, a stunning Gothic cathedral built in the early part of the 20th century. The church was as eye-enthralling inside as it was out, with masterful stained glass windows, soaring pillars, gleaming woodwork and symbols of faith clearly created by the hands of artistic masters.
The bride was radiant in her shimmering white dress, the groom handsome in a reverse tuxedo (black shirt, white tie). The attendants smiled, the mothers dabbed their eyes with handkerchiefs, the processional included Pachelbel’s ubiquitous Canon in D. The bride was given away by her father (never been crazy about that tradition, but that’s another blog post), the priest welcomed us all to the joyous event and began reading that favorite of all wedding ceremonies: 1 Corinthians 13.
It was as I was being reminded that love is patient and kind that I finally noticed it. Here, in the middle of a church that was nearly 100 years old, in the middle of a ceremony that has endured for millennia, the priest was reading from an iPad.
Tradition, meet tablet.
It’s not as if I’d never seen new technologies work their way into worship before. The church we attended prior to our move to Spokane had undergone a substantial renovation during our membership there, and in the process worked in a complete sound system, projectors and flat screens to show readings, song lyrics, and images. I’m used to pastors and readers using wireless microphones that loop over their ears, and praise band leaders using hand-held microphones. I am firmly in favor of taking advantage of innovations in communication to make worship more accessible to those who want to hear the word of God.
But at a wedding? Watching the priest read from the black-covered tablet in his hands, scrolling down as he effortlessly moved from readings to vows, I found myself missing those slight pauses of weddings past, when the pastor had to flip pages to find the exact reading, or change books from Scripture to ceremony. The solidity of the book, the ageless quality of words on paper seemed like such a fit to a ceremony meant to bind two people together for the rest of their lives.
A well-known mass communication scholar named Marshall McLuhan once wrote that “The medium is the message.” How we choose to deliver a message can say just as much (if not more) than the content of the message itself. It’s tough to predict how others will interpret our choice of medium. Certainly the priest who joined the happy couple together saw no problem in using a tablet. It allowed him to easily transition from reading to reading – no awkward pauses or misplaced bookmarks. Logically, it made sense to have everything for the ceremony in one continuous file, and the leather black case on the tablet was not a distraction from the formality of the event.
It felt odd to see the familiarity of the Bible – printed word on paper since the time of Gutenberg – replaced by megabytes and touchscreens. Odd – but ultimately I realized it’s merely another way to share the good news. As with nearly everything, “there’s an app for that.”
Technology will continue to develop and with it, new opportunities to access knowledge. History has shown us that when these innovations in communication occur, one of the first uses is to share the Word. McLuhan may tell us the medium is the message, but when it comes to faith, the message endures.
The story of faith has been hand-scribed by monks, set in moveable type, laser printed on smooth white paper and yes, stored digitally on a microchip no larger than my fingernail. Like the commitment of two people who stand before God and their loved ones to pledge their lives together, the Word weathers change with the strength of “faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Erica Salkin is an assistant professor of communication studies at Whitworth University. She teaches media writing, media law and public relations, researches First Amendment issues and scholastic journalism, and loves life with her husband, two kids and cat.
Photo above is from here.