Turn Off Your iPad in Church!

(Credit: Matt_Brown via iStock)
(Credit: Matt_Brown via iStock)

Angry Birds during services? Stealth texting at mass? Lord, spare us

This Palm Sunday morning, I sat in my local church with my family as the congregation relived the passion and crucifixion as it’s chronicled in the gospel. And as a bonus, I got to watch the kids in front of us playing Angry Birds. Meanwhile, a college-age woman nearby stood alternating between reading the text and just texting. Lord, I know you said not to judge, but I confess I’m having a tough time doing otherwise here.

What happened in my little parish on Sunday wasn’t at all unusual. Nearly 20 percent of Americans admit to using their phones and similar devices in church and other places of worship. And with all that game playing and texting and tweeting and furtive, mumbled conversation going on, congregations are figuring out how to deal with the distraction. In some, that kind of behavior is grounds for serious retribution — and maybe the need for a new phone. Others try a more lighthearted approach, whimsically reminding worshipers to turn off their devices or risk “going to hell.” In a story last year, meanwhile, Church Tech Today weighed the merits of instituting a firm device ban or letting it slide, noting that for some pastors, ” You want to pick your battles — and cell phones just do not compare to pushing new believers and the lost that attend your church to read their Bible, serve the poor, and understand that God has something better for them.” And some churches, like St. Andrew’s in Pearland, Texas, figure that if you can’t beat them you might as well join them, and have Bring Your Cell Phone to Church Sunday services. There, members are encouraged to “Take at least one photo of our worship and post it on Twitter and/or Facebook and/or your Pinterest account.” The hope, Rev. Jim Liberatore told Episcopal News Service last year, is to use technology as a means of evangelizing, noting, “We are just trying to find ways where people are comfortable inviting friends, and so we thought this would be a good way of doing it.” Elsewhere, other churches have encouraged using mobile devices as a means of instant fundraising and Q&A participation during their services.

My own church remains mostly neutral on the subject of mixing Mass and devices. I’ve heard the pastor plead for restraint during group events like first communions and confirmations, asking family members to hold off on taking photos and movies during key liturgical moments. But beyond that, it’s a mostly laissez-faire place. And on bigger, more solemn church days – like Palm Sunday – I understand that it might not be appropriate for the pastor to interrupt the service to tell the assembled to cool it.

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SOURCE: Salon.com – Mary Elizabeth Williams

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