Reshaping the Home and the Church
COVID-19 has disclosed deep pervasive changes that are underway in society. When Australia went into lockdown in 2020 people in service industries had to work from home. Remarkably and unexpectedly productivity did not drop but stayed the same or even increased. It became clear people preferred to work from home for some of the week and after lockdown did not want to return to the old five day pattern. The extra two or so hours a day freed by working at home is leading to a vital reassessment of the home as the base for life in the city.
The city is a result of the industrial revolution, with people leaving the farm to live close to the factories that sprang up. Later with the invention of the railway the city spread out in star like patterns of redevelopment along the railway tracks. Then in the 1950s the motor car helped create the suburbs that filled in the spaces between the tracks. Skyscrapers were built in the Central Business District, and the suburbs became dormitories where the private home life of people was nurtured.
The Digital Reshaping of the Spatial City
In the last thirty years a digital revolution has been increasingly impacting on our working, home and social life. Covid-19 forced us all to adapt quickly to a new way of relating digitally as well as spatially. More than ever it has made the home the primary base for life. These changes have the potential to make long term dramatic effects upon political life, social life, and community life after COVID -19 has passed.
If as seem likely travel to the city is reduced by a half during the week, not only does the central business district require less transport resources and less office space, but fewer people in the city will not sustain the previous level of retail shopping and hospitality. At the same time the role of the home as the primary centre of activity has been amplified; health services, groceries, and medical supplies are now delivered to the door; the home computer and TV provide resources for entertainment, recreation, work, and relaxation; on-line networks such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter extend social networks beyond the local area; there is a greater intensification of family and working life that requires more room in the home and requires extra local resources for mental health; more dedicated areas and more computers are required for these activities.
There are huge social implications. Already there is a call from planning authorities to approve smaller apartment buildings with more green space. Real estate agents speak of less of a demand for McMansions that cover the block, and instead a search for more home and green space. There is a willingness to travel further from places that are more open, since the place of work is less important.
The voter has the power of the ballot box to reshape the city from a digital perspective. The response to COVID-19 shows a new balancing of the relationship between home, suburb, city centre, state, nation and the world. Over the next decade the pressure will continue to grow on state and national leaders to renegotiate the role of the local with the international in the way money is spent for the health of society and the future of the planet. The big global questions in a digital world impact far more directly on the homeowner – matters such as racism, global warming, further virus control, unemployment, a city and rural divide. It is worth noting the response of homeowners to the inability of national and state politicians to develop an Australian energy policy. The take up of solar panels throughout the country has far outstripped any government initiative.
The Church and its role
What does this digital reshaping of the spatial city mean for the church? There was a rapid adaptation to the streaming of services and provision of alternatives when COVID-19 led to the lockdown of worship services. Time is needed to see how congregations will survive the effects of the virus, and what percentage return to ‘normal’ attendance on Sundays. In the next years it seems clear that the issues of society and the issues of the suburbs will impinge more directly on the agenda of people’s home lives and the church. In a digital world the major global issues of life involve us all far more directly than before. But as yet there are few guidelines for addressing these in a digital world. It is becoming clear there is a great danger of an emphasis on the extremes as people only listen to those in their own social echo chambers that distort personal and public involvement with others.
The church has a key role in such a time where communities are threatened with division. It is the task of any faith community to gather people around the scriptures and wrestle with personal, social and global issues and build diverse grace-filled communities in Christ rather than be divided by alternate truths and private opinions. It is now more important than ever to meet together, listen and wrestle through before God, these crises of our times. More than ever in this world of global and apocalyptic issues we will have to become familiar with the public theology of this new age of the digital Anthropocene. We are called as a community to keep demonstrating the good news of God with us in Jesus Christ in this new territory.
Rev. Dr Dean Drayton