Last 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 20th century. The church was as eye-enthralling inside as it was outside, with intricate stained glass windows, soaring pillars, gleaming woodwork, and symbols of faith 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 priest welcomed us all to the joyous event and began reading that favorite of all wedding passages: 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 my husband and I attended prior to our move to Spokane had undergone a substantial renovation during our membership there, including the installation of a complete sound system, projectors and flat screens to show readings, song lyrics and images. I'm used to pastors and readers wearing 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 and scroll effortlessly from Scripture 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 Bible to ceremony. The solidity of bound pages, 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.
I realized I was seeing a real-world example of the work of mass communication scholar Marshall McLuhan, who wrote, "The medium is the message." McLuhan believed the way we choose to deliver a message can say just as much as, 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 saw no problem in using a tablet. It allowed him to transition easily from reading to reading, with no awkward pauses or misplaced bookmarks. Logically, it made sense to have everything for the ceremony in one continuous file, and the tablet's black leather case fit the formality of the event.
But it felt odd to see the familiarity of the Bible – printed word on paper since the time of Gutenberg – replaced by megabytes and a touchscreen. 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. Ultimately, I realized the tablet was 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 will come new opportunities to convey knowledge. History has shown us that when innovations in communication occur, one of the first uses is to share God's Word. McLuhan may tell us the medium is the message, but when it comes to faith, the message endures.
Erica Salkin joined the Whitworth Communication Studies Department in 2012. She teaches media writing, media law, and public relations, and she researches First Amendment issues and scholastic journalism.