Bishop Paul Egensteiner of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Metropolitan New York Synod said he has been dismayed by some aspects of Facebook but welcomes the feature, which bears similarities to a digital prayer request already used by the synod’s churches.
“I hope this is a genuine effort from Facebook to help religious organizations advance their mission,” Egensteiner said. “I also pray that Facebook will continue improving its practices to stop misinformation on social media, which is also affecting our religious communities and efforts.”
The Rev. Thomas McKenzie, who leads Church of the Redeemer, an Anglican congregation in Nashville, Tennessee, said he wanted to hate the feature — he views Facebook as willing to exploit anything for money, even people’s faith.
But he thinks it could be encouraging to those willing to use it: “Facebook’s evil motivations might have actually provided a tool that can be for good.”
His chief concern with any Internet technology, he added, is that it can encourage people to stay physically apart even when it is unnecessary.
“You cannot participate fully in the body of Christ online. It’s not possible,” McKenzie said. “But these tools may give people the impression that it’s possible.”
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism, said he understood why some people would view the initiative skeptically.
“But in the moment we’re in, I don’t know many people who don’t have a big part of their prayer life online,” he said. “We’ve all been using the chat function for something like this — sharing who we are praying for.”
Crossroads Community Church, a nondenominational congregation in Vancouver, Washington, saw the function go live about 10 weeks ago in its Facebook Group, which has roughly 2,500 members.
About 20 to 30 prayer requests are posted each day, eliciting 30 to 40 responses apiece, according to Gabe Moreno, executive pastor of ministries. Each time someone responds, the initial poster gets a notification.
Deniece Flippen, a moderator for the group, turns off the alerts for her posts, knowing that when she checks back she will be greeted with a flood of support.
Flippen said that unlike with in-person group prayer, she doesn’t feel the Holy Spirit or the physical manifestations she calls the “holy goosebumps.” But the virtual experience is fulfilling nonetheless.
“It’s comforting to see that they’re always there for me and we’re always there for each other,” Flippen said.
Members are asked on Fridays to share which requests got answered, and some get shoutouts in the Sunday morning livestreamed services.
Moreno said he knows Facebook is not acting out of purely selfless motivation — it wants more user engagement with the platform. But his church’s approach to it is theologically based, and they are trying to follow Jesus’ example.
“We should go where the people are,” Moreno said. “The people are on Facebook. So we’re going to go there.”
By HOLLY MEYER and DAVID CRARY Associated Press / AP video journalist Emily Leshner contributed.
Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.
This article originally appeared here.