Written by Gregg Brekke
The United Church of Christ's online faith community known as i.UCC announced it is closing its virtual doors July 6 and moving to a new space on the UCC.org website. This new section, called "Feed Your Spirit," is currently under construction, though much loved online spaces such as the Daily Devotional, Weekly Seeds and the Prayer Chapel are already operational in the new site.
"As we look back together on the past three years, I think we can be proud of our ground-breaking ministry on i.UCC," said Andy Lang, minister for web community, in an email to i.UCC's moderators, known as i.guides. "In many ways, [i.UCC] paved the way for 'Feed Your Spirit'– an important new direction for UCC.org."
The Rev. Kirk Moore has been involved as a contributor and i.guide since the inception of the online community. "i.UCC challenged me to think," he said. "The weekly Bible study reflections I wrote and the conversations surrounding the weekly Bible text helped me to understand not only what the Bible had to teach, but also how it was affecting others."
Lang cited the Stillspeaking Devotional and Weekly Seeds sections of "Feed Your Spirit" - "two of the most important spiritual resources for our denomination" - as having their origins in the i.UCC community.
Another key element in sustaining the i.UCC community, that carries over to "Feed Your Spirit," is the prayer chapel. Lang says the online community's focus on prayer and spiritual intimacy was strongly supported. "We know that our ministry of spiritual care through intercessory prayer – in both the real-time Prayer Chapel and the prayer forum – has changed lives," he said.
During its three-year run, i.UCC attracted 4,500 registered users and was the second most-visited destination in the UCC's online asset, right behind Worship resources. Lang says he expects most community members will continue to participate via "Feed Your Spirit" and has the support of his online leaders in this transition.
"I've learned that online community is true community," said Moore. "I've grown as a person and as a pastor through my journey in this community experience."
Lang and the i.guides shared testimonies of those who had been particularly impacted by experiences in the online prayer chapel. One member commented, "When we pray together online, it is almost like I can 'see' golden ribbons connecting us across the US where we each live, holding virtual hands, bowing our heads together, sacred intention joining as one."
"I must say that I was very surprised to have had such a spiritual experience," another member wrote. "Even though I was alone at home, the spirit of corporate prayer was there. The feeling of community was very strong. I did feel that I was worshiping with other folks on the journey. Since then, I have tried to be there daily and to make it a part of my daily devotional time. Since I usually work 2nd shift, noon time is still morning for me! It is a good time for centering prayer. May this blessing continue and grow."
The online community's expanded presence on UCC.org has the support of leaders within the denomination. "I believe that if we remain faithful to our vision that genuine Christian community can be sustained through emerging communication technologies, we'll be able to say three years from now that we've continued to make a difference in the lives of seekers and UCC members who've experienced our church as a caring virtual presence," Lang said.
Prayer times remain weekdays at 12 noon Eastern time and every day at 9:00 pm Eastern time. New additions to the online community will include a weekly spiritual practice feature called "Your Life-Better" and the "UCC Movie Club" where faith-based discussions of recently released movies will take place.
Lang invites current i.UCC members, and those interested in joining the new incarnation of this online community, to visit the Prayer Chapel, Weekly Seeds and Daily Devotional site, and to be on the lookout for information regarding the upcoming launch of the more robust "Feed Your Spirit" section of the UCC's website.