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AI and Faith Founding Experts Host COVID-19 and the Digital Transformation of the Church Summit

Several AI and Faith Founding Experts including Dr. Michael Paulus  Dean of the Library at Seattle Pacific University and Chris Lim of TheoTech hosted a virtual summit on COVID-19 and the Digital Transformation of the Church on May 29th. With more than 150 registrations with people across diverse theological backgrounds, the summit addressed the ways churches are responding to the pandemic in the present in order to discern what theological and technological resources will be needed for the future.

The conference began with a presentation by Dr. Heidi Campbell  Professor of Communication at Texas A&M University and director of the Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies. She shared a framework of three approaches churches are taking to go online such as transferring their typical services through livestreaming, translating the experience through Zoom calls and transforming their church by changing their typical order of worship into a fireside chat genre that is more suitable to digital culture.

This presentation was followed by three conversations on church digital transformation including “No going back to normal”: The Digital Reformation of the ChurchDigital Equity and Privilege during the Pandemic and The Robloxian Christians: Reflections in Virtual Ecclesiology and six breakout tracks.  Some consistent themes emerged from these discussions including the recognition that the massive shift online has resulted in many unexpected connections with people across the world who otherwise would not be able to participate in these worshiping communities. As much as lament is needed to mourn what was lost due to the pandemic, many church leaders are looking forward and asking, “How do we sustain the creative, flexible, experimental spirit we’ve gained in this time?” and as physical spaces can reopen, “How can we sustain these online connections in order to have equality between online and offline experiences instead of privileging one over the other?

Funded through a grant by the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust, this Summit is part of a larger project to address these questions and create the resources churches will need to not only survive, but thrive post-pandemic.

Chris Lim

leads TheoTech and created its chief product, a platform where humans and AI collaborate to deliver real time translations of live events. He formerly served as a software engineer at Amazon and received a Masters in Computer Science at the University of Washington doing machine translation research under Professor Oren Etzioni.

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