Researcher helps to develop a pioneering digital prayer project

The project will enable churches in Hawkshead and Hackney to share their prayers with each other, using digital technology.

A church in Hawshead is to partner up with a London congregation as part of a pioneering digital prayer project.

In coming weeks a link will be created to allow the prayers to be shared with members of the Church of St Peter de Beauvoir in Hackney in London.

Professor Paul Coulton, together with researchers from Sheffield University and the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis from University College London, approached the vicar of Hawkshead John Dixon to be part of a project called Creating and Exploring Digital Empathy (CEDE).

Among the key aims of CEDE are the exploration of ways to make digital communication more empathetic and the reduction of isolation across communities, groups and individuals.

Professor Paul Coulton is Chair of Design at Lancaster University and a member of CEDE, which funded the project at Hawkshead.

He said: “This is part of a large project which looks at empathy through the use of digital. Some digital communication can be quite brutal and people don’t take the time to understand someone. Empathy is missing from that type of communication at the moment.

“We were looking to link churches up around the country and thought it would be nice to link up with a rural church which would provide a contrast with the church in Hackney.

“It’s been very important that what we have installed is sensitive to the church and its ambience.”

Specialist equipment has already been installed at St Michael’s and All Angels in Hawkshead, which allows people to type in prayers that are then projected onto the church’s interior wall.

The digital installation includes four votive candles which light up when a prayer is registered on a touch screen device near the church’s entrance.

Within a few minutes the prayer is projected onto the wall of the church and is framed within special artwork which has been designed to mirror existing pictures in St Michael’s. The prayers continue to cycle through as new ones are added.

The four candle prayer system has been in place for two weeks and so far John says there has been real interest shown.

The Rev John Dixon, vicar of Hawkshead with Low Wray and Sawrey, said: “It struck me immediately as a very exciting idea. I had never heard of anything like it before, yet it was simple and intriguing.

“I think that people are looking to see what kind of relationship develops between Hawkshead and a very different community in Hackney.

“We’re also interested to see if people like to pray in this way. People have come to this church to pray for centuries but never before has it been connected digitally with another church. It will be interesting to see how people respond to that; that the things they pray for here are also being prayed for in Hackney.”

He added: “It’s wonderful to see how everybody – and especially younger people – have come into the church and really engaged in the prayer process through this project.

“We live in a media age and anybody coming to this church under a certain age is very familiar with new media. People communicate all the time in this way and there’s no reason why the church should be any different.”

We were looking to link churches up around the country and thought it would be nice to link up with a rural church which would provide a contrast with the church in Hackney.