by Ben Cooke
The Church of England has launched an app for Amazon Alexa that will read prayers, answer questions about faith and direct believers to their nearest church.
Owners of the app can access it by saying: “Alexa, open the Church of England.”
Adrian Harris, head of the Church’s digital communications, said: “The growth in smart speakers is an opportunity to bring people to the faith and into the Church.”
While the app will help believers commune with God in their own homes, its designers hope it will encourage them into their local church – which Alexa can give them the location of.
The app’s release is part of a wider effort to spread the Anglican message digitally. This campaign has reached an impressive number of people but not stopped congregations shrinking. The Church reaches 1.2 million people via social media each month, but attracts only 1.1 million people to Sunday services, its lowest number to date.
Owners of the app can ask Alexa questions that theologians have been arguing over for centuries: “Who is God? What is faith? Is Jesus the son of God?”
Though Alexa may be smart for a speaker, Joseph Hartropp, writer for the website Christian Today, worries its answers are no substitute for a vicar’s.
“Theology doesn’t really lend itself to simplistic answers, and often is best done in community, in conversation and debate. That said, to complete outsiders with no contact with the church, Alexa could be providing some helpful pointers.”
Simon Harvey, the vicar of St Mary’s church in Islington, is confident that believers won’t take Alexa’s answers as the final word.
“All Alexa does is give people an introduction to the big questions,” said Harvey. “Some of the questions you could write a whole book about. But a brief introduction is a good idea.”
Some might wonder whether helping people to worship in the comfort of their own homes is the best way of getting them to church on a Sunday. But Harvey doesn’t expect his congregation will opt for its sermons over his.
“I don’t think the app’s going to be a substitute for churchgoing. You can’t beat a get-together with a congregation, as Christians have been doing for 2,000 years.”
Versions of the app will be available for Apple HomePod and Google Home speakers by the end of the year.
Featured Image by Jack Pease on Flickr