On a chilly Saturday in February, about sixty Christians packed into a church hall in Shoreditch, east London. But they hadn’t come to discuss theology or argue about women bishops. They had come to code. From morning to evening, the delegates at the first Church of England Digital Labs batted around ideas, sketched out wireframes, discussed user interfaces and began building websites, apps, and social media campaigns. A panel of judges then picked out the two best ideas, which will be funded, fully developed and released by the Church of England later this year.
The mastermind behind this unlikely Christian hackathon was Adrian Harris, the head of digital for the Church of England. A mild-mannered man in his thirties, Harris was happily making a career for himself in digital communications – working at Bupa, Tesco, and the Conservative Party – when he was recruited by the Church of England in 2016.
His appointment was effectively an admission by the church that it had fallen badly behind on digital media and new technologies. “It was half of a junior staff members’ time,” he says. “It was a bare bones operation – I think the web budget was ten grand a year. It was neglected.”