THE Church of England has launched an “Alexa skill” that provides answers to questions about faith and prayer, and can find a church to attend on the basis of the user’s location.
Launched on Wednesday night, the skill is compatible with all Amazon Echo and Alexa devices. Users can ask questions such as “Who is God?” and “How do I become a Christian?” besides making the device read specific prayers or prayers for different situations or periods of the day.
The skill is similar to an app on a smartphone or tablet, and is one of the “first significant faith-based resources” for Alexa, the C of E’s head of digital, Adrian Harris, says.
It works alongside the website A Church Near You to help users find their nearest church events and services.
Users can launch the C of E skill on Alexa by saying “Alexa, open the Church of England.” A full list of commands is available online.
Mr Harris said: “It is broadly split into three areas: firstly, it shares prayers when people need them; secondly, it shares all the good news about the Christian faith through the Pilgrim resources; thirdly, it finds churches near you with live data from A Church Near You.
“It is one of the first significant faith-based resources for Alexa. I think this will fill a void.”
There are currently more than 40,000 skills available on Alexa, and about 500 connected to religion, although none is developed by a large mainstream Church such as the C of E.
“We’re thrilled to be launching the Alexa skill today, to enable regular churchgoers and those exploring faith to connect with God in another way at a time that’s right for them,” The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said.
“A quarter of UK households now own a smart device, and, after transforming the Church of England’s and Archbishops’ national websites last year, this fast-growing area was identified as a priority for development.
“More broadly, this work is part of our wider Renewal and Reform programme, which seeks to ensure the Church of England is a growing Church for all people and in all places.”
The Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, said at the launch: “Part of the DNA of the C of E for 500 years has been speaking faith in a language that people can understand.
“We as the Church need to be in the digital space, doing our best to translate the Christian faith in a way that is accessible and meaningful.”
The faith-based questions, such as “Who is Jesus?” and “What is communion?” draw their material from Pilgrim resources. Users will also be able to ask about weddings and funerals.
The publishing manager at the Church of England, Dr Thomas Allain Chapman, said: “The Alexa skill means that prayers that Church House Publishing has previously made available in books, apps, and e-books will now be available in audio to a new audience in many homes.”
The skill development forms part of a three-year digital and social-media transformation project, which, in turn, is a component of the C of E’s Renewal and Reform programme (News, 20 October 2017).
Through the Alexa skill, the Church will now be able to communicate with people in their own homes and answer questions about faith, and provide prayers, besides pointing people in the direction of a church service.
“This is the whole reason why there is a digital team — creating a lasting impact of growing people’s faith. At the heart of this is connecting you to the local church,” Mr Harris said.
While the Alexa skill is a first, the digital team are working on making a compatible version for Google and Apple devices as soon as possible.
It was developed by Aimer Media, alongside Church House Publishing.