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Christian coders attend hackathon

21 October 2022

Francis Martin goes to church for a different kind of worship

Kingdom Code

Participants exchange ideas at Kingdom Code’s annual 24-hour hackathon, held at St John’s, Hoxton, over the weekend

Participants exchange ideas at Kingdom Code’s annual 24-hour hackathon, held at St John’s, Hoxton, over the weekend

A CONSTANT glow was emanating from the interior of St John’s, Hoxton, last Friday night and until Saturday evening.

This was not a candlelit vigil, but an act of fellowship and worship of a different sort. Laptop screens replaced candles as the source of luminescence.

“Build”, an annual 24-hour hackathon run by Kingdom Code, was held last weekend in London, and drew 75 participants from around the country.

The event was reaching its finale when I visited on Saturday afternoon. Although many had not had much sleep — opting to stay in the church overnight, and grabbing a few hours whenever they could — there was a hum of focused energy in the building.

The projects this year included devising a way to integrate real-life fund-raising challenges into a digital platform that creates a sense of community between participants, and developing a desktop version of PrayerMate, a popular prayer app.

Organisations pitched their ideas at the start of the event, before groups were formed to work on each project. The head of digital products at Compassion UK, Elliot Wilsher, said that he was “blown away by the progress” that they had made in 24 hours. “We’ve been able to achieve something we’d never have been able to achieve if we hadn’t come,” he said.

Some of the projects have a less obvious practical application. Matt Lacey runs a website on which he publishes passages from scripture translated into the syntax of code.

At the hackathon, Mr Lacey was exploring how such translations might work in reverse: whether the “‘let there be’-type statements” in Genesis 1 could provide the structure for code. It was, he freely admitted, “sort of meta”.

Kingdom CodeProjects are pitched and discussed at Kingdom Code’s hackathon

He continued: “It might turn out this is a great way to write code — I don’t really think it is, but we try these things to find them out.” The value, though, is on a different, more conceptual level: “If I’ve got something in my code base that looks a little bit like scripture, or I know is inspired by scripture or the structure of scripture, does that make me think about my code and my work differently?”

James Doc, an organiser of the event, emphasised the value of Kingdom Code in drawing “Christian technologists” together. Several of the participants spoke of the sense of community and solidarity which the event created: the intensity of the format only intensified the camaraderie.

Alongside the hackathon, Kingdom Code runs regular meetings for Christians who work in the tech industry. There is no need to be a coder to take part: designers and project managers are also needed to work with software developers.

A variety of denominations are represented by the participants. “We’re not going to divide over whether we baptise infants: that’s not what we’re here to talk about. We’re here to explore unity,” Mr Doc said.

Alasdair Munday, an ordinand at Trinity College, Bristol, was a professional software developer for seven years before training for ordination. “This is a unique opportunity to come together with other Christians in tech, and to worship in a different way,” he said.

Mr Munday put his tech skills to good use at the event, working on the Compassion UK project, but also had a chance to lead a short act of worship at the start of the hackathon.

His reflection on the theme of unity took Psalm 133 as its touchstone: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity” — or, as Mr Lacey translates it: “Assert<Good, Pleasant>(GOD.People.Live<in>(Unity))”.


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