I’d like to begin this conversation on where I hope we are going with my account of where I think we have been.
The Diocese of Washington didn’t start the Blog of Daniel to promote the Book of Daniel. We started it because we thought people would want to talk about the Book of Daniel, and that it would be best for Episcopalians if they did it under our roof. Hosting the conversation gave us the opportunity to put our evangelism materials under the noses of hundreds of people who would otherwise not have seen them. The blog doubled traffic to our Web site (edow.org), and more people have accessed our evangelism materials this month than in the previous five months combined. Does this lead them through the doors of an Episcopal Church in any significant numbers? I hope so, but all we can manage on the Web is to capture someone’s attention and make our case.
As a person employed by the diocese, evangelism needs to remain among my primary concerns. That is why, at the very least, I think we will try to continue a blog in some form. I am in the process of trying to recruit moderating help, and hope to have news on that front by the end of this week or early next. But once people begin posting on a blog, you begin to develop some sense of them, especially if you are the moderator and may be engaged in personal correspondence about why you liked a post, or why you had to delete it, or why you can’t use it in its present form but would be able to use it if certain language or charges were removed. (It is a peculiar thing to find yourself, as an employee of the diocese explaining to someone why you would be happy to post a comment that says, “The Episcopal Church is going to hell in a hand basket,” but balk at posting one that says “The Episcopal Church is going to hell in a hand basket and the rector of St. Swithan’s in the Swamp is having an affair with the senior warden.”)
Within about ten days of launching the blog , I found that I was corresponding with some regularity with people I shared very little by way of opinion, but whose experiences of faith impressed and intrigued me. I hope “Kat” won’t mind if I mention her by name. She and I had a very public spat one day when I closed a thread for comment because I thought it was getting out of hand. (Someone—you know who you are—even emailed conservative Episcopalian bloggers about this and a couple posted entries about my censoring orthodox Christians.) She and I later began exchanging emails, she telling me how she came to believe in Jesus, and me telling her about my own background. In the time since that initial argument, she’s becoming probably the best news scout on the blog, and we’ve even considered doing some sort of cooperative blog together.
It was through my conversation with Kat and some other posters, who I don’t think I am labeling pejoratively when I call them conservative evangelicals that I began to sense some different possibilities for the blog. (I don’t doubt that someone has thought of these possibilities before, but this wasn’t a month in which I had much extra time for research—our diocesan conventions really require a month-long nights and weekends push from me and the two wonder workers in my department—so I haven’t had a chance to learn yet from other’s experiences.)
Since I was enjoying and benefiting from my email conversations with people of so many different theological stripes, it seemed to me—perhaps naively—that the rest of you might like to know one another better as well. In recent years, as our Church has struggled to determine where God is leading us on issues of human sexuality, Episcopalians have come to realize that good and faithful Christians will not always be in full agreement on what God is calling them to do. In that climate the work of reconciliation, of bearing with one another, of identifying and cultivating commonalities in Christ, is all the more important.
So on to my proposal, such as it is.
Would any of you be interested in participating in an intentional online community? What I have in mind is a group of people who sign a covenant committing themselves to certain levels of observance and standards of behavior aimed at cultivating relationships with other Christians (or those interested in Christianity) online.
My sense of how to create this community—by no means cast in stone—would go something like this: daily participation in common prayer (probably the psalms from that day’s liturgy of the hours, which are available online); commitment to pray daily for one another’s intentions (communicated in a passworded area of the site, perhaps?); commitment to refrain from asking anyone to pray for something they would find it impossible to pray for in good faith; sharing of one another’s faith stories—perhaps a different member would tell his or her tale every week; participation in a common outreach ministry (we don’t live near one another, but we can all donate to a mutually agreeable cause, or identify a common kind of work that we could perform in our own communities.) I am open to more ideas.
There are several issues we would need to work out, such as whether we would accept anyone into the community who wasn’t using his or her real name, and whether the entire enterprise should be conducted behind a password or with some other level of enhanced security. But before we explore the technical, I’d be interested in knowing whether people found this appealing.
In responding, please know that this is an either/or decision. I am really hoping to continue with a blog on faith in popular culture. The issue there is a simple one: can I get enough help to moderate the comments. The issues involved in the idea of an online community are more complex, and I’d really appreciate your help in thinking them through.