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The internet is a blessing

The internet is a blessing

Here is a message that churches have been slow to accept: the internet is a blessing. The popular blogger Rachel Held Evans explains why:

I used to think I was the only one squirming in the pews of my conservative evangelical church on Sunday mornings, wrestling with questions I dared not ask out loud: Why are women forbidden from assuming leadership? Do I really have to be a Republican to be a Christian? What if I’m tired of the culture wars? What if I want to worship alongside gays and lesbians? Must I interpret every Bible story literally? Am I the only one who doubts now and then?

It was the loneliest hour in my week…until I started blogging.

Now, when I ask these questions out loud, thousands of people respond with two simple, but powerful, words: “me too.”

She adds:

[T]he Internet is a blessing because it connects people of faith who might otherwise feel alone in their questions and doubts with like-minded individuals interested in reform. It empowers the powerless, provides a platform for good ideas, helps hold leaders accountable, and exposes us to fresh, new perspectives from all around the world.

But it’s also a challenge because, as I’ve learned the hard way, it’s much easier to call for change than it is to make change happen. My generation in particular likes for things to happen immediately, in 140 characters or less, which is not really how lasting, significant reform happens.

Does your parish recognize the importance of online evangelism, community building and pastoral ministry? How about your diocese? As someone who travels around the church talking about communications, it seems to me that in general, we have a long way to go, and that a lack of resources is only part of the problem.

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Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D.

From a recent review in the parish that I am assisting presently as interim organist (a small Anglo-Catholic parish in urban Phoenix that is “struggling” and trying to recover from a period of attrition and decline), I know that many of our new “attendees” and persons who “show up” on Sundays come to us initially through our internet presence. We have two active/committed young individuals who do the main parish website, and we try to keep this up to date. I have also started a linked “music blog” that prints out my regular sunday music notes in blog format but with live links to additional information and also has other related postings of a musical/liturgical nature. Clearly, it is not enough to be “just internet” but it certainly is a useful tool.

We had, at Sunday lunch this weekend, somewhat of a discussion about our internet presence. A sometimes visitor who actually attends another parish but comes to us from time to time suggested that we “broadcast” our liturgies as we “do them so well.” The suggestion, however, came with some other suggestions for how we would need to change things a bit, e.g. eliminating our extended/chaotic/out-of-seat sharing of the peace (after, as good Anglo-Catholics we sing the greeting and response with the priest). I was, however, a bit taken aback and thought that it was going “a bit too far.” I know it would probably not “look great” on a broadcast, but it is SO important to our parishioners who otherwise are such good persons at Anglo-Catholic pew aerobics that I feel we would be missing something real/vital in the name of having a better “internet presence.” I would echo my agreement with Maria that we need to “weave together a whole.” Finding that balance, however, can be a bit difficult.

E B

@Maria: Yup. I chuckle (and sometimes groan) when I listen to clergy that say they are eager to grow the church, yet they update their church or personal Facebook pages a couple of times a year. Reaching people means coming to them in the place where they are, and young people are on the social media.

Ironically, clergy that know how to use the social often leverage their time For example, my parish increasingly sends invites to ordinations and similar events out via Facebook, which is quick, easy, and far-reaching. Can you imagine, though, having to mail all those printed invites?

Eric Bonetti

Maria L. Evans

I think part of the issue is that the mindset is out there that internet evangelism is less “real” than face to face–that it is somehow more inherently more dangerous, more likely to be misused.

I can only speak for myself, but I have found the two to weave together to make a whole that is more than the sum of the parts. For four years now, I have had a wonderful journey meeting the spiritual kindred spirits I’ve met on Facebook and the blogosphere. I bring these experiences back to my home parish and see things back home in a different light–less insular, more interconnected.

I still chuckle that night in my EfM class when one of my mentors referred to me as “the internet apostle.” But she was right. It is part of who I have found myself to be in the larger church. I think ultimately, this will be good if we choose to use it for good, and accept that the Holy Spirit works through social networking as well as in real life and she sees to it the two can work in harmony!

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