It all started with a tweet from Paul Bayes, Bishop of Hertford.
“Hey, UK clergy under 40, have a look at this. It’s a US Lutheran perspective but how far does it speak for you? Thanks! What young clergy want you to know “
I’m not under 40, but that didn’t stop me from going and having a nose, partly because I’ve only been ordained two years, am still serving my curacy, and so feel like one of the toddlers of the clergy world. So I reckoned that qualified me.
Three points in that post spoke to me.
They are never going to act or sound like previous generations of clergy.
They are no less theologically committed than their predecessors,
But their work looks different and their language sounds different.
The churches I serve have populations that are mainly aged 50+ (I say that with apologies to our young families, but across the benefice it’s true). We even run a computer club which teaches “Silver Surfers” how to email, go to websites, use Skype, upload and download photographs. We “understand” the importance of digital communication. Except when it comes to faith and church.
Our website is about 7 years old, and finally broke a couple of months ago. It is run by some of our younger people (and here I am talking those in their 30s and 40s). They have full time jobs, young families and pressured lives. They are trying to keep something running which needs rethinking from start to end. So what do we do with our website? It’s not bad, let me stress. It has contacts, email facilities, weekly newsheet, lots of information for those looking for occasional offices, plenty of history of the buildings. But it doesn’t encourage dialogue. It’s there to be read and inwardly digested, like most websites of its era.
But how do you persuade a church that dialogue is a good thing? That you may engage people you wouldn’t “in real life” (ugh, horrid phrase). I use Twitter, Facebook, this blog, I’ve formed some great relationships which move from the virtual to face to face and back with ease. So I get that the internet is populated by a lot of normal people as well as by s3x-mad p0rn-seeking obsessives. But that seems to be the point of disconnection between me and those older.
I accept online dialogue as the norm, older clergy mostly don’t.
I know that are thousands of exceptions. But until clergy aged 55-70 get this, (because they are mostly the ones up the hierarchy) we will lose yet another generation. So no, I think a twitter feed on a church website is a good thing, if it is widely advertised locally and updated regularly, and used as a point of engagement, not just for information. I think having a website with a regular blog and comments is a good thing, and it probably won’t get hacked and used to infiltrate MI6, or to set up a p0rn ring or for money laundering. I think investing in making digital contacts with local people is sensible, not a waste of time messing about at a computer.
Let me stress, I am not exactly down with the kids. My teenagers use me as a living breathing example of the most uncool being on the plant (an honour I share with their dad). But in use of SocMed, I am far closer to them than I am to the generation above me. Even though I’m a bit more than 40.