Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Social Media and the church

A well deserved h/t to Fr David Cloake for this excellent post which can be read on his blog here and I share here for your delectation and delight...


To those of you reading this who, by by the very fact of your presence here, the icons contained in this image will have some meaning. 

Then you have the remaining 98% of Christians, church-goers and other people of faith who will have no inkling about what this is all about. They have heard some of the names on the news, but will have cast them aside in the way that they would anything that held no apparent relevance, or that which had the feeling of fad or voodoo about it. I don't blame them - but we have a situation where an increasing gulf is developing between social-media aware Christians, and those who are not. 

This is a potential considerable problem. The world of social media is expanding at a fast pace. Conferences convened for its discussion and consideration are proliferating, including those for social media where it applies to the Church and her life. Already, it is clear to see that small number of communities who engaged positively and meaningfully with social media and those who have cast it aside with quite understandable suspicion. One only needs to examine a few parish websites and this is clearly evident. Yet, in many ways, this is the beginning. These are the pioneer days, the days of the more considerable gamble, the days when those who dare may well 'win'. 

The industrialised world is increasingly living its life through the electronic device. Of that there is no doubt and it is something that I have said here for some time. The young in particular articulate much of their personality through social media, each holding accounts for such websites that allow them to communicate with just about anyone else with a similar account. Millions of us have mobile phones, many of them being smart phones. Not on the ground in real space does life happen for many, but in the interactions conveyed through the virtual world. In other words, any organisation that seeks relevance in this age must embrace that ages's self-expression

...including the church. 

I think that there are compelling reasons, of a cultural nature, why this should be the case. However, such lofty notions are meaningless without a little application (to pardon the pun). I encourage all members of all parish councils to discuss social media and start to embrace the expression of this age - or be left behind in the bow wave of irrelevance. Consider these things:

Marketing: Every organisation worth its salt markets itself in a marketplace where the customer expects to make an informed choice. No longer do we live in places where you buy bread in the one shop because it is the only shop. Church life is without doubt the same, especially with so many Christians being mobile or able to call upon mobility. Christians increasingly go to the church of their choice, not the one that is there by accident of geography. They will travel to make that choice, often some considerable distances. Churches need a presence that extends beyond the flaking-painted board at the gate to the church up the track three miles from the nearest house. The pew-sheet phenomenon is one that is part of a decline - because you have to go in in the first place to take a pew sheet, and if one of those people fails to return for whatever reason, the spiral is downward. People search the internet to find what they want. They use search engines to do that work, and to be out of that listing is to fail to attract those who wish to be attracted. 

Infection: "We have a Gospel to proclaim", but the people are increasingly living lives elsewhere on Sundays and other days of observation. The Gospel is the glorious product that Christians are proud to offer, the product of God's love that is available to all people. I don't think it gets better than that. The question remains about how we infect the world with our Good News - a world that receives its stimulus through gadgetry. The answer is simple - be part of the electronic stream of stimuli. The world is slowly overcoming its innate suspicion of things relating to the internet and cyber-highways. No longer is a perilous thing and one that may land you the happy recipient of dubious imagery and other unsolicited muck. Now, people can browse the internet in some safety. Our children and young people do - and there is where the virus and opportunity of the Gospel will have most meaning to that age group. 

Story-Telling: Blogging and the like are the current means by which this most often undertaken. We are all compelled by stories. When we hear stories of happy days and dark days, we are able to empathise and enter into the narrative - and is the device that Jesus used in his own ministry. Stories are less often in books, and books more often electronic than physical paper-entities. I judge a parish by the stories it tells of itself, its life and its faith journey. The great gift of the technological age is the ease with which imagery can be captured and used. I can be at a joyful event one moment, and able to tell the global community about it within minutes, with imagery, or even sound and film. I believe that people subscribe to a journey of faith, not just a static crowd of Christians. So often, websites give calendars and rotas, but no reportage of what has happened and yet fewer images. An absence of story in the 'output' of a parish states simply that there is no story to tell. Indeed, where would the church of the twenty-first century be if the early church hadn't jotted down its news and events?

Breaking Free of Buildings: The wider world perceive 'church' to be all that pertains to the building. Church life only happens within those medieval stones in the minds of so many. They have always been wrong, but Christians have never cottoned on to that fact even for themselves. Mr and Mrs Typical-Christian will probably spend one or two hours a week in the building, but will be living breathing Christians for the rest of the time. In the past, the faithful parish magazine touched that part of people's life - a little. Blogging and micro-blogging and all other social-media tell the stories of ordinary Christians in ordinary time outside of the church building. Its priests and ministers are starting to acknowledge this too, for we all know that much more of our ministry happens outside of the physical church building than within it. The immediacy and portability of social-media means that Christians can tell of the considerable bits of faith-life hitherto completely un-witnessed. 

Dialogue: It would be fair to say that in the present age, the church is becoming alarmingly polarised. The evangelicals are fearful and suspicious of the Romanising and incense swinging Anglo-Catholics who are, in turn, fearful and suspicious of the text-free converta-a-holics of the evangelical churches. Understanding has all but died, and so polarisation is happening with greater speed and in fearful ways. Indeed, where understanding fails, bigotry and mis-understanding flourishes. Social media, for all its flaws and idiosyncrasies, overcomes much of the ecclesial divide. It also does much to cross gender-divides which also mar the image of 'God is Love plc'. On the whole, and as one with a fair experience of this, I could not tell you, and would not care to tell you, what the ecclesial expression was of the vast majority of those good people with whom I interact.  We talk, we enjoy dialogue, and rarely do we ever inhabit those places that dog dialogue in the temporal church. I would go so far as to say that social media does more for Christian unity than anything else in this day and age. 

I could go on, but will save some for another day, and spare you a longer post now. This is a pivotal moment in many ways and such is the potency and valency of social-media that I predict that in a decade, we will determine the church communities that lived or died by how they embraced the technology and behaviours of this moment.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Praying ourselves ready

I am now in that limbo time between posts. Having had a very full and moving farewell from Leverstock Green and the Benefice of Langelei, I now have a period where I am readying myself for ministry in the Parish of Mill End and Heronsgate with West Hyde.

During that time, each day I will be praying for the 3 distinct communities ofg the parish using the collects for the patron saints of the churches: St. Peter, St John and St. Thomas Becket.

Peter has often been called the 'Prince of the Apostles' because of the words of Jesus re-naming him, from Simon to Cephas. This was the Aramaic form of the Greek word Peter, which means 'rock'. Jesus said that on this rock he would build his Church. Peter, after his proclamation of Jesus as Christ and Son of God, Peter spent the rest of his life and ministry witnessing to the Lordship of Christ. He was martyred in Rome in about the year 64. 

So I pray for the people of Mill End:

Almighty God,
who inspired your apostle Saint Peter
to confess Jesus as Christ and Son of the Living God:
build up your Church upon this rock,
that in unity and peace it may proclaim one truth
and follow one Lord, your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen

Whether or not John the Apostle and John the Evangelist are the same person we will never know but the Church honours the one who proclaims Jesus as the Word made flesh and who is 'the disciple whom Jesus loved'. John was one of the sons of Zebedee, along with James and Peter, who followed Jesus. John was there at the Transfiguration of Jesus on the holy mountain; he was there with Jesus at the last supper; he was there with Jesus in his agony in the garden; he was there with Jesus and his mother, standing at the foot of the cross; he was there with Jesus as a witness of his resurrection and 'he saw and believed'. John was a witness to the Word, he proclaimed the Word and he lived and died witnessing to the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, who loved him and whom he loved. 

And so I pray for the people of Heronsgate:

Merciful Lord,
cast your bright beams of light upon the Church:
that, being enlightened by the teaching
of your blessed apostle and evangelist Saint John,
we may so walk in the light of your truth
that we may at last attain to the light of everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen

Thomas was born in London in 1118, of a family of merchants. After a good education he served as clerk to another burgess then entered the service of Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury. Thomas proved himself an excellent administrator and skilled diplomat. In 1155 he was appointed chancellor by King Henry II. For several years king and chancellor worked harmoniously together in mutual admiration and personal friendship. As a result, the king nominated Thomas as Archbishop of Canterbury to succeed Theobald in 1161. From the start there was friction, with Thomas insisting on every privilege of the Church. The conflict worsened until 1164 when Thomas fled to France. Encouraged by the Pope he continued his arguements with the King from there, sending letters and pronouncing excommunications. Three efforts at mediation failed before an apparent reconciliation brought him back triumphant to Canterbury in 1170. But the nobility still opposed him, and words of anger at court led four knights to journey to Canterbury where they finally chased Thomas into the cathedral, and murdered him on the steps of the altar on this day in 1170. Thomas was undoubtedly a proud and stubborn man, for all his gifts, and his personal austerities as archbishop were probably an attempt at self- discipline after years of ostentatious luxury. His conflict with King Henry stemmed from their equal personal ambitions, exacerbated by the increasingly international claims of the papacy, played out in the inevitable tension between Church and State.   

And so I pray for the people of West Hyde (Maple Cross):

Lord God,
who gave grace to your servant Thomas Becket
to put askide all earthly fear
and be faithful even to death:
grant that we, disregarding worldly esteem,
may fight all wrong,
uphold your rule,
and serve you to our life’s end;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Good News for the Bald...

We are rightly skeptical of the ads in the backs of certain newspapers or magazines that offer wonder products - a miracle cure for baldness, an elixir that gives an incredible physique without the work at the gym, or a tonic that enables weight loss over night - or your money back!  We are rightly skeptical of claims like these, because they seem unlikely, implausible or impossible - depending on how you view them.

Radical transformation is possible in the lives of balding, fat and ugly people like me but there is nothing that will cure any of the above ailments overnight sadly!  Yet our celebrations today do centre on the reality of utter life-changing, radical transformation.

I have been musing and reflecting on the last 7 and a bit years as today approached and I remembered being invited to tea with the then Archdeacon about three weeks into post here. Sitting in her lounge with her best china she asked me, ‘What is your vision Simon?’ I replied that I wanted to do myself out of a job, at which she nearly spat out her tea, but I qualified what I said by saying that when I left Leverstock Green I wanted to leave behind a community that was thriving - pastoring and caring for itself, nurturing and deepening her faith and generally being the church. Today as I leave as your Vicar I see in you God’s radical transformation and the realization of that Divine vision.
God’s divine vision, revealed through the pages of the Scriptures, in the life of the church and the Sacraments she celebrates is a simple love song - I love you; I want to be with you; will you be with me? This vision was personalized by the coming of God in Jesus of Nazareth who emphasized his and God’s love - ‘love as I have loved you’ and ‘No-one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’

But he also made it clear that whilst this special relationship was hugely important, it wasn’t the end of the story.  Jesus was going to leave them, but he would send the Spirit to enable them for the very thing he had prepared them for: to go out into the world and tell everyone the good news about what he had done for them.  They were to carry on what Jesus had begun with them…. growing out from their personal and very special relationship with him was their mission to the whole world.  So let’s look at the effects the Spirit did have as they began their task……

First of all the barriers of language were broken down.  Strangers, foreigners, outsiders, a crowd of many different races and nationalities heard the disciples talking to them in their own language.  And such was the conviction with which they spoke that many people trusted their good news and were baptized.

Secondly, their lives were changed.  We read in Acts that the believers shared their belongings and made sure distribution was equal according to need.  They met regularly to worship and eat.  Every day, more people joined them and barriers of class and nationality were broken down.
And thirdly, as a result of the Pentecost experience they were filled with a new power and confidence.  Suddenly, ordinary people found they could do extraordinary things, things they had never dreamed of. 

But Pentecost is a never-ending story.  It didn’t happen just once.  It happens whenever and wherever people live empowered by the Spirit of Jesus. But if it’s not rooted in our own experience, then it is a flame that will soon die.  If the Spirit of the living God has not burned a path down into the depth of our experience, then Pentecost still awaits us.

If Christmas is the festival of the Incarnation, and Easter is the festival of Resurrection, then Pentecost is the festival of liberation.  Because Pentecost is about freedom.  It is about the Holy Spirit setting people free.  Not the kind of freedom that means no more responsibility or suffering, nor freedom from having to make decisions, but a freedom to live in the truth of the promise that we are loved eternally and unconditionally. It gives us a freedom to live the personal relationship with God.  But the Spirit too, is free.  It cannot be contained or possessed or locked up and it is free to move in the lives of those from whom we are divided or alienated, or those we have hurt or been unjust towards and those who have hurt or been unjust to us.  We need Pentecost daily in our own lives and in the life of the world.  The freedom of my own personal relationship has to overflow into a passion for the world.  Jesus is my saviour because he is the saviour of the whole world and the Spirit has set me free, set us free to be part of God’s mission in that world: to spread the news, to teach others about God’s saving power, to tend the earth and treasure it, transforming it into God’s kingdom.

Back in the Book of Genesis the Spirit of God breathed life into dust and created a human being. Today we celebrate radical transformation, that that same Spirit of God breathed life into those first cowardly disciples and created in wind and fire new men who had the gift of bold speech. The same Holy Spirit of God breathed on us in our baptism, in our confirmation, and continues to breathe on us when we pray, when we read the scriptures or gather for worship in fact whenever and wherever she wills, calling us to follow Christ and make Him known.

As I walked home from the cashpoint last night, the sky almost refused to be night - filled with a dark glowing blueness. It hinted at the coming dawn in a few hours time. As I walked, the street lights, seemingly in great number, stood erect, their warm orange glow lighting the street as I walked, their light reflecting off signs and into windows. What the church celebrates today, we have been celebrating afresh together here in Leverstock Green over the last 7 years. We have seen the light of Christ dawning around and amongst us, even in the darkest of nights. We, in growing number, through us, the Holy Spirit sheds the warm light of Christ wherever we are, we sometimes unaware who will come into our paths. That light, the presence of God’s Holy Spirit, reflects onto and into the lives of others, not because of what we do or what we are, but because of who Christ is and what he does in loving God’s world.

The Spirit of God has no favourites and pulls no punches.  Christ himself uses the Holy Spirit as a vehicle of Ministry and by breathing it over his disciples he further equips them for Ministry and Service, giving them authority, his authority over sin.

As this chapter of the story of God's church here closes and before you begin writing a one together with Him but without me and my family, we should therefore ponder for a moment what it is that Christ is calling us to for we should continue to reflect on Christ’s call in our lives:
Where he wants us to deepen our journey, our faith, our engagement
Where he calls us to action
Where he calls us to make a difference in the lives of others, bringing them hope and comfort and healing
Where he calls us to bring the Good News to all people
To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted and proclaim that (in the words of Christ himself) the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Amen

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The Word as a Wordle for Easter 7

Hi folks, even in the throes of moving Word as a Wordle continues!

Below is the wordle for this Sunday's Gospel reading from John 17:1-11. I was reminded in the midst of the complexity of what Jesus says, of the heart of the Good News...

What God gave on behalf of the world and what he has gave each one of us as a result...