Saturday, 26 October 2013

Social media and the gospel... #thatoldchestnut

I wonder how many times those words have been typed as people submit their topic for a MPhil/PhD/thesis/magazine article etc. etc. etc.

We seem to feel that social media and getting the Christian message over must be important in some way or other.  I share that view. I tweet. I blip. I (occasionally) update my Facebook status. I blog.

Twitter is probably the most fertile area for this sort of thing. I'm convinced the power of the 140 character message will grow and grow.  It is punchy, wide reaching, linkable and effective. It can challenge regimes, point out tasteless products and gather and influence public opinion. It's great. It's not coincidence that eveyr product, every TV programme, every magazine has a #hashtag and a @username

How do Christians tweet?

There are 'vicarbots' who post snippets of scripture to uplift and challenge.  They are usually unfollowed pretty fast.  There are trendy/sharp Christian tweeters, always making witty asides and observations.  There are tired and faithful Christians sharing their journey.  And many, many more.

Does any of it proclaim the gospel? I suppose (vicarbots aside, despite what they think) is does.  There are men, women and children sharing their journeys, mutually supporting each other and generally trying to work out what it means to be a person of faith in the 21st century.  Life goes on in Twitter, just as it does in RL: and Christian life is just the same.

I'm off for some corporate church comms meetings in Edinburgh next week.  I've only been to one so far, and the overriding concern at that one about Twitter was how to prevent the (corporate) church being taken to court for something this is tweeted by a clergyperson.  That is a rather underwhelming take on engaging with the world of social media: pre-emptive damage limitation. Oh well.

So I will go on tweeting (I try, usually vainly, to be amusing and show that stuff is happening). But I will also visit, I will meet, I will drink cups of tea and try to live a sustainable and balanced life as a human being, a priest and a person who follows and has been transformed by Jesus Christ...


Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Branding, products and facing the celestial CEO

My Very Reverend colleague at Glasgow St Mary's Cathedral has blogged on some religious identity data from the 2011 census: read it here.

This is fascinating stuff, especially on the overall trends in Christian/religious identity and in the specifics of identifcation (or rather non-identification) with the Scottish Episcopal Church.  The six different lines (you made up your own category here) that seem to contain the Anglicans resident in Scotland are (in numerical order):

Church of England            66717
Episcopalian                     21289
Scottish Episcopal Church  8048
Anglican                             4490
Church of Ireland               2020
Church in Wales                  453

By far the largest of these was Church of England: which does not exist in a separate form in Scotland and has not since 1986 when St Silas in Glasgow joined the Scottish Episcopal Church.  The 'Episcopalian' and 'Scottish Episcopal Church' lines probably add up to something like the 'actual' SEC church membership, give or take a few thousand. Kelvin has a much better researched take on it, but essentially the English Anglicans in Scotland don't stampede into the pews of the Anglican province in Scotland.

And why would they?

The Church of England is a much, much broader church than the SEC, with a strong evangelical wing, a catholic wing, a large progressive/moderate rump and all the rest of it.  Why would an English evangelical go along to a service which looks like a catholic mass? Or why would a moderate, middle-of-the-road Anglican travel an extra 15 or 20 country miles to find an SEC church when a good welcome and an active Christian community might be there on their doorstep, in one of the Churches of Scotland? (although their stats are alarming in the census - from scientific observation it would appear that the Church of Scotland is in danger of creating a religion-free Scotland!)  The same issue applies to anyone who might wonder about wandering in and meeting us.

The issue of branding really, really matters. But so does the issue of what the product is like, once the brand has brought someone in through the door.  And that is where we will find ourselves working hard to understand what we are today.  A snapshot, from a recent-ish conversation with a person (who goes to no church) in my patch.

Her: "What does 'Scottish Episcopal Church' mean?
Me: 'Well, 'Episcopal' means that we have bishops, and are one of historical churches in Scotland, dating back to...'
Her: *glazes over*
Me: 'We are a church that thinks all people are valued by God, regardless of gender, race, sexuality.'
Her: 'I might come to that.'
Me: 'You would be welcome.'

She's been a couple of times, to a midweek: She looked like she found it all rather odd. But I wonder what she really found...