A Facebook day yesterday:
On the down side, a discussion on one page that passed on a misquote, and had the potential to get negative, but thankfully didn't.
On the massive up side, there's a really creative Facebook admin in Yeovil who's set up a range of sites. One, which is mainly for the clients of the main local social housing provider (Yarlington Chat), has had a number of 'live chats' with people from different backgrounds over the last couple of weeks. Zoe the Admin has set them all up, and last night it was my turn as a vicar. Everything from gay marriage (of course) to dog collars, baby funerals, creation, other faiths, safeguarding in the church, the Illuminati, street preachers, favourite bible quote, why I decided to become a vicar, and lots and lots more. Even better, all from people in and around the same place - not an abstract Twitter discussion between people from all over the place, but a community in conversation.
I was on there for about 90 minutes, and never was I more glad for those hours learning to touch type 20 years ago. I was really nervous before starting, but ended up in conversation with dozens and dozens of people, and it was really worthwhile. Partly for being able answer some of the questions, but more importantly for being able to hear what they were in the first place. The church has often been accused of answering questions nobody is asking, so it was great to be pitched into a situation where the real questions could be asked, and also not to be the only voice. At times it was like being in a crowded pub with 15 conversations happening at once. What seemed to be most important was not getting the answer right, but being someone who could be questioned without feeling awkward or stupid.
Someone recently commented to me that they didn't see what good could come out of Facebook. Based on last nights experience, I would say plenty. I know another vicar whose main means of engaging with the community is via Facebook, another who is planting a church on a new housing estate, where people join the local FB group before they move in, and so they know their neighbours even before they arrive, and the group really helps the community to form well. Used well, it's a great tool. One of the questions was about whether the church should be more involved in social media. On the basis of last night, I would have to say a big yes.
Churches simply building great websites, twitter feeds etc. is one thing. Jesus sends his followers two by two into the surrounding villages with nothing, and told them to depend on the hospitality of strangers. Where they were welcomed, share the message. Last night felt like one of those - I wasn't on 'home turf', somewhere safe, launching out the gospel grenades from behind a safe wall. I had no idea what was coming, and just had to trust in God, the hospitality of Zoe the Admin, and my typing skills. 37 questions and 180 comments (ish) later, it felt like holy ground.
update: from a comment below by Zoe the Admin, which says it better than I can: All the feedback I received was great... people who had long given up
any faith were contemplating coming back and this was not due to an
epiphany, but down to one man who approached people in a way they could
relate to.. Too often the church can be seen as daunting and
unapproachable and when questions are raised, they have nowhere to turn.
.... Face book does have it's draw backs, of that there
is no doubt, but it also gives those who think they are unimportant, a
voice. I, for one, am very grateful for you giving up time last night
to come on talk to us and showing the church is moving forward and
reaching out to people in a very down to earth honest manner.
update 2: great reflections on Facebook from Tanya Marlow