Twitter and the Church

I remember a couple of year’s ago taking out my laptop at General Synod and starting to blog. “You’re doing what?” shrieked the incredulous crowd. Well, actually, the crowd in synod was not terribly interested though the crowd beyond the synod hall was fascinated. Actually it was Mother Ruth who shrieked in derision, though not for long.

Last year, blogging was much more mainstream at synod. We have internet access in the hall now and you don’t need to dash out to have coffee in a wifi enabled coffee show to post updates as I did the first year I did it.

This year it was the turn of twitter to fascinate the episcopalian technorati. A number of us were doing the one line updates directly from the synod floor. If you don’t know what twitter is, check out this article which will tell you more.

One of the things that the I and C Board had arranged was for Mother Dunblane to come and give a lunchtime seminar on twittering for beginners. It certainly had the desired effect, with a number of people, including the Bishop of Edinburgh having a go.

We had feedback via twitter during the synod from, amongst others, clergy who could not be at synod, someone in the Alban Institute in the states, someone in Kentucky (one of Glasgow and Galloway’s companion dioceses) and Dave Walker the Cartoon Blogger (who put it on the Church Times blog).

Meanwhile, out in a world made darker by repression and violence, twitter is allowing Iranians to tell the truth about what they are seeing on the streets.

Twitter is just fast and furious one-line blogging. And as Bishop Pierre has observed, it gives us revolutionary power.

It is a revolution inside the church, as well as outside, and you can find me revolting, twittering here.

Any ideas what we should use it for next?


  1. First, congratulations Kelvin on your appointment as I&C Board convenor, and thanks to you and all who contributed to the SEC’s Synod Twitter coverage, which worked really well.

    Some thoughts:

    Next year, as was suggested by some of the Synod ‘Twitterarti’ we should have a proper Synod 2009 Twitter account, like that set up by the Church of Scotland for their Assembly. And it needs to be integrated into the Synod pages on the Provincial website from the outset.

    It would also be good to integrate the #pisky Twitter stream into the Provincial site on a permanent basis, or to set up an SEC account for that purpose. I would also suggest making the site’s SEC blogroll more prominent. And the SEC Flickr streams.

    I understand the concerns some have about the impossibility of monitoring what’s said on Twitter and the blogosphere, and its undeniable that sometimes people will say insensitive and daft things that will offend and hurt.

    But that is part of the very nature of online communication. The days when organisations could manage their channels of communication through press releases and a limited number of printed publications are gone. The web has democratised communications media, offering a low cost platform for all members of an organisation: the concept of gatekeepers at the top approving and filtering information is redundant.

    Like all organisations the SEC needs to embrace and engage with things like Twitter, blogs and other social networking tools, or people will simply bypass the ‘official’ channels and jump straight to where the real conversation is happening, like your blog.

    It’s not just Twitter we need to embrace, but the existing web platforms we’ve already got in place. I’ve been honoured to be asked to develop a number of websites for the SEC over the past couple of years, including the Provincial site and a few diocesan sites.

    Some good use has been made of these – Kennedy in particular has been doing some great stuff on the Glasgow site over the past few weeks. But my perception is that the web still plays a very muted second fiddle to print as a means of communication within our church.

    At Provincial level I don’t see why all the good news material should be kept for inspires magazine. I think it should go straight onto the website as soon as it becomes available. If it’s kept in inspires nobody outside the church can see what’s going on. I don’t think subscription rates to the magazine would be affected at all if inspires material also appeared online: most commercial magazines have found that putting selected material online serves to promote rather than threaten their presence on the newstands. There are now more printed magazines than ever, and they all have websites.

    I think we should allow the boards and committees to post their material direct to the SEC News section. That would, I think, encourage far more of them to contribute their material to the website.

    The same applies at diocesan level: nearly all the good news is kept back for the diocesan magazines, and almost none of it makes its way to the website (again, I know Kennedy is doing his best for the Glasgow site).

    News and events functionality, RSS feeds, photo galleries: they are all there on the diocesan websites waiting to be used. I have to be frank and say that communicating our diocesan news through rather poorly designed newsletters (where the Comic-Sans wars are still taking place) received only by insiders, makes us look very old-fashioned and insular.

    I realise that sounds rather harsh, and that people are volunteering their time to put together the magazines. But I don’t see why we are spending so much time and money doing it that way when the web is there waiting to be used. I love the church and want it to grow, not continue to decline. The web is our friend, offering so many exciting possibilities, and its importance as a means of communication will not be grasped unless we keep banging on about it!

    My tuppenceworth. Very interested to hear what others think. Congrats again and best wishes in the new post.

  2. gaielle says

    Congrats and Best Wishes indeed, Kelvin. A most demanding role and requirement.

    Encouraged by Justin, I shall add a penny-ha’pennies-worth.

    Communication in the world of today is a serious and complex undertaking, isn’t it, not least because there are so many across-generation and accessibilty issues involved, leaving the ‘non-tech’ community disenfranchised if the ‘old fashioned’ hard copy approach is neglected – or perceived to be neglected. Hard copy will continue to be an essential medium for a while yet – and rightly so.

    But equally important, and especially for reaching, including and empowering the youngest generations in the SEC, is the recognition and inclusion of new and newest technologies. Perhaps the teenagers in our midst have some useful insights to offer us for Developing Mission Outreach. The Good News was given to us to share – with everyone.

    Good – effective – communication is a great thing when you encounter it. Rare Creature tho it be. Fully – and clearly intended to BE – fully inclusive, and therefore encompassing and using ALL practical and available methods of communication.

    Problems in achieving Good Communication so often seem to be due to omission, oversight and a lack of appreciation of The Need To Try.

    So, for instance, I Receive Information From Other, I process this internally with every intention that my Final Response will then be shared comprehensively – but I first neglected to Assure The Other that I had Actually Understood What They Were Saying. In consequence the Information I have Taken On Board may be incomplete or flawed – hence I have (inadvertently no doubt) neglected that very important step of Ensuring My Understanding Of Information Matched what Was Being Said…….

    “What Is Said”, what is “Intended To Be Heard”, “What Is Heard” and “What Is Understood” are frequently 4 different things. However, effective/”good” communication requires a thorough appreciation of such likely mis-match, and also requires enormous strategic endeavour (until the skill becomes second nature) to outwit the intervention of MisUnderstanding.

    As with anything in life, a little digging, hoeing, watering, general nurture and attention will reap a fine result. It takes time, and it takes effort. Such, however, are well worth investment.

    But you will know these things. There is no need for me to be teaching you to suck eggs. I was just mulling out loud.

    All Very Best Wishes for balancing the new hat. (I assume the new post includes a hat ?)

  3. gaielle says

    PS. If there is currently no hat, maybe we could invent one…………..

  4. Kennedy says

    Perhaps one of our issues is that in the absence of any centrally provided forums for discussion – eg. we don’t normally have a letters page in Inspires – then the blogs and other social media just step in and provide the forum for the sort of discussion that people obviously seek.

    If staff at GSO aren’t involved then the discussion is the poorer for that.

  5. Just a little point, and I’m curious as to your thoughts on this, but how would you feel about someone tweeting during , say, one of your sermons or during a particularly uplifting piece of music ? is there a time and a place for this kind of communication, and might this include a religious service

  6. Kelvin says

    I’d be bothered if someone was disturbing others with their tweeting. However, I was chastened a couple of years ago when I became a little distracted by someone near the front apparently unable to sit still and seeming to send lots of text messages.

    It turned out however that he had the whole bible on his mobile phone and was simply looking up the passages as they were being talked about.

    So, I’m not bothered about discreet twittering, I don’t think, though someone might well choose not to twitter in order to be able to concentrate more on what was going on. Part of a spiritual life in most traditions is about learning not to be distracted sometimes, and choosing not to be distracted during worship would be an admirable path to try to follow.

  7. I have to admit to being disturbed sometimes during conference presentations by those around me twittering, although I do it myself so perhaps I shouldn’t complain ! I do think there’s a time and a place though, and for me, anyway, a sacred service is not the place to tweet from.

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