Here’s what I said @secsynod

Here’s what I said as the Convener of the Information and Communication Board at General Synod in Edinburgh last week:

The report of the Information and Communication Board can be found on page 43 of the Blue Book. Apart from reiterating publicly my thanks to Lorna Finley the church’s Communication Officer, I shall not repeat in my presentation what can be found in that report.

Instead, I want to bring two areas of work to the synod’s attention. These are each topics in which the Board has an interest at Provincial level. However, they are areas which have a relevance in other contexts of the church too. They are engagement with the press and the issue of the online presence of the church.

Firstly, I wish to highlight the increased coverage that our church has been getting in the press. (And generally, coverage for positive reasons!) At one time, we were getting lots of column inches in the press but not always for terribly serious stories. Typically we were seen as a soft touch by journalists simply seeking the quirky and the bizarre. Now, the odd quirky story is not necessarily a bad thing – it reminds people that we are here. However, it seemed to the Board a few years ago that there was a task to be done trying to engage with issues a little more. At that time, a review of the Communications Strategy suggested that some attention needed to be paid, largely through support that could be offered by the Communications Officer to enable the church to be seen to engage with issues in public life in Scotland.

It is my view that this year, we’ve started to see that bearing some fruit – [as you can see from some of the newspaper clips that will appear on the screen].

This year there have been significant stories reported on, amongst other things, the bedroom tax, Centrica, benefits changes, secularization. These are a far cry from the puppet shows and parrots in the pulpit that we were once known for. There’s also quite a geographical spread of coverage and a number of voices being heard.

It is worth noting that there are the same numbers of column inches to fill this year as there were last year and yet not all the Christian voices which were the dominant voices of last year are still around to provide the quotes that journalists love. There has been more space recently for Episcopal voices to join in the national conversation.

I bring this to the Synod’s attention both by way of noting the hard work of those who have stuck their heads above the parapet and also by way of encouraging people to engage creatively with the press where that is appropriate locally.

It is worth noting in passing that though it has been possible to get good stories into the press that are not about same-sex marriage that remains the dominant story through which many people in the media view the church. It is my personal view that this is because of a perceived disconnect between the morality of the majority of those whom the press regard as decent upstanding members of society and the morality expressed by the churches. Whilst that perception remains, same-sex marriage will remain the key story in the minds of those who put together our newspapers.

The second major thing that I wish to draw the Synod’s attention to today is the work that is underway towards renewing the online presence of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Questions about the website have been raised for some time and the view of the Information and Communication Board is that the time has come to renew the online presence of the church. A sub-group of the I and C Board led by the Rev Chris Mayo has been consulting within the church to this end and has now begun the work towards the new website. My expectation is that this will be done within the year that is to come.

The Scottish Episcopal Church is a church which has done pretty well in informal engagement online. The lively conversation around blogging and social networks indicates a church which has people who are not merely passive members but who are engaged in a conversation about it. Up until now, that conversation has been through informal channels and I expect that to continue.
A few years ago, I raised the possibility at synod of a website through which we communicated with one another rather than simply one which was used to disseminate news items. That challenge remains in view and those responsible for this part of the Board’s work have been speaking much more of a web presence for the Scottish Episcopal Church than of a simple site on which articles are posted.

I am grateful to Chris Mayo for taking the lead on this work and involving other members of the Board in the process.
The composition of the Board has changed this year and the work on the website is indicative of the Board developing ways of working that are changing. To be blunt, ways of working which don’t all include me as the convener. That is a positive step and needs to be the first of many as my time as convener of this Board will come to an end in a year’s time. The fact that I took a sabbatical for three months to wander the highways and byways of the Anglican churches in Canada and the USA last autumn gave a taste of an I and C Board without me on it. I’m grateful of course to those who made it possible for me to take that time out for reflection and growth. Thanks particularly to Lorna but thanks to others too. To all those who work and think about the communications field in the church. To all those who write, edit, make decisions and challenge and cajole.

My thanks to everyone.

That concludes what I want to say today and I am happy to take questions.