What does it mean to belong?

So, here’s the thing.

Over the last few weeks we’ve been doing our usual gathering of names for the congregational roll at St Mary’s. We ask people here to fill in a form each year before the AGM indicating that they want to be included on the congregational roll. It has taken a few years for some people to get used to this, but now most people accept it for what it is – a simple clerical device that means we can keep the roll in a constantly changing congregation up to date.

This year, I’ve as many questions about the result of this exercise than I have answers.

You see, there are people indicating to me that they want to be regarded as members of St Mary’s who I didn’t expect. In particular, people who live at a distance who don’t ever set foot in the building from year to year.

Now in once sense this is unremarkable. Most congregations will have people who are on the roll whom they never see. The thing that makes this a new development is that some of these people live very much at a distance and are indicating that they think of themselves as active members due to the way they participate online with St Mary’s.

Furthermore, some clearly go to other congregations physically and receive the sacrament there but are indicating that they want to think of themselves as being on the congregational roll here. This is, I think, to do with our ethos.

Moreover, there are people who are a couple of ministers in other denominations who are actively working in parish life but who are indicating to me that they want to be included on the congregational roll of St Mary’s.

Now some of this is easy but other aspects are really complicated. The Scottish Episcopal Church doesn’t actually allow for dual membership of it and another denomination to start with, but I’m not sure that people are indicating to me that they want to be Scottish Episcopalians when they indicate to me that they want to be members of St Mary’s. The Scottish Episcopal Church doesn’t, strictly speaking, allow for people to be members of more than one of its congregations either but I’m not so sure that it matters what the church thinks – actual members do believe that they belong to more than one congregation anyway.

From time to time, the Vice Provost and I have conversations about reviving the idea of a Friends of St Mary’s for those living furth of the city of Glasgow who have some allegiance to the congregation. I think that idea of a supporters group is probably a good one. However, I don’t think that is quite what we are talking about when we think about church membership.

I think people want to belong to St Mary’s and not think of themselves as friends of St Mary’s but as actual participating members who are distant from Glasgow.

Now, what does this mean? (That’s a real question and I’d welcome responses in the comments below – I’m still trying to work this out for myself).

What do we need to do to make sense of this? What do we need to do online and with our communications generally to facilitate this situation. Clearly the internet and what we do with it here is having an impact on our life together including our life together apart.

What should the church say about multiple membership?

What does church membership mean in the age of the internet and how is it changing?

I’m interested to hear John Chalmers of the Church of Scotland say today that he wants the church to think about what impact online engagement is making on membership of that denomination so it seems to me that this is an ecumenical matter. This is particularly significant given how negative he has been about social media in the past.

I’m obviously interested that some of the people who do turn up to the Church of Scotland are actually thinking of themselves in the core of their being as belonging in some way to us too. (We must presume that the converse is true too, though I know of no examples).

There’s probably more that I want to say about different types of belonging in another post further down the blog and there’s certainly a lot to be said about ecumenical matters.

However for now, what does it mean to belong?


Social Media and Ministry – Will I be your friend?

Here’s where I’m at with social media.


You’ll find me here: www.twitter.com/thurible

I follow whoever I like and I let anyone who wants to follow me. Twitter is the wild west – you do what you like. Part of the fun is following people who wouldn’t dream of following you back.

There are just over 500 accounts that I follow. These show up in my timeline and I keep a reasonable watch on what is going on. I miss some things in my timeline but I check twitter every day. Indeed, for some parts of my day, twitter is open in another monitor on my desk. Some of the people I follow are people who are close to me but most are not. I follow some people because they telegraph news that I’m interested in far quicker than any other media. I know things far sooner by following twitter than I would otherwise. Because I use it in this way, it is my responsibility to learn to sift and sort out what is likely to be true and what can be discarded as speculation or downright lies. As in other forms of communication, reputation is principally what determines whether I trust someone and I have huge responsibilities in working all this out. I need to be familiar with the genre to understand what I am reading.

[An example of that has just happened whilst I’m writing this post – a journalist I trust has just tweeted that Baroness Warsi has resigned over Gaza. I’m interested in that and I’m seeing that some time beforeĀ  I will hear it on the news.]

People ask me whether this takes a lot of time. My answer is that it takes hardly any time. And it takes all my time. It is just going on. It is part of life.

I tweet @thurible and I tweet on behalf of St Mary’s @thecathedral. The latter account doesn’t have my personality, but reflects the institution. The former account does reflect my personality. That means you get to hear what I think about God and what I think about Kylie’s head-dress. I also retweet things from people I find interesting and people I generally trust. You might hear things from me that you won’t hear in the newspapers and some people follow me for that reason. Some people presumably follow me because what I say entertains them in some way. But it is a free for all – those who want to follow get to do so without me bothering much about who they are. Three times as many people follow me as the number of people I follow.

If my tweets are retweeted by others, and they often are, then they will reach tens of thousands of people. What I think or say about the Scottish Episcopal Church, Kylie’s head-dress or Baroness Warsi could reach very many people. This is so powerful I have to think about what I say. Believe me, I do.

If I know you, or if you interact with me in ways that are clever, funny, witty, amusing, intelligent or even belligerent, there is a reasonable chance that I’ll follow you.


Well, facebook used to be the social network to build up vast lists of friends. I’m not interested in that any more. Since twitter came along, I’ve no particular interest in adding people as friends unless I’ve got good reason to do so. I get quite a few friend requests from people I don’t know at all and I realised a few months ago that I just wasn’t interested.

You see, if I accept you as a friend, I’ll see what you have to say in my timeline. Experience suggests that those whom I don’t know will be reposting lots of things from other people that I think of as drivel.

I’m interested in you on facebook if I know you or if I’m interested in what you’ve got to say. I am far less interested in your kitten picture. However, if I know your kittens, I’m beguiled. I’m much more interested in what you have to say or in in the picture that you have taken than in things that you have reposted from other “clever” people.

A while ago, Facebook introduced the concept of following. This is more sophisticated than twitter. You can follow me without me having to be your friend and a bunch of people do that. It means you can see all my public postings but I don’t have to see the photograph of your kitten. Everyone wins.

I work fairly carefully to keep my facebook connections in good order. I use the “lists” facility to make sure I know who is receiving what I’m posting. Thus, I can continue to use Facebook when I’m on holiday but don’t let members of the congregation see my postings whilst I’m away because a holiday is a holiday and we need time off from one another. It isn’t difficult to do that with Facebook. Most people who complain about facebook haven’t bothered to learn how to use it.

[I’m starting to see comment from politicians, journalists and friends about Baroness Warsi’s resignation – some see it as principled, some see it as opportunist – I sit and think about it.]

I’m more than aware that “friends” are not friends. However, I think that it is silly for people to say that “friends” have nothing to do with real friendship and community. (As the Church of Scotland Moderator appeared to do at the end of the General Assembly). I get lots of my community online. I like living that way. Some of the people I am closest to relate to me in this way. I have known them for many years and enjoy the daily company of good friends whom I would have lost touch with years ago without this way of communicating. I’ll be praying this morning at Morning Prayer for someone whom I’ve known since 1989 whom I see from Facebook is waiting news from a significant MRI scan. Don’t tell me that’s not real.

I’m on facebook atĀ www.facebook.com/thurible – if you are someone I know, are in my congregation, are someone I’ve met in my ministry then yes, I am likely to add you as a friend if you request that. I don’t generally befriend people in the congregation who are under 16. I don’t generally befriend people whom I don’t know at all. I get regular requests from people who have a number of mutual friends in common. I’m afriad if I see that our only mutual friends are a few of the dozen or so LGBT activists that I know well then you probably need to follow me rather than expect me to befriend you.

[BBC have a Breaking News note on their website saying that Baroness Warsi has resigned – nothing else].


I’m only on Google+ because it gets you access to google’s video hangouts and we host online evening prayer there. I only know one person who regularly posts on Google+ and they post their photographs elsewhere too. I don’t monitor Google+ and I’m unlikely to add you to my account. Not because I don’t want to be your friend but because there is no-one there. You are not there asking me to be your friend anyway. Presumably google will one day pull the plug on some of this – they can’t be making money out of it.


Oh, I do love pinterest and I’m on that sporadically. (You’ll find my profile here: http://www.pinterest.com/kelvinthurible)
It allows you to build up collections of pics that are on the web.If you want to see my collection of Religious Hat pictures you need to find me there. If you want to gaze in wonder at my board of Baldacchinos, ombrellinos, and religious shades then there’s nowhere else to go. And as for my carefully curated moodboard of TISECesque worship – then if you’ve not seen it you don’t know what you are missing. No friends here – if I pin something on a public board you are welcome to pin it to yours. We’ll hope that pinterest have plenty of well paid lawyers to sort out the copyright issues. And we’ll enjoy it whilst it lasts – again I don’t see how they are making any money. This is the social media network of choice if I’m off sick.

Interestingly, Pinterest is a social network with significantly more women on it than men. I keep an eye on some of the “Dream Wedding” stuff for fear of what is coming my way.


Flickr is a social network I have a profile on but hardly ever post to. I’m much more likely to post pictures to facebook. However I do use Flickr for finding pictures which people have already given their permission to be copied. I use these on the cathedral website sometimes. For example, when Peter Tatchell was with us recently I needed a good pic of him and found one on Flickr that had the appropriate copyright permissions allowing me to use it so long as I acknowledged where it had come from. Such generosity is a blessing unto us all.


I always think I ought to love LinkedIn more than I do. I have a profile but don’t know what to do with it. Maybe it just doesn’t work for the church.


I don’t have an instagram account but I might do one day. I don’t have any accounts on scruff, grindr, blendr or anything else which attempts to find me something carnal 300 ft from where I am. I also don’t think regular online dating can work for me but that is perhaps a post for another day. I don’t do social bookmarking though I can see the point. I don’t run any micro social networks of my own though from time to time I explore the options for the congregation. I use email so much that I’ve forgotten that it is a social media network though I’m quite sure that it is. I used to have a profile on Friends Reunited and presume it is still there but have to admit that Facebook beat it hands down. I have a spotify profile and think that it is very clever to try to make music into social media but resist most of their attempts to do so.

[The BBC now have a full report on Baroness Warsi’s resignation – pictures and responses from other people. I look at it and feel I’ve seen it all before. No-0ne links to it.]


Social Media and Ministry mix rather well. I don’t know what I’d do without some of it. It undoubtedly drives people to my blog and to the church website and both of those push some people towards the church. (They will push some people away too, but that’s OK – why waste the time of those who won’t be interested). Personality and ethos are gloriously muddled online. That’s the way the world is and I like it.

So that’s what I’m using social media for.