Doing theology with a bible in one hand and an iPad in the other – the challenges

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At our curates’ weekend away we considered how the church engages with the world. A number of us gave short talks on a variety of topics such as should we be political in our preaching and how do we deal with the politics of fear and I chose to speak on this one. Here is the text of what I shared.

20170511_171811Is there any difference between doing our theology with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other (as Barth said) and doing our theology with the Bible in one hand and an iPad in the other?

I was chatting to a friend recently about the fact that 20 years ago I used to read a daily newspaper, then about 15 years ago I started to only buy a paper on occasion – quite often if I was going on a journey somewhere and wanted something to read, then since about 5 years ago I have all but stopped buying newspapers – except for occasionally the weekend papers (especially when on holiday). Why is this? Well I don’t know about you but when I read a printed paper these days I think, knew that, yes, know that, read it last week online, know that…it’s all yesterday’s news.

I consume news almost solely through the radio and my phone these days. The problem with my online consumption is it is no longer filtered by one organisation, I am fed news (funny that we talk about ‘feeds’ in social media parlance – as if we are eating information) through a combination of things my friends have shared and things that a faceless algorithm has decided I might like. More and more now on social media – mainly Facebook and Twitter for me – the blurring of the power of the algorithm with what my online networks share is only increasing and it is almost becoming sinister. This is because, of course, the wonderful social media platforms (which I joined in their early infancy) needed eventually to find a way to make money. The way they do that without charging for your use of their platforms is of course via advertising. I read a very disturbing article recently in the Guardian about a company called Cambridge Analytical who were instrumental in the Trump election campaign – they can psychoanalyse people using what they’ve shared on social media and then target vulnerable looking individuals with emotive content and fake news. I’m sure there is some of this going on in the current election. The terrifying thing is that it is so hidden and insidious.

So when I read a news article now online there are a huge number of factors that I have to consider – what is the source, which of my friends shared it or did it come via another route, why did this pop up in my feed, do I need to fact-check this?

So when we take Barth’s dictum about doing theology with the bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other it has a whole load of other layers when we replace the newspaper with a phone or tablet. When reading a newspaper the experience is fairly one dimensional. You read the article, think about it a bit, and then move on. The old fashioned way to deal with it if you felt particularly strongly, was to write a letter to the editor expressing your views. That process would take a few days. With an iPad the experience is much more three-dimensional. If you’re on Facebook those little reaction buttons are tantalising, almost without reading the full article they’re begging for a click – will you ‘like’ this or click the ‘wow’ button or the ‘angry’ button, go on, do it, click it! Then the next stage is to write a comment underneath it and then you very quickly get sucked in to the undercurrent of the comments feed – someone replies to your comment or you respond to someone else’s and before you know it it’s midnight and you have an early start in the morning. Then the next phase is to write your own rant or blogpost about the topic in question and the comment cycle continues. This can all happen within one minute of seeing the article appear in your feed.

Here are some guidelines I have formulated to ask myself when trying to do theology with my bible in one hand and a phone in the other:

  • Are most of the news articles I read from a single source or a single political perspective? Am I aware of this?
  • Who paid for this article?
  • What are my emotion levels like as I read this – has it been written to press particular buttons?
  • Do I need to do some more reading around?
  • Do I need to slow my reactions down? Think before you share/comment/react.
  • Do not comment or react to the article unless you have read it in full.
  • When commenting, why not use the THINK acronym, is it true, is it helpful, is it inspiring, is it necessary, is it kind?

Alternatively, to turn this on its head, what about the benefits of doing theology with a bible and newspaper in hand:

  • You have time and space to reflect and consider carefully
  • If you want to make a response, you need to find pen and paper and put your thoughts down in an orderly fashion as a letter
  • Then you need to wait to see if you get a response back – perhaps up to a week

Surely the best theology is done through prayer and reflection, not from quick fire, gut responses? So my challenge to myself (and maybe to you) is to build in reflection time and prayer time into my engagement with current affairs. I need to press pause more. Perhaps I need to react less, so that I can hear that still, small voice of calm.

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My tips on managing your personal Facebook account – how to hide certain things from certain people!

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Having a Facebook account as a clergy person and also as anyone else who works closely with the public is fraught with all sorts of etiquette and safety problems. I have a lot of teacher friends on Facebook that have recently changed their name to a nickname so that they can’t be easily found by parents wanting to cause trouble. Many clergy struggle with getting friend requests from parishioners – it feels mean to say ‘no’ to a friend request but we clergy also have a private life that we don’t necessarily want to share with everyone in church. Lots of people have different ways of dealing with this, here is what some people I know do:

  • Don’t be on Facebook at all
  • Never accept a friend request from a parishioner
  • Create two Facebook profiles – one for the vicar and one for the person behind closed doors

The problem with these, for me at least, is that you miss out from sharing what’s going on at church with a wide group of people (although I would of course recommend you have a Facebook page for your church). Also, Facebook can be a place where you can offer pastoral support and maybe only even find out that someone is struggling because they’ve posted something on Facebook (but said they were fine at the church door on Sunday). Running two profiles is quite fiddly and there is always the potential for mixing them up – although I know some people who find this the best way to deal with these dilemmas.

My solution is to use Friend Lists.

I have created a list of Friends that are people that I’m willing to be friends with on Facebook but with whom I don’t share everything. This way I can post things I’m happy for people to know about – such as a coffee morning at church, and hide things like a picture of me and my husband at an anniversary meal.

To create a new list:
  1. Go to Home when logged in to Facebook.
  2. Click Friend Lists under Explore on the left side of your News Feed.
  3. Click Create List.
  4. Enter a name for your list and the names of friends you’d like to add. Keep in mind you can add or remove friends from your lists at any time.
  5. Click Create.

Once you have done that, when you create a new post in Facebook, you can select the audience the post is to be shared with:

facebook friends list

So in this image above I have set this post to Friends except – the list called ‘Church Restricted’. So anyone on that list wouldn’t see that umpteenth post about how brilliant Game of Thrones was last night!

If you’re unsure if this has worked once you’ve set it up, you can at any time see what your Facebook profile looks like to the general public or to a specific person by clicking  on your profile page next to where it says ‘view activity log’ and then clicking on ‘view as’:

Facebook view as

Then it will take you to this page and you can view as the Public or as a specific person.

facebook view as public

This is really useful and helps you to see if you might have over-shared! You can always go back and remove particular posts – just click on the tiny v in the top right of any post to edit or remove a post or to change the audience:

Facebook edit

 

 

Sharing Faith Using Social Media – my new publication out now from @grovebooks

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img_20161019_135818Followers of my blog will remember that I carried out some research for my BA dissertation in 2013 into how people share their faith online. This work is now available to read in a Grove Booklet. This short booklet outlines where we are in terms of mission today, how people are using social media to share their faith, the reactions they get when they do and how each of us can be encouraged in our own witness online. It’s an illuminating read for anyone interested in what it means to be a Christian in the online world.

 

May I take this opportunity to thank all of you who contributed to the research by responding to the survey – keep on sharing your faith with your friends online!

Click here to buy your copy:

https://grovebooks.co.uk/collections/evangelism/products/ev115-sharing-faith-using-social-media

Here is some early feedback  on the book:

Creating an email newsletter for your church/organisation using Mailchimp

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email newsI recently wrote an article about the importance of keeping in touch with people after they’ve connected with us at church through something like a baptism. One good way in which to keep in touch with people is by sending a regular email newsletter. You’ll be familiar with these – I get a whole range, from Waterstones to my gym to my friend who works for a charity. Some, granted, you let languish in the spam folder but others are genuinely useful – one I often read is the newsletter from Durham Cathedral.

Sending a regular email newsletter might sound like a bit of a nightmare to organise, but not if you know which tools you can use. One of the best out there is provided free of charge by Mailchimp.com (The basic model is free, you can pay to remove the Mailchimp logo from the bottom of the email). We have been using this (free version) for over a year now to keep in touch with people connected with church, see a recent example here.

Great things about Mailchimp:

  • it manages your email list for you – even letting you know if an address has been incorrectly spelt
  • it looks after the all-important unsubscribe feature – you don’t need to do anything, it automatically adds a link at the bottom of your email enabling people to unsubscribe and then you get a notification if someone does (in a whole year we’ve still only had less than 10 people unsubscribe from our list).
  • it’s easy to use
  • you can create a template and save it – leaving the only thing you need to do is add your content
  • it connects brilliantly to your other social media – for example you can have it automatically publish to your Facebook page
  • you can schedule your newsletter (so you can write it on Monday but have it be sent out on a Friday morning)

Mailchimp is pretty intuitive to use but I outline here some steps for getting started.

Step 1: Contact list and administrators

Before you create your account, make sure you have a list of email contacts that you would like to send your regular letter to – if these are in an excel spreadsheet this is one of the easiest ways to upload them to Mailchimp, or you can just copy and paste them in. I collected ours from booking forms for baptisms and weddings and also our electoral roll. Now, whenever people book something with us I tell them about our newsletter and that I will add their name (making sure they know they can unsubscribe at any time).

Decide how regular to make your newsletter (ours is weekly – using much of the detail that usually goes on the weekly pew sheet at church) – or you might like to do one monthly or even quarterly.

Decide who will work on your newsletter and ensure they have access to the account as well (you can add users).

Step 2: Create your account and add your contact list

Go to Mailchimp.com and create an account. Add your contacts in a list. Tip: don’t bother with what they call ‘groups’ – I tried and it’s too fiddly, create a separate list for each group if you wish (eg. wedding contacts, baptism contacts, general…) or just one master list if you’re doing a generic email newsletter.

Fill in the sections accordingly (here’s an example):

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In this bottom box feel free to use the following text:

Why am I getting this email?

You may have subscribed to receive this email or we have included you in our mailing list because you have had contact with X Church in some way over the last year, you may have been married here, had your baby baptised, joined us for worship or are a regular member of the congregation. Whatever your connection we feel it’s important to keep in touch with you and let you know what’s happening at X and from time to time reflect on life, God and the world around us. If you would rather not receive this email, please use the unsubscribe link below.

This is what appears at the bottom of the email people will receive.

Add your church/organisation’s address and then choose how and when you want to receive notifications from Mailchimp if someone subscribes or unsubscribes. Then click ‘save’.

Then click ‘import subscribers’ and I suggest clicking on the ‘copy/paste’ option. Then simply open your email list and copy and paste the addresses into the box:

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You don’t have to have the first name and last name for it to work, you can just paste the email addresses on their own into the first column. Tick the box underneath (nothing is likely to happen unless you’re pasting thousands of addresses in!) Then click ‘next’. Choose the ‘subscribed’ option on the next screen and click ‘import’. It may take a little while depending on the number of addresses you’ve added and they will send you an email when it is done. Remember that you can add new addresses to the list at any time.

Step 3: Create newsletter template

This bit takes a bit of time but once you’ve done it you can reuse it again and again for all your newsletters. Go to Mailchimp home (click on the monkey head in the top left of the screen), then click on Templates and Create template:

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If you are a beginner I suggest choosing one of the basic options provided. The one we use is 1:2 column.

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This is the area in which you can design your template, the system is quite easy to use and works on a ‘drag and drop’ basis. If you go to delete something it double checks you really want to do it so it is fairly idiot proof! Here’s a short video I made on using this section of Mailchimp:

Step 4: Sending your newsletter

Rather confusingly this is called a ‘campaign’ in Mailchimp, a campaign is simply an email that goes out to a list. So you’re ready to send your first newsletter now.

Click on Campaigns and ‘create campaign’. Select ‘regular campaign’, choose the list to send it to and click ‘next’. Then give your campaign a name, fill in the fields:

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You may wish to let it autopost to your Facebook page – click to connect your Facebook page on the button:

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Then click ‘next’ at the bottom of the screen – you can always go back on any of these steps if you forget something.

Click on ‘Saved Templates’ next and find the template you made earlier:

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Then add all the content you want to your newsletter by clicking on the boxes and changing the text and images:

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If you want to see what it will look like click on ‘Preview and Test’ at the top of the page and ‘enter preview mode’.

Under ‘Preview and Test’ you can also send a test of the email – this is worth doing the first time just so you can be sure it looks how you want it to look.

Once you’re happy, click next at the bottom right of the screen and go through the final steps before clicking either on ‘send’ if  you want it to go immediately or ‘schedule’ if you want to specify the time it will be sent:

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Finally, click on ‘schedule campaign’ and you’re all done!

 

And that’s it, there are some other really good features in Mailchimp that you will discover the more you use it but it is a really good way of keeping in touch with people, you might not see them all in church on a Sunday but people are really glad to be reminded that you care and that you’re there for them.

 

 

 

We’ve been hiding our Light under a bushel for too long

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One of the things we are really bad at in the church (especially the Church of England) is recognising that we actually have something good to share with people and that people are genuinely looking for it and interested.

We tend to assume that newcomers to church will ‘probably be bored’, ‘won’t want to be there’ or are ‘not interested’. This is particularly true of our view of the people who attend our occasional offices (christenings, weddings and funerals). I am increasingly discovering, however, that people are open to being contacted again by us after they’ve attended a wedding, baptism or funeral, and that they want more of what we have to offer, namely: a sense of belonging and a ‘place to put the emotions that won’t go anywhere else‘ (as Rowan Williams once put it).

To give you some simple examples:

  • following a wedding we often notice people have ‘checked in’ on Facebook and have ‘liked’ our church Facebook page – an invitation for us to keep in touch with them
  • people who have attended funerals often keep in touch in a light way through our Facebook page (simply liking pictures and articles we’ve shared) – we might not see them in church again but it is a way of staying connected
  • after praying with a family in a pre-wedding meeting and lighting some candles, I was asked if we could ‘do that candle thing again’ at the rehearsal

People do actually want what we are offering, they do want the Good News but unfortunately, we have been hiding our light under a bushel for too long.

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These days, if you buy anything on-line or visit a chain restaurant or tourist attraction you are immediately invited to take further action – you will probably receive an email newsletter, an invitation for money off something or simply some information about other events. It’s the classic ‘other people who bought this also liked…’ trick so well used by the likes of Amazon. We are used to this and we don’t mind (there is always the unsubscribe button).

Now, don’t get me wrong, we are not ‘selling a product’ at church but what we are doing is inviting people to be a part of our, and God’s, community. Or at least we should be, and one of the best ways in which we can do that is to try and keep that invitation open.

invitationAt a recent consultation event on Baptisms that I attended, I was told that research conducted by the Church of England highlighted that 9/10 people wanted the church to keep in touch after their child’s baptism but that only 3/10 people expected that to happen.

Why do we think that people won’t want us to get in touch with them again after they’ve come to us for something like a wedding? Booking a service with us is a big step in the first place, a big vote of confidence, and yet, we worry that people won’t be interested: ‘we mustn’t shove it down their throats’ we think.

The good news is that there are some very simple ways in which we can keep the invitation open, here are some that we use in our parish:

  • Have a regularly (daily) updated Facebook Page – many keep in touch with what’s happening at church through the year by following our Facebook page. Our usage has seen an increase in attendance at Christmas services especially but also serves to show the local community the wide range of activities that go on at church (we reach over 2000 people each week on Facebook).
  • We have a popular monthly Parish Magazine (hard copy)
  • We keep our church website up to date with what is going on and clear information on how to find us and get in touch
  • We send out a weekly email newsletter using Mailchimp – a free tool

If you are interested in starting to use social media in your church or organisation you might want to start with this article I wrote here.

Let’s keep that invitation open!

 

Thinking about using social media for your church? Start here

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Over the last few years I have been asked a number of times to help churches get started with social media. Now I’m ordained I no longer have so much time available to help people but I was often surprised by how much little thought was put into the who, what, when, how and whys of starting to use a new way of communicating. So I created this flowchart. If you want to start using social media, why not use this as a discussion point at your PCC or a team meeting. Before you even think about a Facebook page or twitter, you need to know how and why you want to create one!

Once you’ve been through this chart you may want to look at these articles:

Beginning to blog

My guide to Facebook for churches

My guide to Twitter

Planning your church's social media

Creative ideas using new media – presentation at #wunm conference, Harrogate 16 Nov 2013

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My second conference in a row this month! We Use New Media is running for the 2nd year in Harrogate on Saturday 16 November – a conference especially for those who work with young people in churches across the North of England. Here is my presentation on creativity and new media:

 

And here is a great short summary video of the day made by Mike North:

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