#doinganewthing Social Media Sunday at St. Mark’s

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

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Screen shot of Kate Amatuzzo’s (with Carly Rowe) Facebook post during the service.

It was only somewhat coincidental that St. Mark’s planned our first attempt at Social Media Sunday on the same day that we heard this passage from the prophet Isaiah. While I admit, I was pleased when I read the appointed lessons, it was actually after the fact! We picked Sunday, March 13, because it was the end of Lent and timely in that folks may in fact be considering attending church for Holy Week and Easter. It was also planned to happen at the same time that we launched our new website (www.saintmarkserie.org in case you were wondering). Once we determined those two things, the Isaiah reading made it all the more appropriate. So much so, that we used #doinganewthing as part of the day!

So why do a Social Media Sunday? This idea is certainly not original to St. Mark’s. The Episcopal Church has done several on a national level in recent years. Why? Because Social Media has become a powerful way to encourage people of faith to share the gospel. Facebook reports that they have 1.2 billion users (238 million in the United States alone) and Twitter reports 230 million users. I think we could all agree that this kind of reach is greater than just about any other medium available right now – oh and it’s free!

Our goal, like others who have done similar events, was to get people beyond their fear of using digital media and understand that these are effective tools that we can use to invite others, show our care and concern, tell our friends about our church, and introduce them to Jesus. Not everyone is an extrovert and not everyone is going to be comfortable walking up to someone and inviting them to church. However, if you are on Facebook or Twitter, you can post, share, invite and you have reached into your network of folks in a way that your church couldn’t do without your help. One on one evangelism times the number of friends you have on Facebook!

59695_976127559130832_6951792523750174087_nOur organization for this Sunday was simple. We produced a handout with clear instructions that everyone who came to church was given. It explained where to find St. Mark’s on Facebook and Twitter and then we suggested posts and tweets and of course hashtags (#doinganewthing #getconnected #stmarks). We gave those who were not on social media a way to participate by giving them the opportunity to write out their tweets and giving them to me to tweet. We also projected the new website and the live twitter feed in the church. (Yes, projecting in an Episcopal church and nothing bad happened, it was just fine.) Both really helped people get engaged. Vanessa Butler was on hand posting and tweeting on behalf of the diocese so our reach was even broader.

The results of all of this were beyond what we could have expected. The participation from the congregation was overwhelming and we had so much fun engaging in it on a Sunday. We picked up 20 new Twitter followers and 10 new page likes on Facebook, all in less than two hours. The website traffic was exponentially higher than any other Sunday morning. Will these people turn up at St. Mark’s for Easter or another Sunday? That remains to be seen, but at least they now know who we are and what we stand for when they decide that they are ready to come to church.

An unexpected result was that our members found new relationships and connected with other members they may not have otherwise connected with, by liking and sharing their posts and tweets. They were looking for each other after the services, introducing themselves by asking “Were you the one that posted that?”.

We said all along it was about the relationships, not the technology. Indeed it was. We reached hundreds of people outside of the walls of St. Mark’s on March 13 and we formed community for those who were already there. Win, win, and, yes, we would most certainly do it again!

Carly Rowe, Associate for Programs and Development, St. Mark’s, Erie

‘A Husky F. D. Maurice’ by Fr. Shawn Clerkin

tree-200795_1280I am a social media wonk. It’s not just a hobby for me; as a professor of communication, I am fascinated by the comings and goings of various social media fads and by the tidal wave of social media apps for my smart phone and tablet devices. My students are constantly telling me about new ways to share information, interests, and entertainment. And while they tell me that Facebook (what some in my generation call “The Facebooks”…good grief) is SO 2005, I still maintain my FB profile and presence, post and share information, and keep up with family, friends and alumni. Yes…I do have 5,000 “friends,” and frequently, when I post something controversial, I lose followers and can replace them with one of the many requests I have in cue.

Recently, there have been a plague of surveys that somehow are supposed to tell you something about yourself that you didn’t know, or reassure you of something that you’d like to believe is true about you. For example, I was engaged in a photo survey of my pictures on FB, and that my celebrity doppelganger is either a husky Russell Crowe or a thin John Goodman. I took both as complimentary. I also found through a questionnaire that my Anglican theologian heart is best represented by 19th century Anglican priest and university professor, F. D. Maurice. I had no idea who Maurice was until I looked him up.

1Our collect for Maurice in Lesser Feasts and Fasts asks God to “Keep alive in your Church, we pray, a passion for justice and truth; that, like your servant Frederick Denison Maurice, we may work and pray for the triumph of the kingdom of your Christ….” That resonated with me, so I looked further into his life and teachings.

Studied law? Not me. Refused his law degree because he would not subscribe to an oath of conformity. ME! Joined the Anglican Church because of personal responses to other traditions. ME! Came to theology after other studies. ME! Professor of humanities studies. ME! Formed the Christian Socialist Movement. (SHHHHH! I also have leanings in that direction…).

Maurice was a passionate ecumenist, which, after working decades at a diocesan Roman Catholic institution, I have sincere empathy. He wrote more commentaries on New Testament studies than Old, and I am drawn to the Gospels and Epistles as well. What hooked me more were some of his most quoted statements.

“We have been dosing our people with religion when what they want is not this but the living God.” My students at Gannon University frequently say that they are disillusioned with traditional Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant churches who insist that their particular Christianity is the ONLY way, truth, and life. The sad reality is that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and not the religious institutions that mediate the Gospel message. The reservations of young people are communicating to us very clearly that Christian territorialism weakens the message, especially when that message is one of Christ’s desire for radical forgiveness and unconditional love.

“Competition is put forth as the law of the universe. That is a lie. The time has come for us to declare that it is a lie, by word and deed.” We are not out to triumph over one another, but to see that God’s will triumphs over all. When we divide ourselves as winners and losers, when we strive to dominate, decimate, or destroy those who differ from us, then we are not living into Christ’s examples to broaden our understanding of all humanity as our neighbor and our care.

“I do not think we are to praise the liturgy but to use it. When we do not want it for our life, we may begin to talk of it as a beautiful composition.” Liturgy communicates faith only if the audience of liturgy understands what it is saying. Language, gestures, ceremonies without meaning and without function have no part in the liturgical life of the Church. We must be constantly creating, refining, and innovating our worship so that it is meaningful and relevant to the faithful. And we must also appreciate the nuances and delicacies with which we perform our rites and rituals. Liturgical aesthetics are important, as long as they are appreciated not as museum pieces but as living, breathing expressions of thanksgiving and oblation.

“Christian Socialism will commit us at once to the conflict we must engage in sooner or later with the unsocial Christians and the unchristian Socialists.” Those who do go to church on Sunday mornings and then flip the bird to their neighbor as they pull in the driveway are just as mistaken and dangerous as those who wish to impose economic equality without engaging forgiveness and repentance. If there is to be equity in society, then the equity is best grounded in Christian social teaching. Gannon University’s integration of Catholic Social Teaching in our coursework and service learning/volunteerism has enlivened in me the importance of working for justice and peace, not just as a humanist, but as a disciple of Jesus Christ. We cannot separate social justice from the Gospel message; and, in fact, when we integrate them faithfully, we also become doers of the word and not just preachers.

I still have much to learn from F. D. Maurice, and I will continue to read his works and glean strength from his example. The connection is a gift I never thought I’d get…from a silly survey on Facebook!

Shawn ClerkinThe Rev. Shawn Clerkin, AOJN. Vicar at St. Mary’s Church, Lawrence Park, PA and Associate Professor, School of Communication and the Arts / Director of Theatre Center for Communication and the Arts at Gannon University.

Searching for the digital savior

SALT LAKE CITY — God represents the biggest topic at the 78th General Convention, but Google is raising lots of questions as well.
Such as: “If Jesus Googled himself, what would he find?”google-485611_1280.jpg
The Rev. Jake Dell posed that query on Wednesday morning. He is the Episcopal Church’s manager of digital marketing. And he spoke as the key witness before the General Convention’s Committee on Evangelism and Communications, on which I serve and which the Rev. Dennis Blauser, also of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, co-chairs.
Dell was explaining details of the committee’s main resolution — a $3 million project that would test a digital communications initiative for the church over the next three years. One component would improve the Episcopal Church’s search-engine optimization ranking, or SEO, so that Google users who search for religious topics would be directed toward Episcopal resources. The Rev. Adam Trambley, rector of St. John’s Sharon, is part of a group, Episcopal Resurrection, that drafted the resolution.
A favorable SEO for the Episcopal Church is all but absent now, which led Dell to ask the question about Jesus and Google. At the moment, Dell said, if Jesus Googled himself, he would find almost nothing related to how the Episcopal Church relates to him.
One of the religious denominations that best uses social media and that has boosted its SEO, Dell said, is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is, of course, synonymous with Utah and Salt Lake City.
In 2008, Dell said, a Google search for “Mormons” would yield “overwhelmingly negative articles,” such as those about “Mormon underwear.” The Mormons launched a digital initiative, Dell said, and by 2010 “the LDS had turned things around completely” on the Internet. A Google search for “Mormons” now directs users to positive articles about the faith in particular and its theology in general.
The Mormons have improved their image and broadened their reach.
Episcopalians have the potential to achieve the same results.
The Evangelism and Communications Committee will refine the $3 million proposal this week — it also includes strategies for social media — and General Convention will vote on the resolution. Passage would help bring the Episcopal Church further into the 21st century and aid evangelism over the Internet.
Passage of the resolution would also recognize a reality: That God is most powerful, but that Google is powerful, too.
 Ed Palattella, a deputy from the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, is a reporter and editor for the Erie Times-News.