What a fascinating day for social media and the Methodist church. Others will write more knowledgably about this but I want to flag up some of my observations early! Apparently, at one point, there was a Methodist conference tweet every 17 seconds – that is pretty amazing really. The Methodist Media peeps are doing a great job at keeping the Methodist Conference streamed and twittered to its full potential and some have started to call it 21st Century Connexionalism and others Connexionalism 2.0. Whatever name we give it, it is a turn for the better and one that I think will become difficult to slow down. People at home and in the conference were able to participate in conversation and debate (and the odd bit of dry humour) whilst other non-techy delegates could only listen and ruminate in silence.
It raises some big questions though: for instance, what does it mean to say that Conference is made up of elected representatives in the light of social media? Can only elected tweeters tweet? Or are we the equivalent of the chattering public gallery? Actually, does this technology give us no real advantage? Or is this connexionalism at its best? And is it truly representative? There were a significant number of people tweeting throughout the day but social media is used by the few and not the masses, so is this simply niche church? but then again – there were those contributing who might not contribute normally (in other words niche church already exists in the inherited church model)
Whatever we make of it – it was still a significant day for social media in the Methodist Church. Interestingly, I met last week with a couple of friends in Stoke to begin to ask what a virtual district/circuit might look like and how we get others to participate in decision making processes of local Christian communities through social media. Maybe we have caught a glimpse of it.
A fascinating debate I witnessed on twitter but didn’t see live (which means I might have missed some of the nuances) was around the area of a liturgy for the renewal of baptismal vows. The argument, in a nut shell, goes something like this: The church believes in one baptism and that baptism is both future promise and present reality. It rehearses the great salvific events that Christians believe were lived out by Jesus of Nazareth. It promises the death of an old self, the forgiveness of sins and the hope of a new life to come. In that sense, the baptism is once and for all. We can’t take back those promises. Once it is done – it is done. But, say some, what if someone who was baptised as an infant, but then never has anything to do with church, then comes to acknowledge a faith in Jesus. They can’t be baptised (‘cos that was done) so how else can we recognise this significant moment?
This issue is of vital importance to pioneering. If people who come alongside us in our work choose to make a commitment to a particular way of life that we would call Christian (or discipleship) then how do we recognise that moment?
Part of the problem, for me, is that the Methodist Church suffers from a huge dose of protestant enlightenment thinking. We persist in trying to explain everything away without any reference to the transcendence and alterity of faith (and life for that matter). So that baptism and acts of renewal are simply functional moments, as if marking a place on map from which we can identify a place of origin and a project a vector of travel.
Sacrament is greater than that! Sacrament is about using everyday stuff – water, bread, wine and surrounding them in a narrative that makes them more than what they physically are. Sacrament is about mystery, beauty and transcendence. The Church, at its best, offers such space at a particular time to help others make sense of something that is almost impossible to put into words. Ian Morgan Cron in his book Chasing Francis writes ‘our assumption has been that the only true access to the soul is through the head, so our efforts to lead people to faith have focussed on convincing their minds rather than captivating or romancing their hearts’ He also wrote ‘Beauty can break a heart and make it think about something more spiritual than the mindless routine we go through day after day to get by’ and later ‘people are meaning-seekers. We all want to be part of something that’s larger than ourselves.’
Come on Methodist Church – let’s think wonderfully creatively about beautiful, transcendent, meaning making moments. Stop worrying about whether or not something looks like baptism and start finding ways of enabling our theology to be practiced in exciting and unfathomable ways. Instead of trying to explain what we are doing, why not try to develop a theology around what we experience and then work out the best way to practice our theology.
And don’t get me started on the missing generation report …. (only joking! Think that is a wonderful report and well worth reading)
Bring on tomorrow …