Members of General Synod have begun reporting back to the Deaneries which recently elected them. This is an important part of their function, for if the governing body of the Anglican Church in Britain is seeking to re-ignite mission ( which it does ) it will only succeed if it carries with it the ordinary folk in the pews.
Such a project requires listening and accountability across all levels of the Church, especially in the case of the House of Laity. Nothing will assist this better than the widespread use of technology and this will be the focus of this piece.
The Church is about to undertake a programme of “Reform and Renewal” sometimes called “Renewal and Reform”. It matters to some how that is expressed!
General Synod had many new members who were brought up to speed by the inspirational Canon John Spence during the induction day. The following day we heard more about the component parts of the programme by other major contributors after the Synod. That presentation can be found here https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=c2J0BBPe_6o
There is one aspect of the process which appears to be somewhat under appreciated despite having been obliquely demonstrated before the Synod even began. The #JustPray furore had rocketed the Church into the National Headlines for the first time for some years, at least in respect of a story that did not involve sexuality or sexual abuse. The importance of this can be tested by you now, please “google” “Church of England” now and then press the video tab – but do come back!
You will see that our Prayer video is all over cyberspace. Short form video interrupts a busy world all the time in the fast moving world of digital social media, but offer a well produced moment to invite prayer and half a million people join in, within a 24 hour period.
At the July Synod, concerned at the poor presence of social media missional outreach in the Church Brother Ivo had been critical of the Church. In response a dialogue began at which our Director of Communications Arun Arora shared some of his thinking; in response Brother Ivo sent in detailed proposals informed by family members involved in the Digital Media at a senior level.
It soon became apparent that independently, the Church task force and a sympathetic outside critic were of almost identical mind. The details of difference were on a narrow area of technicality – important, but not fundamental.
When Canon Spence alluded to developments about to be considered by Archbishop’s Council and -God Willing -signed off for implementation in the New Year, the revolutionary possibilities for evangelisation in the country, especially amongst the young, may not have been apparent, but potentially this could be the most long lasting initiative of the whole package.
Join a strategic discussion group anywhere in the Church and it will not be long before they are considering the question “Where are the young people? The answer is, of course, “online”. A Church that is not missionally engaged with the most powerful communications media ever, is asleep at the wheel.
That this is the place to encounter the unchurched young is obvious.
There are two important advantages to prioritising social media. It is relatively cheap to outreach to vast numbers of people quickly. You get a lot of bang for your bucks. More importantly, our outreach is ” unmediated” ie, you do not need anybody else’s permission. Canon Spence underlined how the Christian narrative is being deliberately written out of popular a culture. He illustrated it with reference to the popular television programme Downton Abbey. Not a single house of that character in Edwardian times would have failed to start and finish the day upstairs and downstairs, with prayer. When challenged upon that absence, the makers stated that such references were not thought “relevant”. Plainly no drama needed to linger long on Mr Carson reading Morning Prayer to the servants, but a few passing references would have permitted appropriate historical authenticity.
That it was resisted, tells us what we need to know about how far Antonio Gramsci’s plans for “cultural hegemony” have infiltrated the media classes.
When the Communications office presently has a story, they first have to interest and persuade a small cadre of BBC ITV or Sky staff, maybe some newspaper editors. If they only want stories on sexuality, that is all that the public hears.
The #JustPray initiative could have been killed by the handful of executives who control access to cinema screens. What they had not counted upon was the power of Social Media. The people wanted to see the video and they shared it with their friends.
This is a prime example of the benefits of social media outreach; the Gospel will not be silenced. Like water, it will find a way through.
Synod was also told that at present, the demographic profile of the Church is 20 years older than the general population. This buzzy world of blogs apps and Vlogs seems terribly daunting but its underlying thought is very biblical . Jesus recruited followers who found followers. He gave them mental images – of sowers, rebellious children, and victims of muggers- and these are still with us .
When Paul wrote, his letters were copied and shared: they have cascaded down the centuries and across continents. The difference is that what once took months now takes only seconds. Brother Ivo can communicate with thousands of people in a day. More successful bloggers like the much admired Digitalnun and Archbishop Cranmer are even more effective.
If the Church can engage each and everyone of its members active in the social media to post on Facebook or Twitter, the impact would be swift and effective.
In a complementary initiative the Church Army launched an initiative of their own offering a first rate teaching aid to Churches, designed to enable ordinary people to talk with others about that faith. That many of us have a lack of confidence about such conversations was underlined by no less a figure than Archbishop Justin who confessed his own horror of participating in his Church’s weeks of Evangelism before he was ordained! It is worth looking at this splendid resource at www.faithpictures.org.
The video offered there may illustrate the value of this kind of story based video. It is designed to spearhead re-evangelisation by normalising conversations about Jesus and the life of faith.
This may seem strange to older Christians. It is not . It is highly scriptural.
After the resurrection some of the demoralised disciples returned to their fishing. They were unsuccessful until a figure instructed them to fish on the other side of the boat. When they did, the catch was so successful that they could barely handle the bounty. What had Jesus commanded?
Better use of the net!!!
This is not a trite point. In digital marketing terms, Jesus was offering better data from which to target their efforts. That passage may explain why it was that the early Church was willing to deploy its efforts, sending their greatest assets – the Apostles – all over the world rather than “circling the wagons” and becoming defensive and inward looking.
This aspect of Reform and Renewal is entirely congruent with that example.
It will not be long before serious money effort and resource will be applied into this vital area of mission. For it to yield success we shall need as many Christians as possible to seek and share the accessible material with everyone with whom they are in contact.
We are approaching Advent when we are called to ” prepare the way of The Lord”. Getting ready to become cyber-evangelists is a major part of this. Aslan is on the March.