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Twittering Vicar makes the news

A photo of the notice giving church wifi

I was interested to see the news cycle today includes the story of Rev Andrew Alden who is, apparently, Britain’s first ‘Twitter Vicar’ – according to Sky.

I find this story interesting on two levels.

The press’ fascination with quirky Vicars

It seems that, every now and again, you can pretty much guarantee that the press will fall over themselves when clergy adopt new technology.

In 1997, the Church of England’s clergy generated headlines with Visual Liturgy. There was the London Vicar who did a service blessing mobiles and laptops in 2010. So has it ever been, I would imagine. If a Vicar dares to adopt some new technology or has the temerity to do something that is vaguely in keeping with the times in which they live, it is seen as a novelty and, ipso facto, newsworthy.

I don’t know if Andy Alden was the first Vicar to sign up on Twitter; perhaps he was – but I’m aware of plenty of such clergy so it did make me chuckle to see the press only catching up with the fact and dubbing him as the first with their ‘novelty Vicar’ angle.

One of the interesting things in the Sky TV news report was the incongruence between how they portrayed Rev Alden and his church and what they then showed in the news footage. We are told that this church is desperate to reach out to a younger audience but then shows a very large congregation of all ages at worship. He didn’t look that desperate to get a younger audience – I think they’re there already.

Even if you might wonder if they all turned up because Sky were there, that cynicism is quickly put to bed by the fact that the church has been re-ordered, carpeted, nice chairs instead of pews, screens on every pillar and a wifi set-up. These things do not pay for themselves and take a certain level of critical mass in the congregation before you can get it going.

The potential for worship with new media

I always knew it would be the case but, as soon as my dissertation is finished and handed in and turned into a book, the use of technology moves on and leaves it out-of-date! I guess I was hoping for more than a few days of relevance.

Actually, that’s not entirely true because the dissertation does include some discussion of the potential in new media to go in new directions with the classic sermon even if tweeting your questions to the preacher wasn’t one of the things that I mention directly.

Several emerging models of church make use of social media in a variety of ways and the ‘dialogue’ sermon that includes questions and answers has been something much talked about, but less frequently attempted, for some time. Jonny Baker has written about ‘slaying the sacred cow‘ (opens PDF) of the sermon and, culturally, many have wondered about whether giving someone a platform to monologue really works in our society anymore.

Rev Alden has the dialogue sermon working, not in an emerging model, but in the classic inherited mode of church that works on the basis of attracting people in, rather than going out. In that sense, it’s much closer to some of the things I am working with right now. I might have to find an excuse to visit Weston-super-Mare since I’d love to see it in action and I’d be very keen to have a go at shaping a sermon that is brief, to the point, but then leaves plenty of space to respond to the tweets. What fun!

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wannabepriest / Reflections from #cnmac12
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[…] a good few on this website. What a chance to share good ideas – using the PS3 in worship, asking questions of the sermon via Twitter or why sermons using Powerpoint may not be a great […]

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