Thursday, March 31, 2011
The Episcopal Church in 140 Characters or Less
One of the wonderful things I've noted with great pleasure in recent years is the manner in which Episcopal parishes and dioceses across the country have taken to utilizing social media. Blogs, Twitter, Facebook: they have all become valuable tools for bishops, priests, deacons and laity to share the Good News - the Good News of Christ, the Good News of their faith, and the Good News of their works. Being a member of the vestry in my own parish, I subscribe to a significant number of Twitter feeds, read a large number of blogs, and have "friended" or "liked" many parishes and clergy - all in an effort to say the many ways in which the Episcopal Church is at work in the world today.
One of my favorite posters is the Episcopal Bishop of Arizona, Kirk Smith, who writes a great blog and maintains a very active Twitter presence (he can be found as azbishop). During the just-concluded five-day conference of the House of Bishops at the Kanuga Conference Center, Bishop Smith provided a great number of updates on the topics of discussion during the conference, including the Presiding Bishop's vision of the future of the church and the debate over the Anglican Covenant which is still under discussion. For those without the ability to participate in these meetings, tweets such as "PB church needs outward focused ministry. Our primary mission is to world." and "PB shares vision of a local ordained ministry. A sacramental icon in every school and workplace." give us a great sense of the direction of the meetings and the powerful comments being made.
But then, apparently, some in the House raised concerns over tweeting from within the conference, and there was level of debate about what to allow, if anything, in the way of social media reports from within the conference. As reported today by Episcopal News Service, "Arizona Bishop Kirk Smith used the social networking service Twitter to share live updates for much of the meeting, but ceased posting messages when issues of confidentiality were raised by some members of the house. Smith continued to blog throughout the meeting. 'There is a real tension between using the technology we are all becoming used to, and the confidentiality of the house and particularly sending out electronic communication quoting specific people when, in fact, we are simply partway through a discussion and may have reached no conclusions,' retired Bishop Christopher Epting wrote on his blog."
Being a member of a vestry, I recognize that there are certain times where it is necessary to hold closed-door discussions - hence the option of going into executive session. The same is true for the House of Bishops, or any ecclesiastical gathering; certain things should be said in confidence. But by even debating the use of social media in these types of gatherings - and, by implication, debating cutting off a vital form of communication to the wider Episcopal church - isn't the House of Bishops coming close to isolating itself and reverting to the old way of press releases and post-session press conferences? Don't we as Episcopalians have a right to know what is being discussed, without the filter of statements and the passage of time between something being said and it finally reaching our ears? And don't we - shouldn't we - trust the discretion of bishops like Kirk Smith to know when to say something via Twitter and when to avoid it?
One of the elements of the Anglican Covenant now under debate and discussion is that of trust. I would hope that, as we work to resolve the fissures within the Anglican Communion and bring about a strong feeling of trust there, the House of Bishops ensures that we can also retain our trust in them by promoting as much transparency as possible and allowing our elected bishops to let us know what is going on.