CCS grad and deacon Richard Manley-Tannis has been blogging as part of his ministry for a number of years. As more and more leaders in the church are thinking about social media, I thought it might be a good time to ask Richard to reflect on his experience. We’re grateful that Richard has taken up the challenge (and grateful to any of you who want to enter into the conversation by leaving a comment).
First a bit of background, in case you’re not up on the lingo: A “blog” is a website (or part of a website) that contains a writer’s observations, opinions, experiences, pictures, etc. The name comes from “web log” (kind of like an online diary). Some blogs are very personal, some can be institutional or corporate, and some are somewhere in between. Richard’s blog, A Deacon’s Musing, is part of the United Church in Meadowood’s website.
Here are Richard’s reflections:
A Deacon’s Musing: CCS|Q&A
I have recently been invited by my alma mater – the Centre for Christian Studies (CCS) – to do a little blogging. The parameters are fairly broad, but it was helpful to be invited to return to a previous blog – A Deacon’s Musing: To Blog or not to Blog – as a place from which to begin. The following blog for CCS, therefore, is what has resulted in the ensuing musing of a Deacon and is structured around some of the helpful guiding questions, which were initially posed through facebook … and I do pray that the final and hanging note will create space for the conversation to continue!
How do you draw lines between what is personal and what is pastoral?
I think this is a great question and one which highlights the power of social media and also illustrates the tension between modern and post-modern ministry. For me, the challenge of longed for mutuality (as seen in the Early Church) and the boundaries that exist in the context of professionalised ministry often seem at odds. But this ambiguity is the way I muddle through … the question I ask myself and a dear Sister who continues to offer her time to review and edit each blog before hitting ‘publish’ is this: Am I sharing my experience to talk about me or using part of my story to point beyond myself? If the former, it must be not only scrapped, but I’ll obviously need to take some space to intentionally reflect on ‘my stuff.’ If it’s the latter, however, I hope it allows people to enter themselves into the narrative of their own story …
How much is for you, how much for the congregation, how much for an unknown wider audience?
In To Blog or not to Blog I recognised that blogging is a discipline for me. It allows me to meditate, reflect and pray. It allows me to integrate and be in that place of greyness and discern where I might be on any topic, idea, subject, issue and where it is the Creator might want me. And – at times – I admit (begrudgingly) they are not the same!
In respect to the congregation – The United Church in Meadowood (UCiM) – I think the musing (or so I sincerely hope) models that anyone can reflect theologically. In fact, I would say it’s one of the most consistent realities of our Sacred Stories. Doubt, questioning, and wrestling are one of the most authentic ways I know to hallow God. If my musing, therefore, opens the door for conversation, (whether easy or not, whether as affirmation or challenge) I know the intention of my practice has allowed a Brother or Sister to continue with her/his own dialogue with the Holy.
As for the wider audience, this is a significant tool to evangelise the Christian message through a medium that challenges the traditional media’s portrayal of the Way as nutty, fundamental, extreme and ultimately judgemental. The amazing thing about this medium – as a form of Outreach – is we are no longer limited by geographic distribution (i.e. local newspaper). Social media (of which the blog is just one facet) reaches out into the world in a way that is inspiring. Whether it is a local seeker who has walked through UCiM’s physical doors or someone who has taken the time to build relationship through twitter, it is inspiring to see the Gospel actually experienced as Good News in a tangible – ironically through a digital façade – and life-giving way.
Is there a particularly diaconal aspect of your blogging activity?
I think that the boundaries we have placed around ministry and identity remain too rigidly grounded in a modern paradigm. In respect to our denomination’s (The United Church of Canada) Call structure, however, I would say it connects with all of them: Pastoral Care, Education and Service. Whether each one of these aspects of Call make up the content of the blog or end up creating the space for one aspect to be first written and then relationally experienced (i.e. a blog about mental illness [Pastoral Care] and the tension of marginalisation [Service] that occurs in our protestant-informed-productivity-culture [Education] that leads to first written correspondence and an opportunity to walk with someone for whom this is a reality [embodied Pastoral Care]), it is diaconal in respect to bringing the church to the world and the world to the church. One reality about social media is that it is a human created thin space that possesses the potential to become that place from which conversations between the secular and sacred can occur. The challenge for any mainstream Protestant denomination, in my opinion, is whether or not we are willing to meet people where they are at, such as Jesus’ ministry modelled, or whether we stagnate in the abundance of our wealth while distracted by the illusion of deficit. And – for me – the blog and utilisation of social media feels like a faithful way to navigate out of the inertia we are currently experiencing …
A Deacon’s Musing blog