Holy Tweeting

April 26th, 2012

At first I was excited to be one of only a handful of United Methodist General Board of Church and Society staff not travelling down to Tampa, Fla. for the denomination's General Conference 2012. I figured it would be a great opportunity to get ahead in my work and support our staff by carrying on with the business of advocacy and communications while they were away. Plus, I really didn’t want to get bogged down in the politics of it all. Nothing sours my passion for the mission of the church like political squabbling and infighting. I’m relatively new to the Methodist church and the ordination process. I need all the passion I can muster to help push me through the archaic process that comes along with a call to professional service in the church.

I must, however, admit that by the time of opening worship on Tuesday I felt some regret for not attending.

But a funny thing happened on Tuesday afternoon during the opening worship service, which was streamed live at www.gc2012.umc.org. Right there beside the streaming video was a real time Twitter feed. I noticed, just as I was rolling my eyes to the use of the 90’s praise music to open this year’s event, quite a few other folks with the same reaction. It didn’t take me long to join the conversation.

Since that time, there’s been a steady stream of Twitter activity found at various hashtags—#GC2012, #GC2012love, and #GCYP (General Conference Young People) among others. What’s happened is quite remarkable. Delegates and observers from within the conference are engaged in real time conversations with those of us sitting in our offices and living rooms around the globe. We are doing the work of holy conferencing that is so rooted in the historical practice of the Methodist Church as we meet, encourage one another, worship, pray and become refreshed from the sense of unity and common mission.

An informal survey would suggest that those of us holy conferencing via Twitter range in age from 19 to 40. We represent regions across the country as well as divergent theological perspectives. I spent over an hour yesterday in a conversation on sacrament, communion, biblical literacy, and what is and isn’t sacrilegious. The entire conversation took place over Twitter. One person was in Tampa at General Conference, another was in Mississippi, one in Seattle, another in Iowa and me in Washington, DC. We didn’t all agree, but the venue also didn’t allow us to talk over one another or expend our breath making elaborate arguments. Instead, we shared our diverse points of view and found encouragement from the conversation itself. In the end, we blessed each other with the peace of Christ using our shared liturgical language.

Later in the evening, laity and clergy weighed in as Rev. Adam Hamilton led a primetime presentation on the Call to Action (a controversial reorganization proposal before General Conference). For many of us the Call to Action represents an unnecessary attempt to streamline and corporatize the church. The proposal claims to seek “vital congregations” but uses growth metrics as opposed to missional markers to gauge progress toward that goal. Twitter allowed folks an avenue to express themselves and point out places of agreement with and contradictions of the proposal.

I suppose we’ll be talking about Twitter’s affect on the proceedings in Tampa for the next four years. There’s no doubt that those of us engaged in the conversations are finding encouragement and hope. But we all seem to be asking the same question at the moment:

Is anyone listening?

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