Church tentatively tries talking to itself on Facebook

By staff writers
15 Aug 2007

While some members of the Church of England appear ready to expel or de-Christianise each other because they have different views on sexuality, others are trying to talk together - using the medium of popular social networking site Facebook. But not that many so far.

The Church Times newspaper reports this week that members of the General Synod are signing up to Facebook after the example of Anthony Archer, a lay member for St Albans diocese. He established his own account in May 2007, before embarking on the General Synod project.

The Church is somewhat late on the Facebook scene - which already has millions of participants, including the Christian think-tank Ekklesia and an interest group called 'Save The Lambeth One' - which is about rescuing Rowan Williams from the embers of his embattled archbishopric, or at least liberating his role for good.

Facebook is often described as the 'professional' or 'middle class' alternative to the more youth-and-music oriented MySpace, whose hip graphics and DIY ethos would perhaps seem more alien to staid C of E types.

Even so, the Synod initiative "caused some anxiety among my student children and their friends that the parents’ set were now going to eavesdrop on their kids’ lifestyles,” said Mr Archer.

His own first post was bravely and honestly entitled: “Can old farts do Facebook?” Speaking to the Church Times, Archer declared that the response on the site to his question was “a resounding yes”.

He added: “Networking is a natural desire, and ought to be at the heart of what the Church is doing in a ministry and mission sense.”

Facebook operates a bit like a 'gated community' on the web. You have to register to view other peoples' pages, and there are privacy settings available. There is also less 'cyber-squatting' than on MySpace.

Until 18 months ago the site, one of the fastest growing on the web, was restricted to students, academics and their friends. Now it is open to anyone with an email address.

However, since the General Synod group went live on 1 August 2007, only 20 members have joined Mr Archer. And the Church of England page has just 122 members.

By contast Ekklesia and Inclusive Church have nearly 300 between them, "and we haven't even been trying very hard to recruit" said Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow.

He points out that the church's efforts to get 'with it' look "pretty paltry" compared to the 20,678 people who are currently backing the "truly inspired" campaign to get satirical comedian and singer Bill Bailey to be Britain's entrant in the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest.

"This shows that you need a good idea to spark interest on a social networking site, not just the notion that the church should be sticking its nose in because it looks a bit fuddy-duddy if it doesn't", commented Barrow.

"In those terms, at least the slow sign-up rate may be a sign of honesty. That said, good luck to General Synod. It could probably do with a bit more of a social life."

"Hopefully more people will now join the 42 itrepid souls who want to 'Free the Lambeth One'," Barrow added. "It's tragic that all large chunks of the Anglican Communion seem to want to do is kick themselves to death, while they have a person of such outstanding intellectual and spiritual capabilities as their leader. At the moment Rowan Williams is beached by his institution's dysfunction. But if he wants to find some less establishment friends he only has to look on Facebook."

Meanwhile, Mr Archer remains optimistic about General Synod members learning to Facebook the future.

But he told the Church Times that he believed it was up to individuals whether they wanted to make use of this new tool.

“It would be good if the Archbishops decided to join, although I guess it would be more Dr Sentamu’s cup of tea,” he noted.

Ekklesia's Facebook page is here: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2525066399
Free the Lambeth One: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=3384565192
(Registration is needed to view these sites - go to http://www.facebook.com/ and follow the simple instructions.)

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