Props to my friend and colleague Tom Hay, who staffs the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s biennial national gathering, General Assembly, and for his openness to post this. For those non-Presbyterians, the General Assembly is a meeting of about 1,000 participants and thousands more observers and staff who gather together to do the business of the church. Tom helps to staff the committee that organizes this gathering and, over the past few years, they have been grappling with the realities of social media usage during the proceedings.
Once again, they, The Committee on the General Assembly (COGA) will be taking another look how to address social media as they plan the next General Assembly in Detroit, 2014. I asked Tom if it would be okay to solicit some feedback from a larger body of people as I think this is an ongoing conversation for many institutions and denominations. My gut says that many organizations are open to the possibilities that social media provides, but many are still trying to figure out how to navigate its use amidst a wide range of worldviews and experiences.
After a few disclaimers, it would be much appreciated if you would leave some feedback in the comments: gut reactions, affirmations concerns suggestions, etc.
But first the disclaimers:
- While anyone can leave feedback, this document is focused on the official voting participants/commissioners of the General Assembly and not for all people everywhere, Presbyterian or otherwise.
- This is a document that is in the early stages of development and it is in flux; it has not been officially endorsed/approved by any committee.
- While all feedback left here – no guarantees for Twitter, FB or G+ – will be read, not every suggestion will be integrated into the final document. After all, not all of our ideas are amazing 😉
Again, thanks to Tom for trusting me and this community to offer helpful feedback as he and so many help my church to faithfully adapt and change. Okay folks, so what do you think?
Being a Covenant Community in the Virtual Community of Social Media
Guidance for participants at a General Assembly
The Church of Jesus Christ has always been an epistolatory community. We are a going and telling faith. The earliest church communicated through the written word – the media of their era – bringing the body of Christ together when they could not be together bodily. We lift up many of these epistles as scripture.
Social media brings immediacy to how and with whom we communicate Social media gives people a chance to share ideas and think aloud with many communities simultaneously. Attending or observing a General Assembly, we can instantly share our thoughts with others nearby and across the globe. We can post reflections, continue debates after the voting is over and point our friends to the thoughtful reflections of others by passing along links.
By virtue of our baptisms, our actions and words are not our own for we belong to each other. Our polity professes that as we are bound by the Holy Spirit to Christ through our baptisms and that baptism also “unites the people of God with each other.” We live to make witness to that unity in the body of Christ Jesus and as a General Assembly work to the end that the whole church become “a community of faith, hope, love and witness.” (Book of Order G-3.05)
Social media can build up community or undermine community. Like any communication it can bring people together and enrich the dialogue among those participating. It is also important to be aware that what is written lacks the social nuances of words spoken in person and thoughts written in haste or even in jest have a life of their own in the internet.
In Councils like the General Assembly, we put our trust in the powerful discernment which occurs when women and men gather to speak and listen to each other in the Holy Spirit. Our councils are clearly defined in membership and in method. At a particular General Assembly we believe that the commissioners and advisory delegates who have gathered together are uniquely set aside for the decisions they will bring forth at that particular time.
The guiding principle for using social media at a General Assembly is to be attentive and in the present to the community gathered immediately around us and to the mysterious and wondrous movement of the Spirit of Christ in this place. Our baptisms call us to engage our hearts with each other in the moment during the business of a General Assembly.
- Cell-phone conversations will continue to be banned from the floor during plenary.
- Through live video streaming people throughout the world will be watching the proceedings as they happen. The commissioners and advisory delegates with whom you serve trust that when you speak and vote you are reflecting your own heart and convictions as guided by the Spirit in this community.
- Remember that anything you write can be copied and distributed. Please do not make a comment about the proceedings that you would not make in person to other commissioners and advisory delegates.
- When sharing pictures, please be mindful of the Assembly’s policy on photography and the use of participants’ images.
- Participants in the assembly should identify themselves in their username. As a courtesy, profile information or the username should represent who you are and your affiliation with the General Assembly.