Archive for the ‘Computers’ Category

Kyle Matthew Oliver: You already have everything you need to be a digital media minister

Posted on: October 8th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments

Bigstock / GreenVector


It’s easy to be intimidated by technology. But technological skills aren’t the most important part of online ministry, writes a former digital missioner.

I recently found myself giving an impromptu training session over the phone.

I was on the line with a church administrator about the language translation plug-in I’d installed on her parish’s new website. I adjusted the phone at my ear, took a deep breath and said, “Trust me, this is easier than it seems.”

For four years, I served as a “digital missioner (link is external)” at an Episcopal seminary, where I offered resources and training for colleagues interested in doing spiritual development and Christian education in new ways.

One thing I learned is that fear is the chief obstacle to doing ministry online. In the case of the church administrator struggling with the translation plug-in, it was more important to reassure her that she could learn the task than it was to tell her where to click.

Relationship, in other words, was the key to moving forward. That’s why, when the organization I serve began our work spreading digital literacy in the Episcopal Church and beyond, we prioritized forming learning communities.

If “overcome fear with relationship” or “begin with community” sound to you like lessons from Church Leadership 101, then you get my central message.

The good news about digital media ministries is that they are, first and foremost, ministries.

Are you a lay or ordained church leader? Then you have already been called to live out (and probably trained to take on) Christian acts of hospitality and proclamation, formation and service, fellowship and solidarity.

If you want to learn to minister online, the challenge is to align your existing ministry instincts with this new environment. You already have everything you need to be an effective digital media minister — except maybe some practice.

In her book “Faith Formation 4.0 (link is external),” my colleague Julie Anne Lytle calls one chapter “Message, Method, then Media.”

Her point is that technological bells and whistles — the media — are not the point of the work. They may worry us or keep us from moving forward, but they’re not the hard part.

Technology is comparatively straightforward and continues to get easier to use — most of the time, you can solve your problem with a how-to video on YouTube.

It’s people who are complicated, and your training and experience indicate that you likely already know something about connecting with people.

Moreover, technology isn’t the source of the power of these ministries. It’s true that the method of interactive communication online allows us to reach more (and more varied) people. But it’s the message of the gospel, of God’s transforming love, that will matter for those people.

That message hasn’t changed in 2,000 years.

So if you’re feeling down about your ability to reach out online, let me encourage you to reframe your situation with an example. Imagine you are leading a Bible study at church. Suppose someone in the group makes a comment that is met initially with silent stares around the table.

What facilitation options do you have in that moment?

You might want to make a sympathetic hum of recognition if the comment has resonated. If not, you might try tilting your head a bit off-axis and squinting slightly as if to say, “I’m not quite following you.”

You might use your arms to gesture gently around the room, inviting follow-up comments from others. Or you might respond verbally yourself, or invite someone else to.

The point is, you want to honor the contribution this person has made. An obvious goal of group facilitation is to help ensure that everyone feels heard and valued.

The same principle applies in a digital environment. If you’re hosting a conversation on a Facebook comment thread or online discussion board, you still want to avoid letting someone go unheard.

Online, your responses are likely to be word-based, since nonverbal communication is limited. But sometimes a playful emoji, a carefully chosen image or a simple “Like” can help acknowledge and recognize someone’s contribution.

Of course, we can take this fairly mundane example to a more high-pressure pastoral level.

Perhaps someone says something mildly or extremely inappropriate. Your in-person ministry instincts are to communicate that this behavior is out of bounds, hopefully with reference to some kind of group norms or church policy about how people of faith treat each other.

You need to decide whether to relay that message in public or in private, depending on the severity of the situation. You might even need to remove the abusive person from the room, and to support the person who was mistreated.

Here again, the same principles apply. It’s important that you are clear about appropriate behavior in the online conversations in some way “hosted” by your church, and it’s important that you enforce those rules in cases of abuse.

There are private channels (like direct messaging) and public tools (like deleting a comment or blocking someone) to use according to your good judgment.

As Meredith Gould puts it in her helpful book “The Social Media Gospel” (link is external): “Use the comforting knowledge that virtual community is real community to guide your response. … Tap into what you already know about responding to someone whose pain manifests as anger.”

You already have what you need.

If that’s true, then how should you take your first steps as a digital media minister? You need to practice, preferably beginning under the direction of an experienced mentor, and always in collaboration with trusted colleagues. As in any new setting, you should listen before you participate and participate before you take on a leadership role.

Find out where people in your community spend time online and join them there. Let your motto be “As in the parish hall or coffee shop, so on the parish website or neighborhood discussion board.”

You don’t need an extra tunic, though your smartphone charger may come in handy. The Holy Spirit will be there to help you take care of the rest, as she has been all along.


Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, Faith & Leadership, October 04, 2016

We are what we post

Posted on: September 27th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments

By Jeffrey Metcalfe on September, 26 2016

Photo: Shutterstock

A provisional Christian ethic of social media use: part 2

What is the purpose of posting on social media? It’s a question we don’t often stop to ask ourselves. As human beings, the longer we engage in a practice over time, the less we tend to think about it. Like brushing our teeth or taking off our shoes when we first enter another’s home, tweeting, posting and sharing on social media have become a part of our culture’s everyday practices and routines.

Yet our practices and routines, while sometimes left unexamined, are rarely without some sort of purpose—they often both aim at and communicate a particular end that we seek, a love that drives us. Stop brushing your teeth and start walking into others’ homes without taking off your shoes and you’ll see what I mean. Your physical and social health will begin to suffer.

Similarly, our posting on social media also aims at and communicates an end that we seek, a love (or loves) that drive us. Our posts and tweets convey to others not only information about something we are interested in or shocked by, they also carry within them unspoken messages to others about who we are, of what loves drive us. Posting is a performance in which we consciously and unconsciously act out and build up our identities in the face of others. Simply put, we are what we post.

But does the identity we preform in our posts express the identity for which God has created us?

At the very beginning of his Confessions, St. Augustine prays, God “[y]ou stir [human beings] to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” For St. Augustine, human beings are the kinds of creatures who are only truly fulfilled and at rest within themselves when their love is directed rightly toward God and their neighbours. Our most fundamental identity is as God’s creatures of love.

St. Augustine believed this so strongly that he claimed, “anyone who thinks that he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up this double love of God and neighbor, has not yet succeeded in understanding them” (On Christian Teaching 1.86). Reading rightly will result in increasing both our love of God and our love of neighbour; if it doesn’t, then we are certainly reading the Scriptures wrong.

What if we applied St. Augustine’s double law of love in interpretation to our own writing on social media? I propose that before we click post on that comment, we ask ourselves: will this help to build up love of God and love of neighbour in those who see it? If the answer is no, there is a chance that by clicking post on that comment, we might actually be undermining our identity and witness as God’s creatures of love.

As St. Augustine pointed out, “when there is a question as to whether a [person] is good, one does not ask what [that person] believes, or what [that person] hopes, but what [that person] loves” (Enchiridion 117). I am suggesting the same may also be true of our social media posts. Scroll through your social media feed for the last month and ask what your Facebook and Twitter comments communicate to others about what you love? How might those posts help to encourage or discourage love of God and love of neighbour in those who see them?

Admittedly, love can be a slippery term at times, but I think St. Paul offers us an instructive description of the kind of love we are to strive for as God’s creatures seeking to be faithful witnesses in a digital age:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor. 13:4–7).

About the Author

Jeffrey Metcalfe

Jeffrey Metcalfe

Jeffrey Metcalfe is a priest from the diocese of Quebec and a doctoral student in theological studies at the University of Toronto.


Anglican Journal News, September 27, 2016

You are my witnesses (online, too)

Posted on: August 12th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments

By Jeffrey Metcalfe on August, 11 2016

Photo: rudall30/Shutterstock

A provisional Christian ethic of social media use: part 1

Much has been said and remains to be said about the dramatic events that took place at General Synod this past June. Live streaming it from home, I found myself encouraged, dismayed, bored, embarrassed and astounded.

I also found myself feeling deeply disturbed. Not by any particular discussion or decision, but by the level and tone of discourse amongst Christians in general. If Jesus meant it when he said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35), then we need to take a long, hard look at ourselves and ask why we can see more love at the local dog park than among those who claim to be Jesus’ disciples.

Nowhere was this more apparent than on social media, the crown jewel of the digital revolution—which in this case might be more accurately described as a digital civil war. It was amazing to see priests and laity of every piety and political persuasion entering the fray, posting messages characterized by the deadly sin of wrath: bullying, racism, homophobia, colonialism and vague expressions of disdain and hate.

Of course, there were notes of encouragement and gratitude, praises and prayers to God found amidst the bile. We need to remember that. However, we cannot write off the maelstrom of malevolence that manifested on Facebook and Twitter during General Synod as the responsibility of a few. Our collective Christian witness is compromised by our use of social media.

I confess: it is compromised by mine.

I wish I could write this from a place of being a virtuous user of social media, but far too often my own Facebook comments are characterized by imprudence, if not outright wrath. And even when I resist posting my snarky comments, it doesn’t change the fact that I have thought of them. As 1 John 3:15 reminds us, “All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.” I may not have clicked “post” on that disdainful comment I mentally drafted, but that doesn’t matter to God, because I have already posted it in my heart.

So what is a Christian seeking faithfulness to do? Should I log off social media forever? The answer might be yes. “If your [Facebook] or [Twitter account] causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life [digitally] maimed or [socially] lame than to have two [social media accounts] and to be thrown into the eternal fire” (Matthew 18:8). Seems like an easy choice to make.

But there might be another way. That encouragement and gratitude, praises and prayers to God were present—even amidst the maelstrom of malevolence that was my social media feed during General Synod—leads me to conclude that God’s grace is present and working through Facebook and Twitter, and that we can indeed be conduits of that grace online, with God’s help. There are faithful witnesses on social media—I have seen them—and I would like to purify my heart so as to become one of them.

Over the next few months, I will be using my column to put forward a provisional ethic for the use of social media by Christians. Drawing on the Scriptures and patristic sources, I hope to present a way of walking digitally as disciples of Jesus characterized by love, humility and a reticence to judge. After all, “what does the Lord require of you [on social media] but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

I’m calling this ethic “provisional” because I cannot claim that what I will be presenting here is comprehensive, or appropriate to every situation. To do so would be to stray from the very humility I think our use of social media needs. It is rather a “working ethic,” which will hopefully provide some simple guidance on how to post, how to reprove a brother and sister when they have sinned against you by their social media use, and the kind of spiritual disposition we need to cultivate in order to keep us as faithful followers of Jesus in our online life.

If we can be more mindful and prayerful about our social media use, we may find our Christian witness online strengthened. If we ignore the problem and social media continues to cause some of us to stumble, we may just need to cut it off and throw it away.


About the Author

Jeffrey Metcalfe

Jeffrey Metcalfe

Jeffrey Metcalfe is a priest from the diocese of Quebec and a doctoral student in theological studies at the University of Toronto.


Anglican Journal News, August 12, 2016

Heidi Campbell: The Internet challenges and empowers religious institutions

Posted on: August 5th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments

The digital culture isn’t changing religion as much as it is reflecting offline shifts in Christian life, says a scholar of religion and media at Texas A&M University.

People today — especially young people — belong to fluid networks that are not limited by traditional religious boundaries, family relationships or geography. That is both reflected and facilitated by the Internet, said Heidi Campbell, an associate professor at Texas A&M University.

This has deep implications for Christian institutional leaders, who may see it as a threat or an opportunity — or simply the way their members now live.

“They don’t go between the church world and the Internet world. They just live in both spaces,” said Campbell, who refers to this as “networked religion.” “The Internet is not transforming religion. In many respects, what it is [doing] is just reflecting these broader shifts that are also happening offline.”

Campbell researches the intersection of media, religion and culture, with a special interest in the Internet and digital, mobile culture. She has written or edited four books and more than 60 articles and book chapters on religion and new media, including the 2013 edited volume “Digital Religion: Understanding Religious Practice in New Media Worlds.”

Campbell spoke to Faith & Leadership about the five key characteristics of networked religion and how institutions might respond to it. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: How do you see change happening on and offline, and how does each reflect the other?

“Networked religion” is a concept that I put forth in an article called “Understanding the Relationship between Religious Practice Online and Offline in a Networked Society (link is external).”

The concept of networked religion is recognizing that religious practices and relationships are being informed by the structures of the networked society.

The social relationships that we live in are now increasingly decentralized. They’re increasingly more fluid. Religion and religious culture are also being influenced and shaped by these larger forces in society that people like [sociologist] Manuel Castells have talked about.

In a networked society, if we live in a place that we have more global interconnections and sense of accountability, and our traditional relationships and patterns of belief are becoming much more individualized and less tied to institutional constraints and boundaries, we get a version of religion that is much more individual.

It’s much more dynamic. This matches a lot of what the Pew Research Center has found regarding trends toward having “belief but not belonging” or “faith without affiliation.”

What we see is a consistency between trends online and trends offline.

One of the fears has been, for the last decade, that people would plug in, log on and drop out of society and church and different social relationships. But what scholars have found is that people online are importing their belief structures and understandings into that new space.

The Internet is not transforming religion. In many respects, what it is [doing] is just reflecting these broader shifts that are also happening offline.

Q: What kind of advice or guidance or ways of thinking about this would you suggest to people who are still committed to existing institutions?

I don’t like to be prescriptive unless I know the religious organization well.

One thing I do with networked religion is that I identify five key characteristics of networked religion, this highly mobile, dynamic, fluid, loosely bound form of religiosity online.

So these are some places that you can have some specific conversations about how these traits may be affecting your community, or to what extent you would see this trait as something you could leverage for the positive — or see it as problematic.

One example, one characteristic is networked community. [This] suggests that many religious groups such as churches now function as loose social networks rather than tightly bounded social networks, and this means that people see their church community as one part of their social network.

It’s not the hub anymore for many people. So people have varying levels of commitment and affiliation and may be involved in more than one religious community, and they network them together through their daily lifestyle and their practices in using media and other events to connect those things.

For many people, especially young people, the church they go to on a Sunday is just one part of their religious community and network.

Institutions could either see it as a threat and say, “How can we get increased buy-in into our institution? How can we brand ourselves in a way that’s cohesive, to show people how they can carry us and the community and integrate them into a lifestyle, and give resources to connect people to community?”

Or they could just recognize that’s the reality and say, “OK, how can we create resources that give added value and then show people that they can be involved in our community and other spaces but also show how those other passions or other social groups could be connected, even if it’s in a loose way, to our institution?”

People no longer live in these tightly bound groups that are defined by family or institution or geography. They live in these networks that are fluid, and it’s up to the institution to see, how are we going to frame that — as a challenge or an opportunity? And in what ways can we leverage that?

Q: What are the other characteristics?

Another characteristic is the idea of what I call storied identity. Storied identity shows how people’s religious identity is malleable rather than fixed. It used to be that a religious identity was something you took on through maybe religious education or confirmation or baptism. You kind of put it on like a cloak.

But now people see identity as something that you can negotiate, that you construct and you perform. So individuals especially use the Internet and other resources to seek out their own “spiritual tribe” online — a group of people where they can make sense of their religious self and their religious belief.

Facebook and Twitter, blogs, social media allow people to express their religious identity, to experiment and to create a cohesive identity that’s free from institutional constraints. Again, religious organizations need to look at what the implications are of that, because our identity is created often by the tribe of people we associate with, and that may or may not be the church or institution that we go to on a regular basis.

Storied identity is how people construct their religious identity, in the sense that they’re trying to create a narrative that makes sense about who they are.

Q: One of the implications for institutions seems to be sort of flexibility or fluidity.

And that’s obviously something that many institutions are not used to. They’re used to having their clear mission statement and set of principles that have been decided by committee and worked out through certain authority structures.

If you’re going to do that vetting process, you’re going to lose a lot of people along the way, because they’re just not used to that in an instantaneous, global culture.

Q: Are the other aspects also related to this fluidity?

[Another characteristic] is what I call convergent practice — how, especially in the digital culture, people are able to move through spaces very quickly. It encourages people’s blending practices and information from multiple sources.

The fourth characteristic is what I call multi-site reality, and this is where we see that the online and offline worlds are connected by people, because no longer is the Internet something that you log on to and go into this separate space. It’s something we carry with us in our back pockets.

People are trying to live in this bridged, hybrid space all the time and trying to, through their practices and conceptual framework, link them in ways so that they don’t have conflict with themselves. They see it as whole people living in multiple contexts.

Then the last one is the idea of shifting authority.

The initial concerns were that the Internet was going to undermine religious leaders, and there are definitely examples of how there are new religious interpreters emerging online, whether they be “theoblogins” or thought leaders through social media like Twitter.

But we also see that religious leaders in the last five to seven years have become very media-savvy and have seen how they can use the Internet to either re-establish their authority or solidify their networks.

The Internet both challenges and empowers religious institutions simultaneously.

Q: Do you think that there is a gap between online and offline that needs to be bridged in the religious world, or do you see them as a fluid, intermingled space?

That depends again on your ideas and background. The organizations that see the Internet as this other space, they tend to do one of two things. Either A, it becomes the mission field — they think it’s a space that’s inherently secular, and we have to sanctify it. But the problem with that is sometimes they don’t recognize that there actually is a lot of faith and spirituality and good discourse happening.

Or B, they see it as “another space,” and we have to distance ourselves.

I think the problem is that it is this integrated space, and it’s a space where people live. They don’t go between the church world and the Internet world. They just live in both spaces.

So it’s more a matter of, how do you do spiritual development, religious education, create community in that hybrid space when you recognize that even though your institution may not be living in that space, this is where most of your people, and especially young people, live?

So it is a new territory, but it’s a territory you need to understand rather than just seeing it as something you need to cultivate or sanctify.

I’m researching now what I call “religious digital creatives,” and so I’m interested in looking at how individuals use new media or leverage their new media skills for ministry and what kind of connection that has or relationship it has to institutional churches. Do churches recognize that ministry? Do they see it as a threat or as competition, or do they try to embrace them and bring them into the mission and goals of the institution?

I’ve also been interviewing Web designers, people who are media officers for denominations, and finding out that many of these people are trying to be innovative in their use of social media, but they’re slowed down by either finances or time in their schedules, or just the fact that their institution doesn’t understand, “Why are you spending so much time on the Facebook and Twitter feeds for our denomination rather than doing the annual or monthly newsletter?”

So there’s a sense that the structures don’t allow for some of the innovation that other people can do very easily.

Q: How would you advise institutional leaders in approaching new media?

I believe that we should be techno-realists. This was a movement in the mid-1990s, and basically it was trying to address the early hype about the Internet — that the Internet was either going to save humanity or it was going to destroy and enslave people.

They had a list of principles like “Computers will not destroy nor will they save our education system.” Technology has both promises and perils.

What does the technology offer you, and what kinds of characteristics does it encourage in positive ways? What are maybe the problematic — both technical and moral — traits of the technology?

A techno-realist would say that basically you need to be technologically and new media literate, but you also need to understand your own religious identity and mission very clearly and then be able to line them up once you understand the digital culture and your own culture.

Where do you see places that that technology and that theology can intersect in positive ways, and then how do you find people who are already doing that, as well as develop resources?

A lot of churches, when they do, just get on the new media bandwagon; they have the “if we build it, they will come” mentality: “We’re going to go spend all this money on this website, spend time building these social media platforms.” And then they wonder why they flop.

Because it’s maybe more to their benefit to actually find out if their organization, their community is already doing these things and then support that and encourage those activities that build the values, that build the theology, that build the community that they want.


Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, May 09, 2016

Deanna Thompson: I thought digital presence was a poor substitute for embodied presence. Then I got cancer.

Posted on: July 26th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Professor of religion, Hamline University


Deanna Thompson: I thought digital presence was a poor substitute for embodied presence. Then I got cancer.

Composite illustration by Jessamyn Rubio / BigStock / Unsplash

Her experience with serious illness convinced a theologian that the virtual body of Christ can make a real difference in a hurting world.

I admit it. I used to be one of those haughty, judgmental types who didn’t own a cellphone and dismissed friends’ annoying requests to join Facebook, to read that one blog post that would change my life or to get an iPad so I could track my daily caloric intake.

Then I got sick. Really sick. I went from a healthy 41-year-old religion professor, wife and mother to a virtual invalid with a broken back, a stage IV cancer diagnosis and a lousy prognosis for the future.

Metastatic cancer forced me to resign from my full and wonderful life. Life at the university, at my daughters’ schools and activities, at church and in the neighborhood went away, replaced by a life confined to my bedroom, the oncology clinic and the cars that took me back and forth between the two.

It was during those gray days of winter 2009 that I had a conversion experience about the power of being connected virtually, through digital technology.

Even though I continue to worry about things like cyberbullying and addictions to digital devices, I can’t deny that virtual connectivity during the worst times of my illness offered a lifeline of support, love and access to the world beyond my small, debilitated life.

I, judger of digital technology, was buoyed and sustained by virtual interactions. I was converted to the healing power of what I’m calling the virtual body of Christ — a vast virtual incarnation of the hands and feet of Christ that has surrounded my family and me during the most awful time of our lives.

And with a zeal common to converts, I’m out to spread the news to any and all who will listen.

While many Christian communities enthusiastically embrace everything from Twitter to live-streaming worship, virtual Bible studies and book groups, most of the mainline church folks in my circle tend to be much more hesitant about a robust relationship between religion and technology.

Many religion scholars sound the alarm about the potential harm in acquiescing to virtual forms of connection at a time when feelings of alienation and disconnection are on the rise. Christians follow a God who became flesh and blood to live and die among us, they remind us. And this means we are called to incarnational living, where we commit to be actually, physically present with one another — in worship, in life together and especially during the worst of times. That is what it means to be part of the body of Christ.

In life before cancer, I agreed. I wholeheartedly believed that virtual connection was a poor substitute for in-person, physical presence, especially for those who are hurting. But cancer rearranged most things in my life, including my views of digital connectivity.

Sociologist of illness Arthur Frank observes that “during illness, people who have always been bodies have distinctive problems continuing to be bodies, particularly continuing to be the same sorts of bodies they have been.”

Living with a serious illness means learning to live with loss of control, especially of and in your body. When it’s your very sick body that’s out of control, being physically present with others can be discomforting, embarrassing, even humiliating. Those who bemoan the “disembodied” character of live-streaming worship or the “anti-incarnational” nature of Facebook may want to consider those who are too sick to physically make it into a church building.

My own conversion experience was ignited by the realization that virtual connections provide healing presence when physical communion is either impossible or just too darn hard.

In those early days of the diagnosis, when my experiences of my body were overwhelmingly ones of betrayal, being able to engage in virtual interactions alongside the face-to-face ones played a vital role in helping me cultivate a desire to keep on living.

Online, I could write in full sentences and not sound like I was dying. I could have virtual conversations without having to negotiate the I-can’t-believe-you’re-that-sick gaze. Tears I shed at the keyboard did not prevent me from saying what I was trying to say in an online post. And what I posted still sounded like the me I was familiar with, the me that was not wholly overcome by the stigma and diminishment caused by advanced-stage cancer.

Virtual interactions encouraged me to hold on to hope that I was not completely defined by the limitations of my very sick body. While my life would have been immeasurably diminished if I had had only virtual interactions during that time of serious debilitation, I was helped in powerful, life-affirming ways through virtual interactions with those who care about and for me.

I have been converted to the reality that virtual interactions are neither disembodied nor anti-incarnational ways of being present to one another. They are extensions of our physical presence with one another.

Countless family members and friends from far away have been a steady presence virtually since the diagnosis. Online posts of what cancer has done to my body and our lives have yielded in-person offerings of food, gifts for our daughters and an abundance of actual, material care for me and my family when we needed it the most.

At the heart of the vision of the church as the body of Christ is the call to take special care of the body’s most vulnerable members (1 Corinthians 12:22-26). That’s a huge task, but one made more possible by real care that can come through virtual means.

In a world full of hurt, it’s time to proclaim the good news that digital connectivity can help us better be the hands and feet of Christ to those in need. Won’t you join me?


Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, Faith & Leadership, July 12, 2016

New app will save paper, connect members, say General Synod planners

Posted on: June 13th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments

The app can be loaded not only onto tablets but smartphones and computers as well, so that members can already start using it to prepare for General Synod.
Image: Saskia Rowley

Issuing iPads loaded with a special app instead of binders at General Synod next month promises not only to save trees, but keep members connected in new ways as well, organizers say.

“I think it really is about being able to get-up-to-date and accurate information to all of the members immediately, the ability to personalize the app so that when a delegate looks at their device they’ll actually see their agenda, not a generic agenda,” says national office web manager Brian Bukowski. The app will also have other features such as social media-style messaging and sharing of photos, he says.

“There should be a whole lot fewer blue boxes for recycling; members will carry one small tablet instead of overwhelming binders and piles of paper,” adds Dean Peter Wall, chair of the General Synod planning committee. “The carbon footprint, even with the power used for tablets, charging, etc., should be markedly reduced.”

Council of General Synod this March approved replacing the three-ring binders traditionally used at General Synod with rented tablets equipped with the app. Tablets have already been used instead of paper at the 2015 General Convention of The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion’s Primates’ Meeting this January and April’s meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council. The move will save money in some areas, but mean extra expenses in others, for a net cost estimated at $12,000.

The app is now available for download on the Anglican Church of Canada website. It exists in two versions—a sign-in version customized for individual General Synod members and a generic version for the general public. The app can be loaded not only onto tablets but smartphones and computers as well, so that members can already start using it to prepare for General Synod. About a quarter of General Synod members have already logged in and created profiles for themselves on the app, Bukowski says. Profiles can include photos and other information, plus links to their Facebook and other social media pages.

The app includes all the information members are expected to need, including travel information, the agenda, reports, resolutions, handbook, nomination forms and everything else previously found in the binder—but in a form that’s customized for each member. Each member’s agenda, for example, will include the meetings he or she is to attend, locating each one in a built-in map of the hotel, and the app will be updated to reflect voting as it happens.

“The changing ongoing business of synod can be accessed by all on their tablets as it happens,” says Wall.

In the event of an Internet outage—highly unlikely, Bukowski says, because of the reliable infrastructure in place at the hotel hosting the event—the work of General Synod should not be seriously affected because all the information members need will be stored on the iPads, and can be easily printed if necessary.

“I think it’s going to be really interesting talking to the members before and afterwards” about their experience with the app, Bukowski says. “I hope they’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

You can watch Bukowski speak in more detail about the app on the Anglican Church of Canada website.

About the Author

Tali Folkins

Tali Folkins

Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal.  His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.


Anglican Journal News, June 13, 2016

Attention, Students: Put Your Laptops Away

Posted on: June 8th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments

Laptops are common in lecture halls worldwide. Students hear a lecture at the Johann Wolfang Goethe-University on Oct. 13, 2014, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

Laptops are common in lecture halls worldwide. Students hear a lecture at the Johann Wolfang Goethe-University on Oct. 13, 2014, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images 


As laptops become smaller and more ubiquitous, and with the advent of tablets, the idea of taking notes by hand just seems old-fashioned to many students today. Typing your notes is faster — which comes in handy when there’s a lot of information to take down. But it turns out there are still advantages to doing things the old-fashioned way.

For one thing, research shows that laptops and tablets have a tendency to be distracting — it’s so easy to click over to Facebook in that dull lecture. And a study has shown that the fact that you have to be slower when you take notes by hand is what makes it more useful in the long run.

In the study published in Psychological Science, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles sought to test how note-taking by hand or by computer affects learning.

“When people type their notes, they have this tendency to try to take verbatim notes and write down as much of the lecture as they can,” Mueller tells NPR’s Rachel Martin. “The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.”

Mueller and Oppenheimer cited that note-taking can be categorized two ways: generative and nongenerative. Generative note-taking pertains to “summarizing, paraphrasing, concept mapping,” while nongenerative note-taking involves copying something verbatim.

And there are two hypotheses to why note-taking is beneficial in the first place. The first idea is called the encoding hypothesis, which says that when a person is taking notes, “the processing that occurs” will improve “learning and retention.” The second, called the external-storage hypothesis, is that you learn by being able to look back at your notes, or even the notes of other people.

Because people can type faster than they write, using a laptop will make people more likely to try to transcribe everything they’re hearing. So on the one hand, Mueller and Oppenheimer were faced with the question of whether the benefits of being able to look at your more complete, transcribed notes on a laptop outweigh the drawbacks of not processing that information. On the other hand, when writing longhand, you process the information better but have less to look back at.

For their first study, they took university students (the standard guinea pig of psychology) and showed them TED talks about various topics. Afterward, they found that the students who used laptops typed significantly more words than those who took notes by hand. When testing how well the students remembered information, the researchers found a key point of divergence in the type of question. For questions that asked students to simply remember facts, like dates, both groups did equally well. But for “conceptual-application” questions, such as, “How do Japan and Sweden differ in their approaches to equality within their societies?” the laptop users did “significantly worse.”

The same thing happened in the second study, even when they specifically told students using laptops to try to avoid writing things down verbatim. “Even when we told people they shouldn’t be taking these verbatim notes, they were not able to overcome that instinct,” Mueller says. The more words the students copied verbatim, the worse they performed on recall tests.

And to test the external-storage hypothesis, for the third study they gave students the opportunity to review their notes in between the lecture and test. The thinking is, if students have time to study their notes from their laptops, the fact that they typed more extensive notes than their longhand-writing peers could possibly help them perform better.

But the students taking notes by hand still performed better. “This is suggestive evidence that longhand notes may have superior external storage as well as superior encoding functions,” Mueller and Oppenheimer write.

Do studies like these mean wise college students will start migrating back to notebooks?

“I think it is a hard sell to get people to go back to pen and paper,” Mueller says. “But they are developing lots of technologies now like Livescribe and various stylus and tablet technologies that are getting better and better. And I think that will be sort of an easier sell to college students and people of that generation.”


Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, April 20, 2016

Churches using the Internet to their advantage

Posted on: May 11th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments

That Americans have embraced the Internet is no longer news. Several polls by Gallup and the Pew Research Center show that 73 percent of Americans use the Internet, and 60 percent of those have high-speed connections.

Members of churches of most traditions parallel the general public in their embrace of technology.  As for pastors, the figure is even higher — 80 to 90 percent use the Internet, according to some surveys.

Congregations eager to woo people with little or no church background will naturally take advantage of the latest communication tools. Indeed, some have gone a step further. One Internet-only church started a few years ago attracts 750 people to its online messages each weekend.

“Any way that technology can help us accomplish the goal of reaching people for Christ and of leading them to complete devotion to Him, we will implement it,” said the Rev. Brandon Donaldson, the Internet Campus pastor for, a very large church that began in Oklahoma City 10 years ago and now has 10 campuses in five states and one Internet-only church location.

And while most congregations are unlikely to create cyberchurch spinoffs, the latest technologies offer new avenues for communication among people already dedicated to church but saddled with hectic schedules and multiple demands on their time. At larger churches where people occasionally miss Sunday services or may not have time to connect with others, pastors are increasingly posting sermons online or taking advantage of the blog to keep members connected and involved.

“In a church our size, it’s impossible for me to know all our members personally, so blogging helps me stay connected to with them and their friends,” said Matt Fry, pastor of Cleveland Community Church, which draws 2,300 people to weekend services in Clayton, NC, a suburb of Raleigh. “It allows them to know what I’m thinking and what I’m doing. We have hundreds of downloads every month.”

According to the new report “FACTs on Growth” from the 2005 Faith Communities Today (FACT) survey, written by Episcopal researcher Kirk Hadaway, creating a church website is one of the most effective means of spurring church growth.  The FACT report shows that a website alone won’t drive church growth, but an active website supported by an online community will make a huge difference.

Commenting on these findings Scott Thumma, a professor of sociology at Hartford Seminary, suggested that newcomers are particularly drawn to churches that present an outward-looking, nontraditional, future-oriented image. “At a time when church attendance seems to have an increasingly difficult time fitting into busy people’s schedules, perhaps the road of technologically-enhanced faith will indeed be the salvation of church life,” said Thumma.

The FACT data comes from a survey of 884 randomly sampled U.S. congregations of all faith traditions. The survey examined methods that lead to growth, such as changing the style of worship, inviting non members to special events, and others. Among those methods, the strongest correlation to church growth was establishing a website.

Church websites are also useful in projecting a sophisticated image to the outside world. For starters, it allows visitors to form a first impression before visiting. Pastor Matt Fry said 25 percent of the people who visit his church checked out the church’s website before attending, for example.

One potential drawback is that 25 to 30 percent of church members don’t use Internet technology and may feel left out. But there’s no denying that e-mails and listservs have greatly enhanced communication among church members that are comfortable with the technology. They allow people to send out prayers for someone who is sick, or notify small group members of changes in meeting times. Newsletters, announcements, committee reports  — even bulletins — can also be posted more cheaply online.

Of course, websites may not be the magic bullet for small, rural churches. But FACT data show the larger the church, the more common it is to have a website. Only 40 percent of churches with 150 people or less have a website, compared to 73 percent of churches with more than 150 people in attendance. Likewise, suburban churches are twice as likely to have websites as rural churches, the FACT data show.

That lay people are faster to use latest technology than church administrators came to light last June when Southern Baptists elected an upstart candidate as president of the 16 million-member denomination largely on the strength of a few blogs. These blogs, and the pastors who wrote them, disapproved of the endorsed candidate, the Rev. Ronnie Floyd, and instead threw their support to Rev. Frank Page, who was then elected.

To sociologists of religion, it makes perfect sense that adapting the latest technology will bring growth. A church that’s willing to change and adapt to people’s new lifestyles is poised to grow.  “It’s part and parcel of contemporary American culture,” said Thumma. “Technology in the church offers a flexibility and responsiveness to individual needs and desires.”


Insights into Religion, Resources and info from Insights into Religion for 01/07/2016

ACC-16 goes paperless with iPads

Posted on: April 30th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments

The Revd Bartholomew Bol Deng from the Diocese of Juba in Sudan shows off the iPad he’s using at ACC-16
Photo Credit: Bellah Zulu / ACNS

[ACNS, by Bellah Zulu] The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC-16) has attempted to go paperless with the provision of iPads to all delegates at the on-going meeting in Lusaka, an initiative which has been described by many as a “great step in making the church more eco-friendly.”

It is a well-known fact that the Anglican Church the world over has long been concerned with issues of the environment but it’s only recently that the church has taken concrete steps to “encourage Anglicans and people of other faiths to support sustainable environmental practices as individuals and in the life of their communities.”

One such initiative is the creation of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network (ACEN) which aims to share information about resources and initiatives that may be of value to Anglicans everywhere, among other things.

“Caring for creation starts with small things that we can do ourselves,” said the Bishop of Edmonton in Canada, the Rt Revd Jane Alexander in an interview in Lusaka. “Having a generally paperless conference not only shows good stewardship of our resources, but makes it easy to quickly update and access information.”

She added: “I hope that this one act will help all of us even as we go back to our respective parishes and dioceses. Back in my diocese we are big on recycling but the issue of oil and gas production is still a challenge we have to confront especially that people are used to relatively cheap gas and oil.”

Another participant, the Revd Bartholomew Bol Deng, from the Diocese of Juba in the Province of Sudan and South Sudan, applauded the initiative to provide new technologies at the conference but bemoaned the poor access to technology in the rural parts of his diocese.

He said: “Going digital is always good because then you don’t have to carry huge chunks of paper wherever you go, but for people in the rural parts of our country, it’s still a challenge to access these technologies but we hope partners can help us invest in solar energy since it provides the greatest opportunities in terms of linking the world.”

Michael Ade, an IT and Website specialist from the Anglican Communion Office in London, was responsible for sourcing the loaned iPads. “We learnt a lot from ACC-15 in New Zealand in as far as the use of paper is concerned after realising that we had accumulated a lot of paper that had to be thrown away at the end of the conference,” he said.

He said that they were motivated to investigate whether they could use other means such as iPads which they successfully piloted during the Primates gathering and meeting England in January this year.

“Of course some delegates were surprised because they had never used iPads before but most of them were able to quickly catch up because everyone was willing to help each other,” he added.

One of the ecumenical guests at the conference and Bishop of Haarlem, Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands, Dr Dirk Jan Schoon, commended the conference on their efforts to be more eco-friendly.

“A lot of paper is usually wasted at many conferences, and so though it may have some associated costs, the use of iPads is a good idea,” he told ACNS in an interview.

He explained how he has taken it upon himself back home to always cycle and use public transport as a contribution to protecting the environment. “Back home we try as much as possible to adopt socially and eco-friendly practices such as public transport and the use of fair-trade products,” he said.

Stephen Lyon is the co-ordinator of the Anglican Consultative Council meeting. “Though technologically things have not worked out exactly and hence not completely paperless as we had planned due to software issues, we’re glad that we’re not having to run hundreds of copies every time,” he said in an interview. “As organisers we try as much as possible to convince people to take practical steps to preserve the environment though it’s not always easy to convince others.”

He concluded: “It’s true that we’re learning especially that this is the first time we’re attempting to go paperless. But despite all the challenges, I don’t think it’s possible to go back to a paper conference.”


Anglican Communion News Service, Daily update from the ACNS,  Saturday 9 April 2016

Social Media and the Loss of Curiosity

Posted on: April 2nd, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments

By Alicia Wallace


From MySpace and Hi5 to Facebook and Twitter, our relationship with social media has evolved over the past 15 years. Unfortunately, this may have led to the loss of curiosity and the devolution of our bonds with the people these platforms were built to connect us with, beyond the boundaries of time and space. Websites we once used to find and catch up with best friends from third grade and share photos from a good night out have become little more than tools of narcissism, news, and nosiness. How did this happen?

Facebook is, by far, the most popular social media platform drawing 1.1 billion unique monthly visitors. According to eBizMBA’s March 2016 report, Twitter is a distant second, seeing 310 million unique visitors every month. Facebook has become synonymous with social media, so it serves as a default platform of study.

Why was Facebook created?

Facebook used to be – or at least feel – more exclusive. In its early years, you couldn’t even get an account without a university email address. In fact, if it didn’t end with .edu – as it probably wouldn’t if you attended university outside of the USA – you weren’t getting on Facebook.

The platform was all about finding and connecting with tent-mates from high school mission trips, the guy who moved away and no one ever saw again, and friends who went to different universities. Then the floodgates opened. Facebook became a free-for-all with parents, employers, and celebrities joining the club. Facebook went from a private clubhouse to an active newsroom, political platform, and distraction from the present.

Who’s on Facebook?

More than anyone else, millennials are actively using Facebook. According to Pew Research Center, 87% of people 18-29 use Facebook and they are the most active group of people. The least active age group is, predictably, people 65 and over, 56% of whom are on Facebook. Everyone else falls somewhere in the middle so, no matter how old you are, at least half the people you know with internet access are on Facebook.

Almost one-third of Facebook users are millennials – the generation many accuse of being self-centered, self-entitled, and lazy. Coincidence, or counterpoint?

How often are people on Facebook?

A Statistic Brain study found, on any given day, 48% of Facebook’s users log in and spend an average of 18 minutes. Fifty percent of Facebook users between the ages of 18 and 24 log in when they wake up. It comes as naturally as a bathroom visit.

People get their first glimpse at the news and trending topics, post their to-do lists, and tell friends to have great birthdays, their babies are cute, and sorry for their losses before they even have breakfast. It’s all in a day’s Facebooking, and no one bats an eye at this ceremony shared across borders, racial and gender divides, differences in ability, religions, and political views in 70 languages.

Why are people on Facebook now?

More now than ever, Facebook users flock to the platform in search of news, opinions on the news, and an amplifier for their own views. The 2014 social and demographic trend report by Pew Research Center found millennials to be racially diverse, have minimal trust in others, be largely Democratic, and have liberal social and religious views. This often leads to fireworks on social networks as articles are shared, comments are made, and true beliefs that would otherwise remain hidden come to the fore. On a daily basis, 4.75 billion pieces of content are shared leading to 20% of all page views in the USA.

The race to be first is a social media reality. Most people want to be a news-breakers. Many Facebook pages are dominated by links to external content with little thoughtful commentary, if any, attached. On the other hand, 46% of millennials are content creators, posting their own photos and videos. These are often commentary on trending topics. Those posting on controversial issues generally want to play to their own crowds, even when addressing people on the opposing side. Facebook rage is a common occurrence, shutting down conversations with the potential to inform and transform views.

In a time and space where opinions are free to fly and resources can be found to back any stance on an issue, “agree to disagree” is not a common mutual decision. Each steeped in their own experiences, participants in such conversation are generally not open to other narratives, reference points, or evidence contrary to their beliefs. More and more, the goal of such posts and comments seems to be a clear win.

There isn’t enough satisfaction in being right. Everyone else needs to know about it, and this seems to be the motivation for most content creators.

If the content you see, share, and create has to fit into one box, would most of it land in the “to inform or entertain” box as opposed to the “put the spotlight on me” box?

What do people gain from Facebook activity?

Voice: While the insight social media gives into the views the people we (think we) know is invaluable, this may not be the reason any of us use it. Social media platforms give us a voice.

There is no longer a need to compete with dozens or hundreds of other letters to the editor to give our thoughts on the important topics of the day. No one is limited to press times or subject to approval by gatekeepers. Facebook users are free to express their views, share their expertise, and weigh in on national, regional, and global issues. Phone bills and postage fees have significantly reduced now that photos and event details can be shared in seconds with no price – other than privacy concerns – attached. It doesn’t hurt that the right piece of content could make a user Facebook famous.

Access: Beyond news, Facebook gives unfettered access to private lives.

Dating lives, weight loss journeys, wedding stories, new additions, home purchases, career moves, family tragedies, academic achievements, and changes in diet are posted for all to see. Our connections are all narcissistic and arrogant or secretive and selfish. We can make our assessments based on Facebook profile timelines.

Approval: Self-esteem boosts come minutes after a selfie post. Instant gratification is a large component of social media attraction. How much of our Facebook activity is driven by the quest for a share of today’s 4.5 billion platform-wide likes?

What is Facebook stealing from us?

Though we are gaining access to the innermost thoughts of users – our friends – on issues traditionally viewed as private and too controversial for polite conversation, we’re losing personal connections. For example, we’re not having real conversations, in person, about the merits of Hillary as opposed to Bernie. We’re not focusing on support of the Democrats, but creating a divide within the party and its supporters. Our energy is being expended on the fight to be right. If Facebook has irreversibly evolved into a platform for such discussion, should the goal really be to prove people wrong, or to share our views in an open conversation that welcomes and respects other opinions and related narratives?

Curiosity went out with MySpace, but can it make a comeback? Social media is a powerhouse and, as users, we share its power. How can we use it for good? The conversations we have on Facebook are important, but the framing and intent are critical determinants of where things go from the moment a point is raised. It is equally important – if not more – to see the connections we chose to be in our networks as individuals. They aren’t nameless, faceless entities, and they have lives as real as our own. Do we still care about one another’s lives?

Are we curious enough? Do we genuinely want to learn about other points of view? Are we as interested in insight as we are in our voice? How can we better use the access social media provides to truly connect with people, share ideas, and build relationships beyond an on-screen heated exchange? Facebook has evolved in its purpose and service, and our use has changed in tandem. Maybe it should have been more of a pivot, and less of a giant leap. If we ask better questions and have better reasons for asking, we could find ourselves in a world where the media doesn’t drive the story because we would have found the key to being social again.


Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas,  March 29, 2016