Proximity & Community

[I should have posted this yesterday, but the house-move is in mid-trundle so it is late. Of your charity I apologise – anxious in the main because you will have cancelled things simply to read my words]

For those of you unfamiliar with me, I am a priest who is currently ‘between jobs’ – in the very literal sense of that. As I have had to say ‘goodbye’ to one ministry and think about the joy of greeting the next, I have been granted an opportunity to ponder the very nature of ministry as it affects me as a disciple. A few of my ruminations have found their way to my own blog, if you feel inclined to delve a little deeper.

I have come to the whole world of social media relatively recently (not that any of you can claim decades of experience, of course). In the beginning I was skeptical and considered it a very effective way of keeping humans, and indeed disciples of Christ, well and truly separated. Part of me still wonders about it, but an ever diminishing part of me. I think my default position has and always will be that Christians are creatures designed and called to be in proximity with other Christians. The nature of ‘proximity’ is what is changing, I think.

A visualisation of some of David's followers on Twitter

In many helpful ways, the whole world of social-media and the technologies that underpin it are changing the very definition of ‘proximity’. For many of us, a real-time conversation with someone thousands of miles away is not now a fact of the miraculous. Paper-post is slowly giving way to electronic mail where a letter can be delivered to someone in a split-second. ‘Proximity’ thereby is changing. With this phenomenon, the idea of ‘community’ is also changing.

One of my fears with social-media and it’s driving gadgets was that it appeared to erode community. In other words, it kept people apart who would otherwise have been face-to-face. More and more I am the opinion that one is not eroding the other, but that a new type of community is growing and is set beside our traditional idea of how it is to be ‘community’. I have my temporal circles of friends, colleagues, family and those with whom I share interests as ever before, but I now belong to other communities that exist in cyber-space. I belong to the blogging community, a wide Twitter community, and other circles that have grown from them. They are real, they edify me as temporal communities do, but they allow me a freedom to be even more authentically me than ministerial existence does in real-space.

So, how does this tie in with ministry? Being a public minister of religion brings with it responsibilities of behaviour. I have to behave and act like a priest, as I am required to do. This is often, by very definition, a behaviour that demands a reduced level of ‘me’. To be fully ‘me’, in my good moods and bad, means that I have to be away from my ministry and with another community. That is, of course, mostly within the context of my family at home. However, social-media grants me an opportunity to stop being a public minister and be David Cloake from time to time. This is invaluable and prevents me simply ‘being my ministry’ to the exclusion of the facets of me that don’t properly fit. I cannot overstate that value of finding like-minded Christians who, for example, share my taste for heavy rock music. In ‘the flesh’, such meetings are rare and until recently, such Christians just didn’t seem to exist. Now, I feel empowered to be even more authentically me, and to play a part in allowing other Christian disciples the same opportunities. Being a priest is about being called as we are, not as we think we ought to be – and if that includes a penchant for heavy rock, then so be it.

Social-media aids this new proximity and builds new community because it succeeds where temporal encounters often fail with Christians – it surpasses the ecclesial labelling. I converse and relate to Christians from across the entire ecclesial spectrum, and without a single care for the differences. I doubt I could tell you where “on the candle” half of my cyber-chums are. That can only be a good thing, and of Christ.

Social media has its draw backs, of course. Everything does, even heavy rock music. I will consider those in a future month. For now, as I literally move my world, it will be the community found in social-media that will be my strength and stay (family aside). As a priest on the move, I cannot overstate its value to me.

About @FrDavidCloake

I am dad, husband and priest. I have a love for technology and all that it can do make manifest the Kingdom of God. I quite like cars and jets too. I say it as I see it, kinda. I am the Vicar of Ss Philip & James in Whitton, Twickenham having completed a wonderful curacy in the Parish of Aylesbury with Bierton and Hulcott.