Thursday, July 29, 2010

Online Community - Connecting With People of Faith

Over the past 15 months, since I joined Facebook, I have had a very positive experience of community.  Using it for a combination of ministry and personal connection, I have connected more deeply with people I already know, reconnected to a "long-lost" relative, stayed in touch with people I only see infrequently, maintained connection with a few people from my past, and met some very interesting people I didn't know before. Most are Catholic, some are not. It's been an interesting experiment - and one that has been a good fit for me.

I have had the opportunity to see what interests people, to support and join with others in praying for them in times of challenge, to debate politics and immigration issues, to play a social game (Farmville) with them, and to have a quick, reliable way to reach people through the messaging interface when I don't have an email address handy.  It has, in many ways, "greased the social wheels" of ministry. When I see colleagues in person with whom I have a regular online connection, there is a deeper quality to the relationship - the beginnings a friendship (admittedly a superficial one) - that gives us a more easy basis for working together.

I also have met a few people through social gaming that I have no other connection with. Some have turned out to be Catholics, others represent other faiths, including Buddhism and Islam. Some have no overt religious connections. A few have gone beyond the level of just being fellow gamers to the level of casual acquaintance.  It's been good to get to know them. To play the games, they must also see all my other posts, including the overtly Catholic ones. No one has complained yet.. and it has allowed the ones who are Catholic or sometimes even other Christians, to react and comment.

At the same time, for the past two years I have facilitated online courses for University of Dayton Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation. Although the learning groups are temporary - lasting 5 weeks for a regular course, 3 weeks for a seminar. In this case, normally, I am connecting with strangers. This summer, having an experience of facilitating a seminar composed of catechetical leaders and catechists from within our diocese, I am having the interesting opportunity to connect on a higher level with people I already know.  In observing the sharing on the message boards about deep-level faith questions (in this case, about their understanding of the Eucharist and its call to service) I have new respect and admiration - a window into the faith journey of people with whom I have had varying degrees of connection, from casual to good friendship.

As to other social media, I recently joined  Twitter and have found even more people to connect with, although Twitter provides a much more limited sense of connection. It serves more as a communication tool and source of news and information to direct me to blog posts or to find other people on Facebook.

Reading Catholic blogs has also enabled me to gain insights into other people and share opinions about faith, the Church, and other issues. The blogosphere is an intriguing place - certainly opinions about liturgy, the hierarchy, and other hot issues vary widely.  I read and comment on blogs representing a variety of "theologies" - even those with which I disagree, because I find it helpful to hear what others are saying.

All these experiences underline for me the gift that social media can be for forming community. I know, at any time, I am not alone in what I do. I can go to my computer and find people, share what interests me - links to videos, blog posts and information of all kinds, read the wry comments of some of my wittier friends, see what's up with those who walk daily with illness or whose elderly parents are doing that, catch up on what's what in the Church and the world, and in general, have an engaging window on what is happening in some other lives. As a single person living alone, I find it not just useful, but a kind of lifeline - social media lets me know I am never alone. There are other faith-filled people out there and I am glad to connect and support them and grateful for their support of me.

1 comment:

  1. Joyce, you are absolutely right. Over the past two years, I have also enjoyed getting to know other people passionate about evangelization like you and me. Social media can be impersonal, but it can also be a door into true collaboration, networking, and friendships.