Pastoral Care & Social Media #cnmac13

'Head in hands' photo (c) 2010, Mike - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

One of the best sessions I went to at this weekends Christian New Media conference was about Pastoral Care in the church and how that links in with Social Media. To be honest I don’t think I’m a naturally pastoral person, in fact my kids will tell you I’m pretty unsympathetic, so it was a surprise to find myself in this seminar – perhaps God led me there, perhaps it was just me faffing and not deciding which one to go to until the last minute. Either way I’m so glad I went. Led by a passionate Will Van der Hart and the lovely Katherine Welby it was an interesting mix of ideas and a sessions that really got me thinking.

In the church we bear a great responsibility for Pastoral Care, perhaps too much sometimes (but that is another post entirely). Jesus is referred to as the ultimate pastor –  the Good Shepherd caring for his flock. He told the parable of the shepherd who went after the one lost sheep. But often I think our reactions to the ‘lost ones’ are mostly in judgement and not compassion. I don’t mean just generally but, well, think about this:

I mentioned in yesterdays post that I am sure we can all think of people who use Facebook in pretty inappropriate ways, there are those who live out the intimate details of their lives in infinite detail, there are those who would do better to speak face to face with those they name in their status updates. Just think for a minute, if you are completely honest, what is your first reaction to those kinds of posts? Because I know my first reaction is not always a particularly Christian one. But the truth is, if someone is posting the minutiae of their life on a social media site, there is probably a reason for it…

Will talked on Saturday about the fact that people who are suffering with pain from past experiences possibly have wrong boundaries, possibly don’t even recognise there should be boundaries. People like that can become dependent on the attention they get online and the responses to those kind of posts. 

So as a Christians do I not have a responsibility here? What would Jesus do? as the old saying goes… Well I’m really not sure and this is the thing – I’m left wondering how can we turn this around? How can we react in compassion, how can we use social media in our pastoral care?  for our and others benefit?  Katherine Welby talked about how communication can bring freedom for a sufferer, but that in turn the screen can keep one captive. The thing with social media is that it’s relatively easy to communicate or to get information out, but then it’s also easy to hide too. From my own experience I know that an admission of needing help or revealing a difficult situation can then be followed by an immediate withdrawal, a regret of sharing the information in the first place. That’s one of the dangers with social media, in the physical world one can go and knock on someones door (ok so they might not answer but the point is it’s much harder to hide in person).

We need ways of enabling, helping and encouraging people online rather than just the quick fire status reply ‘praying xx’ or ‘thinking of you’ or even just clicking ‘like’ – another thing I’m sure we are all guilty of as Will pointed out in his talk. What should be our default position here? Because just a quick fire reply might relieve some guilt from ourselves but it sure ain’t going to help that person…

I don’t have answers, these are just some thoughts that have been going through my head, something to ponder on I guess. But if you’ve been thinking about this too or have some thoughts do post in the comments section.

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  • Reply
    Ray Barnes
    November 11, 2013 at 10:43 pm

    I found this post interesting because it echoes some of my own thoughts on the wisdom of blogging all one's personal traumas.
    Personally I have found it very useful to type out so I can read what I think before editing it for release.
    On the occasions when I have neglected to edit there have been a few uncomfortable moments when "should I have said that?" and "Oh dear, this really is not fit for public airing" have been the prevailing thoughts.
    But, it now seems to me that if a problem brings a wide response after you have 'aired' it, there will always be some useful and helpful comments among the dross.
    It is not particularly useful to merely say "I know how you feel". You almost certainly do not, but if you can say instead, "my experience was so and so, and I found this or that type of treatment a help, then your reply has some value.
    Blogging as therapy works for me.

  • Reply
    November 12, 2013 at 6:37 am

    I think that you are quite right about boundaries and there are things that I'd never, ever share online. I have a Spiritual Director for that and my spouse and close family and friends.

    But I know that at times, when I've been hurting, I've reached out for help and the care and love that has been returned demonstrates that Pastoral Care is there, and not just from Christians.

    I have to admit that sometimes frustration with situations also gets out of the box and online, that seems to be in situations where things just seem to be in stasis and I'm just hitting brick walls to overcome them. The Church is a case in point. After BAP, I felt cared for, but the reality hits home some time down the line, when you realise that promises made are not being fulfilled and in fact barriers are being erected to prevent you moving on.

    The only way to change this is a total change of parish and diocese which is underway – I'm being pushed out by the lack of pastoral care from my own diocese, the lack of of reflection of God's image in their behaviour, something I never dreamed that I'd experience in the Church.

    When prayer, pleading and almost begging fails, the only option is is to opt out, which I done with sorrow and even feelings of guilt? I'm I somehow to blame? Was the Churches discernment and recommendations post-BAP wrong?

    Experiencing these feelings in something which is God's business isn't nice nor is it normal – so clear off and see where God might take me in a new environment.

    The church needs to take a long hard look at itself in how it cares for people off line, let alone online.

  • Reply
    November 13, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    thanks for the comments 🙂
    Ray – yes I know what you mean, I always said I write for me and if anyone else gets something out of it thats a bonus. I find it really helpful to get stuff out of my head and onto paper (or rather a screen) to help sort out what I am actually thinking! Truth is the more I blog the more I find I am writing to an audience which I think is natural given the platform but I still try and be true to myself.

    UKV – Hey 🙂 sorry things are still rocky. It really does suck. I agree it's an area the CofE definitely needs to work on, yours isn't the only case like this I've heard of. Will be continuing to pray for God to guide you forward. Where are you looking at moving to? will you have to move house?


  • Reply
    November 22, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    Sorry, been to busy to respond before now.

    I'm moving to a local church which I've been attending regularly for mid-week HC. They issued the invitation some time ago, but I resisted it through loyalty to my previous parish and diocese.

    So this is in Rochester and the church is 1/3 mile away, while current parish is 54 miles away.

    I'm moving at Christmas after Mid-night mass and will be in new Parish for Christmas Day Eucharist.

    I have residual responsibilities as treasurer, so closing account for end of year and audit already planned and handover to someone else at that stage. But I wont be attending services there.

    Keeping my SD in Canterbury because he's just so brilliant that I don't want to lose that relationship.

    Really energised and full of joy about all of this, for the first time in months.

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