Time to refresh the Soap Box

soapbox
Consider this article a bit of a ‘taster plate’.

There are 16 candidates for ordained ministry within the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania at the moment. Sixteen high energy, clever, culturally diverse, interesting people who the Church has selected to work toward ordination for either Minister of Word or the Diaconate from across five presbyteries.

The Church is in good hands with this ‘16’.

It may seem a radical thing to say, but I believe never before has ordination been more important. Put aside that old thinking about hierarchy and think more about the importance of having men and women who see it as their business to wrestle with truth.

And never before has truth been so contested. The phrase ‘post truth’ has now entered the lexicon. Never before have we been so able to download, click, podcast and listen to personal commentary on politics, theology, psychology and social issues. Opinions, opinions on opinions, some deeply researched and thoughtfully analysed and others completely fabricated mischief.

In ordaining men and women the church is saying ‘Yes’ to setting aside men and women for leading communities of faith to wrestle with the issue of truth. We are saying theological education does matter and being part of the social discourse does matter. We are saying the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the texts of the testaments do matter; and offer a word and insight into how we live as human beings in this world.

To that end we have introduced a couple of new elements to the Wednesday formation program at Pilgrim Theological College this year.

Every week for the first part of semester one, all 16 candidates engaged in good old-fashioned preaching class. The candidates took turns preparing and delivering sermons to the rest of the candidate community and reflected on their own sermon preparation and performance. They then received honest feedback from peers about how they communicated the gospel and how they might improve.  It was fantastic to hear the imaginative, thoughtful interpretation of texts from such a diverse group of people.

And secondly – do you remember the old soap box? In times gone by it was literally a wooden soap box that was hauled out as the makeshift stand for public orations.

We decided to dust off the soap box and breathe new life into it. Why? It is important for the 21st century minister to be able to articulate ideas about matters of importance and discuss those ideas with others in honest open conversations. So every month a couple of a candidates or faculty members speak for three to four minutes about an issue they feel passionate about and then discussion flows about the issues raised for us about the church, ourselves and the world.

Thus far we have heard and discussed Trump and the rise of popularism, the dislike of the clerical collar (that would be mine), music styles in worship and the use of Facebook.

The conversations emerging out of the impassioned speeches have been wide ranging and insightful.

I thought it might be a good thing to invite the Crosslight reader to have little taster of the Pilgrim Soap Box. Here is an edited version of second year candidate Carlynne Nunn’s Soap Box oration on the use of Facebook spoken in the form of a letter to her fellow ministerial candidates.

Dear all,

Facebook, that wily, time-sucking minx, has been a part of our lives for some time now. You lot hearing this letter will no doubt have at most a slavish, worshipful relationship with the ‘book’, or at least an opinion about it being a blight in which you have no interest in partaking. If you are the latter, please ignore what follows. If however you are a person in ministry of some kind who uses Facebook, it’s likely you can be placed in one of four categories.

First. The minister that hates it but got a profile because several people kept saying you should and now whenever it’s mentioned you murmur something about you not being “up to all that internet jazz” and thus render your token interaction with the platform useless.

Second. The minister who interacts with Facebook the way they would relate to a polite grandchild, popping in several times daily to tell their eager followers that “the begonias are coming along… thanks God for the rain” or “my latest batch of marmalade is done”, regardless of how few people care about the begonias or the marmalade.

Third. The person who uses it as a forum for political rants, attempts at wit, and the only evangelism in which they engage – that being for their favourite band or author.

But fourth is the most worrying of all types of Facebook user, ministerial or not – the over-sharer. The person who has taken the word ‘friends’ (shockingly misused in this context) to heart and tells everyone their daily thoughts, complaints and emotional states.

Perhaps I am wrong! Perhaps this is a perfectly legitimate way to express yourself and to receive succour from the bosom of those intimates whom you have allowed into your digital circle. But, beloved, let us not forget that Facebook can be, and is often, three things: useful, public, and treacherous.

Yes you can make good use of a forum that allows the easy and informal dissemination of information to many, with options of interactive commentary and a function for organising event invitations.

But let’s not forget this is a public forum. It’s not you telling your neighbour Marge about your other neighbour Kev. It’s you telling your “friends” and potentially more, depending on your privacy settings, about your neighbour Kev.

This letter is not an admonition about privacy in the vein of “be afraid of hackers” or whatever other hysteria some people find themselves prey to. I personally don’t care at all about the faceless identity thieves/ stalkers combing through my information.

My care is for those who have become, however it has happened, connected to you on this platform. I have unfollowed family, due to persistent over-sharing. How much more should I feel tempted to unfollow a minister who does the same! 

The crux of my letter, dear ones, is this: think carefully about what type of user you want to be. You aren’t taking a close friend aside for a debrief. You are talking to possibly upwards of hundreds of people.

Furthermore, if you’re friends on Facebook with members of your congregation, (which I would also counsel thinking about) and you are interspersing your “Oh three meetings down and the rain has stopped … crying with laughter face”, with “Church council is totally draining … where is the life of Christ here … sad face with single tear”; or “Pastoral visits are really hard”; or “Really struggling at the moment”, you are inviting your congregation to provide some sort of pastoral care to you, which I would suggest could be inappropriate. And let’s not forget to mention the potential offence and/or breaches of privacy that could crop up.

I’m not trying to say that as a minister there is no place to be authentic – that is the last thing I think. But this portal is not authentic. It is almost by definition a curated, doctored arena of personal performance and mediated interaction. It is treacherous. I understand the temptation to vent, particularly after a frustrating meeting, and particularly when it can be done with such ease, and with such a resulting satisfaction when all your likeminded buddies can ‘like’ and comment. But I urge caution when making your emotional complaints into a sphere where one can offer ‘support’ simply by clicking a small button. You have, I hope, other avenues of actual support available to you. Use them. Leave Facebook to its other evils, the dull and the overly political.

Yours sincerely,

Carlynne.

You can imagine the discussion and theological reflection this Soap Box oration provoked. Who knows, it might get you thinking and talking too.

 

Rev Sue Withers
Field Education Co-ordinator, CTM

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