Faith to Facebook

Bill SpencerBy Ros Marsden

The eulogy delivered by granddaughter Rachel Fraser at the March State Funeral for Malcolm Fraser provided a warm glimpse into the private family life of Australia’s 22nd prime minister.

Ripples of laughter filled Scots Church Melbourne as Rachel revealed the former leader’s fascination and then adoption of social media.

“A few years ago, Grandad was intrigued as to why all his grandchildren were taking photos and constantly checking their phones.

After a few long conversations about both Twitter and Facebook – at the age of 81, Grandad seemed to have his accounts up and running in no time and became more active than all of us put together.

I still remember the cheeky grin on his face when he said “I’ve got 20,000 followers, how many do you have, Rach?”

Malcolm Fraser was brave to tackle social media. You can conceive him brusquely dismissing the notion, but instead his granddaughter talked of his curiosity and desire to conquer the medium.

For many of us raised in an era of manual typewriters and sending letters through the post, the speedy advent of the internet and mobile technology has felt alarming, even frightening. We hear horror stories of cyber bullying and hackers invading our privacy. We see head-bowed public transport commuters glued to their phones and we attend family gatherings where children text under the tablecloth between serves of roast lamb and apple crumble.

In the Pew Research Centre September 2014 report, more than half (56 per cent) of all American adults 65 and older who were online, used Facebook. That represented 31per cent of all American seniors.

So if we want to be like Malcolm Fraser, and 1.39 billion monthly active users on Facebook, for example, how can we get started?

The best teachers may be in your lounge room right now – teenage children or grandchildren – and it could be the nicest way to spend time with younger members of your family. Most young people love the opportunity to share their technical savvy and show enormous patience explaining new concepts.

At 78, Bill Spencer (pictured), who worships at Trinity Uniting Church in Dandenong, is an avid Facebook user.

“I started around five years ago to keep up with activities my grandchildren are involved in.” Bill said.

“By ‘liking’ what they do and putting encouraging comments on their posts, I feel part of their lives in a positive way that they can relate to.”

He also enjoys the way Facebook helps him stay in touch with extended family.

“Sometimes you’re not able to see great nephews and nieces because of geographical distance, but with Facebook I’ve managed to stay connected even when I don’t see family for a while.

“I also like having a voice on issues, especially the plight of refugees so I share and comment on posts focusing on social justice that I see on my timeline. When my son stood as a Labor candidate at the last election I enjoyed supporting his messages through social media too.”

As Bill discovered, Facebook is an excellent place to share photos and to connect with family. Many older users discover school or childhood friends they have lost touch with or they find community and hobby groups with shared interests. By ‘liking’ a page your Facebook timeline can stream information about your favourite topics.

Users trying social media for the first time express concerns about the medium’s public nature, but if you select the correct privacy settings you can restrict who sees or shares your posts. Bill Spencer suggests only accepting friends that you know as a good starting point.

What is Bill’s advice for someone who’s unsure about diving into Facebook?

“I would really encourage people to try it. I’ve been able to get in touch with people we haven’t seen for years, I love seeing family photos and I have a voice in issues that matter to me.”

Here’s the link for the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania Facebook if you would like to follow the Synod’s activities.

The Uniting Church is active on social media with a large number of congregations sharing activities at their local church. Some examples of Facebook accounts include churches at: North Balwyn; Ringwood; Trinity Dandenong; Western Heights Geelong; St John’s Essendon; Mountview, Mitcham; Banyule Network of Uniting Churches; Koornang; Northcote; Weerona Bendigo; St Leonard’s Brighton; Mount Martha; High Street Frankston; Williamstown; Glen Waverley; Altona Meadows Laverton; Carlton Church of All Nations; St Andrew’s Sunbury; Western Port; St Michael’s Melbourne; St Kilda Parish Mission; St Luke’s Highton and Messy Church Ivanhoe and Heidelberg. The Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania and the Uniting Church in Australia have Facebook pages and others you may like to explore include pages featuring UnitingCare agencies, the Justice in Mission (JIM) unit, Uniting Agewell, Centre for Theology and Ministry and UCA Youth.

If your church’s Facebook isn’t listed above please send the link for your page to

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