May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be always with you!
Yesterday evening, Ross Sherwood and I attended a gathering at Quispamsis United Church for the churches in the Saint John area who are Affirming or are in/considering the process of becoming Affirming. We had great conversations, focused both on the journey of becoming and being an Affirming Community of Faith (challenges, joys, lessons learned etc), as well as on ways that we might work together. (There are currently 3 Affirming churches in the Saint John area - Two Rivers Pastoral Charge, Harmony United Church, and Quispamsis United Church.)
One of the side conversations that caught my attention was around the use of social media. When I was in my final year at AST (Atlantic School of Theology), the school had a panel discussion about social media and the church featuring Rev. Aaron Billard (a United Church minister in Moncton and the genius behind Unvirtuous Abbey), Rev. Dr. Rob Fennell (a Systematic Theology professor at AST, and a blogger, and a Facebook user), and Rev. Janice MacLean (who runs The Prayer Bench, a virtual retreat centre).
One thing that stuck in my mind from that panel was when Rob Fennell used the analogy of the Agora or the public square to describe social media. The Agora in Ancient Greece was a gathering place or an assembly place. It was the place where politics and business and the arts and the spiritual life and the social life could all take place.
If you lived in that time and place, you could choose to avoid the Agora, the public square, just as today some people choose to avoid social media (and if social media is harmful or detrimental to you, then this is a very healthy choice to make). In the Agora, you would tend to spend more time with the people you know, with the people you associated with, with the people who thought like you; but you also had the opportunity to encounter people coming from a different perspective or from a different sub-culture of society. And isn't this the same in the social media world, whether your social media of choice be Facebook or TikTok or Instagram or Twitter?
The question that he invited all of us (with the "us" being future church leaders) to ponder was, what sort of a presence in the Agora of social media do we want to be? Social Media is a gathering place or a tool - it isn't inherently good or evil, but it depends on how we use it. As followers of the Way of Jesus, what does this Way look like when translated into social media spaces?
This is something that I always try to keep in mind when working behind the scenes on the Two Rivers Pastoral Charge Facebook account - this is the public presence of our churches in the digital public square. How does what I post as Two Rivers reflect our faith, our beliefs, our work as the body of Christ? How do my comments as Two Rivers reflect the Way of Jesus?
But I think that it goes beyond that, because the church isn't a single person or a single social media account - the church is made up of all of the people of the church. I suspect that most people reading this e-mail use social media (some more than others, and across different platforms). How does your presence on social media reflect the face of Christ to the people around you? Jesus tells us that the two greatest commandments are to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbours as ourselves - is this part of how you live your life in the public square that is social media?
I know that for myself, listening to this panel 6 years ago has shaped the way that I use social media, both under my "Kate Jones" accounts and as "Two Rivers Pastoral Charge." Before I share a post or comment on someone else's post (either a private post or on a public page), I have that little voice in the back of my head that asks if this is how Jesus would use social media. If my comment or my post were to appear on the sign out front of one of our churches, would I feel ashamed of what I had written, or would it be in keeping with the Way of Jesus that we are all called to follow?
We all know that social media can sometimes be a bit of a dumpster fire (I could use stronger language here, but I'll keep it church/family friendly!); but as followers of Jesus who are moving and living in social media spaces, we have the opportunity to shift the conversation even if just a little bit. What can each of us do to make the interwebs just a little bit more of a place where loving God and loving all of our neighbours is the norm?
Now shifting from social media reflections to announcements! I have a couple to pass along this week:
Long Reach Cemetery (And Church) Clean-Up - the weather forecast at the moment is looking optimistic for Friday afternoon, so this is a reminder for the Long Reachers that we will be gathering any time after 3:30 to clean up the cemetery after the winter (raking gravel and moving leaves and branches off the grass), as well as do a spring cleaning inside the church. Supper will be shared when the work is done!
Westfield Grounds Clean-Up - thank you to all of the volunteers who showed up last Saturday to clean up the lawn and gardens around the church - things are looking in great shape for the spring!
Strawberry Social - in case you missed the announcement on Sunday, the Westfield Strawberry Social is on for July (date to be determined closer to the time once we know when the local strawberries are likely to be available) under new leadership. If you are interested/available to help in early July, please get in touch with Maggie Coffin-Prowse! (And if you need her contact information, give me a shout.)
Youth Connection will be gathering this Sunday, May 7, at 7pm at Westfield United Church. All youth in middle and high school are invited to attend.
Concert #1 - Jon McLurg, Allison Inch, and Bob Johnson. Sunday May 14, 7pm, Westfield United Church. Admission by free-will offering at the door with the proceeds split between the UCW and the musicians.
Concert #2 - "Rock Around the Clock" with the Westfield United Church Choir. Sunday June 11, 7pm, Westfield United Church. Tickets are $30 (this is a fundraiser for the church) and must be purchased through Eventbrite - click here for a link to purchase tickets. We only have a limited number of tickets available and we have now sent out the advertising to other local churches, so if you want to ensure that you will have a ticket, you should probably purchase it soon!
Bible Study continues every Wednesday at 10am in the parlour at Westfield United Church. As we meander our way through the Old Testament, we have now finished Numbers and moved into Deuteronomy. This morning, we had a fascinating conversation about the overall story arc of the Old Testament - what order things happened in, when different books of the Old Testament were likely written, and how the stories in the bible fit in with world history (or at least European and Middle Eastern history).
Westfield Sunday School Teachers - a reminder that we are looking to recruit a couple more people willing to assist Ken with Sunday School on an occasional basis (we aren't looking for an every-week commitment). Please get in touch of me if this might be of interest to you!
And I think that's it for announcements this week!
For a closing thought, if your social media feeds look anything like mine, they have probably been filled with lots of Gordon Lightfoot since news of his death came out on Monday evening. And so let me throw a couple more links in here. He was interviewed by The Observer (the former iteration of Broadview Magazine) a couple of years ago about his faith and his music - you can read that interview by clicking here. He was a worshiper at Rosedale United Church, and used to play and sing every year at the Christmas Eve service (as long as the church promised not to publicize or advertise this) - a former minister at Rosedale United Church has shared a story about working with Gordon Lightfoot to plan this service, which you can read by clicking here.
And finally, I should probably share a link to a song, but it is hard to choose just one. My father is a Gordon Lightfoot fan, so his music was part of the soundtrack of my life for as long as I can remember. The first of his songs that I remember being aware of is "Black Day in July," written about the 1967 race riots in Detroit. This song was banned by many radio stations for its message of racial justice (this was probably not helped by the fact that it was released right around the time of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.). I remember dubbing it from Dad's vinyl album onto a cassette tape so that I could listen to it on my ghetto blaster rather than the record player (I may still have that cassette somewhere in my basement...). If you want to listen to it (in digital format rather than vinyl or cassette), you can click here.
Blessings to you and yours, today and always!
Rev. Kate Jones Two Rivers Pastoral Charge (506) 757-2201 (office) (506) 343-1307 (mobile) www.tworiverspastoralcharge.com Pronouns: she/her/hers "Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law?"
Jesus replied, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "You must love your neighbour as you love yourself."