By Sue Cooke @revsuecooke, vicar of West Ewell
Last week I had the nerve-wracking chance to tweet to an audience of nearly 10,000 followers, as I was invited to take the controls of the ‘@OurCofE’ twitter handle.
The project which has been running for a couple of years was set up to tell the story of the Church of England through the eyes of its people, with a different user operating the account every week.
My first thought was, ‘ten thousand people follow this account, and they never signed up to listen to me!’. Knowing the number of people who follow the account is quite scary. Then realising your Bishop is one of them definitely makes one think twice about what I put on (hence why tea featured more frequently than other beverages!).
But the immediate response offered by social media and audience feedback was very affirming. So much so that I can also see the danger in that enjoying the affirmation of others could become addictive. It builds a desire to tweet more, to seek others approval, to put up creative pictures and intelligent quotes with a desire to please others. Rather than just being honest about the reality of my day or life at a given point.
Although I do tweet irregularly trying to intentionally and frequently tweet something was a challenge. I had to remember to do so; I had to find something that others might think interesting; I had to try and show the Church of England in a good light and I had to keep it all within 140 characters!
The audience for the week led to some interesting responses to my tweets. For the first time in my life using social media I got trolled! It bothered me and then it bothered me that I was bothered. Why was I worrying about what someone I had never met and would likely never meet was saying? More to the point though, why do people have to be horrible?
What’s more my troll was a member of the laity using his church’s account to tweet me. He said he had his own account, but was using the church one as it had more followers and so he got more coverage. We need to be careful about who we are on social media, especially as representatives of the Church. As church leaders we need to watch that people don’t make public statements on behalf of the church when they are just personal opinion. The Diocese of Guildford has some good guidelines on this matter.
Some people are very kind on social media, especially when dealing with the troll. Knowing what I was representing I was guarded in my response to the troll. Others were more forthright and asked “why troll our own?” Indeed, there is enough tension within the world without Christians turning on each other in a public forum. It was very affirming when others stood up for me and sent me encouraging tweets.
My church, who are not particularly active on social media as a whole enjoyed it. Our Mothers’ Union in particular were delighted when a tweeted picture of them got a response from @MothersUnion, which then appeared on their website.
I was surprised by the sorts of content people interacted with. Some of my most popular tweets were ones about my desk with a picture of my mug on it and many people wanted to know where it was from, or my cakes when people wanted the recipes. It was fun to be interacting with and helping others if only in a small way!
It was an interesting week. One of the significant learning lessons for me was how good I felt when I focused on all the positives happening around me. When I spent time really looking at all the blessings God gives. I wanted to give a real insight into my week, but in a week when there was plenty of negative news coverage I wanted to focus on the positive and not get caught up in any political debates. By intentionally spending a week looking for good news stories and positive things to tweet about I was reminded how very blessed I am and fortunate to be in ministry in West Ewell.
I am going to try and tweet more often from my personal account, @revsuecooke, but always looking for the good so that I can share the blessings and excitement with others.