Blogging to build community

For the seven years I have been involved in communicating on behalf of Mothers’ Union, I have used the following as my inspiration:

“Proclaim the mystery of Christ… clearly. Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.”
(Colossians 4:3-5)

Back in early July I was startled to find that the central Mothers’ Union marketing dept couldn’t get it’s head round blog based content management – and the feedback from my posting on the matter (A blog isn’t a website?) was significant, particularly Adriana’s comment about “marketing not building relationships”.

There are many examples of individual, good Christian blogs — ones that build a community of readers. I currently follow five of them: A Man Breathing (in training for ministry), Gathering Grace (a rural parish priest), Maggi Dawn (college chaplain and musician), Bishop Alan, and fellow WordPress user Bishop Nick.

In all cases I feel I am learning something about them as people, what they are passionate about, what makes them tick, what irritates them, what their social concerns are, and in some cases how they cope with that thing called ‘life’. Frequently I am prompted to consider with what God wants me to engage.

All this contributes to being part of their community.

Bishop Nick is the Bishop for the Church of England’s Diocesan Communicators and in his Diocesan news when he launched his blog he said:

The brilliant thing about blogging is that it gets conversations (and occasional rows) going in the most odd places… I love the edgy engagement that it allows and am glad the Church can get stuck into this space.

The idea of using blog software as content management for a community therefore seems a logical next step, which is why I took it when it was suggested to me. My hope is that people from all over the world will use it as a way to engage directly with what Mothers’ Union does. I want them to be inspired and resourced, and yes, perhaps commit to supporting it long-term.

This is, in part, marketing, but more than that it builds relationships and communities of like minded people. To use the jargon of an (ex) CEO at the sharp end of computing, I want MU (and Christians generally) to be active members of the new Participation Age — not just passive members of the old Information Age.

It’s a pity then that some of those who’ve been inspired to use blog software for content management on a community website often don’t enable comments and therefore aren’t building a participating community. Fellow Mothers’ Union WordPress users in Manchester are one example, and I look forward to discussing with them at our September Marketing Conference why they do this! I’m sure you can find other examples.

It’s also a pity that web software has created a generation of users who don’t, and are perhaps scared to, interact with a website. Perhaps that in part is the reason why the Mothers’ Union site I maintain is not generating comments – yet I am sure that people do have views about Mothers’ Union work in social policy, overseas development, or family life which they would like to express.

I have heard Christianity condemned as a means of controlling people, telling them how they should think, and why they should think it. If Christians use blogging software without comments enabled, are we feeding the mis-conception that we peddle a command and control mentality? Where is the freedom in Christ and the boldness of the Holy Spirit in the power of which we are called to witness (Acts 5:29)?

I do wonder how many Christian communities using the web are really making the most of every opportunity to inspire participation in the Gospel? It may be a step outside our comfort zone, just as any other form of ministry, but I do believe using the full capabilities of blog software for on-line Christian communities is definitely a “space” that those of us doing the building, need to get “stuck into”.

I may look forward…

Received a letter today from the Warden of Readers that makes it official:

“In the view of those responsible for initial Reader Training you have successfully completed the Reader Training Programme and may look forward to being Licensed on 3rd October 2009.”

So I am really to be a Reader or if you prefer the terminology, Licensed Lay Reader. I feel rather odd about it really: still not quite sure I’m really up to the role, not feeling really like I can be a minister; but in the good moments sure of a calling to do these preaching, teaching  things and try and make a difference in the world for God.

No great nerves, excitement or happiness I’m afraid, far too much to do in the next five weeks for that! Bless him, G insisted we have a take-away tonight to ‘celebrate’, but I had to go buy it because he’d had a gardening accident with a freshly sharpened pair of secetares he was mis-using – a 1.5cmlong and deep cut in his left thumb! Bless him!!

Forget Jericho – our walls go up!

Gone - the garage roof went Thursday
Gone - the garage roof went Thursday

Another week of huge accomplishments on the building front.

We now have all our ground floor external walls and window spaces, the utility boxes have been moved to their new positions without a hitch, the roof has been taken off the garage, the scaffolding went up this morning, and this afternoon the paving started to go down round the shed to the back door – all with the slope going in the correct directions!

DSCN0592wIn other aspects of life, the family work rate has definitely recovered from partial holiday mode and is back at almost full tilt, even though school doesn’t re-start till next week.

G has completed a third of the upper-sixth scheme of work for next academic, and I received the pack for my last Reader Training module: ‘The Mission of the Church in Contemporary Society’. So I’ve been finishing off some of the summer’s to-do list including Mothers’ Union website updates, to make space for a period of frantic work – what you might call a wall of work going up. I have the module reading, half an assignment and ‘Archway’ to fit in round the start of term and friends on furlough from Tanzania visiting to share the duties at an evening service. All that in the space of 2 weeks before our last residential – a pleasant surprise though to find it is to be at Park Place Pastoral Centre so I can stock up on the nuns lovely Aubergine Chutney!

In a sense, I was there

Image095Well, I wasn’t physically at the Oval today to watch the awesome English… but I can say I was at Lord’s for the other English win in their ASHES series win. I can even post this rather fuzzy piccie from the husbands mobile phone to prove we were there for day 3 of the Lord’s Test back on July 18th (our 17th Wedding Anniversary).

I have to say, around our family commitments today we were politely glued to the TMS coverage of this historic day, and stayed with Dad long enough to see the highlights on Five! Freddie’s throw to run out Ponting was a very fitting way to end his Test career, Swann bowled great again, and even dear old Harmi got in on the act!

So I think all that’s needed now is for the gentlemen of ‘Duckworth Lewis’ to write a little ditty to mark the occasion… “In Honour of the Urn”?

Standing on firm ground

Our dinky shed emerges
Our dinky shed emerges

Week three of the building work is complete and with it our hard surfaces, and half the shed walls. It’s been a tad noisy at times, but the holiday season has meant we’ve been able to escape by spending time with our family at various points.

The shed isn’t as big as I’d hoped on the inside, but as big as we could have and still keep the greenhouse. How I’m going to fit everything back in at the end of the build I have no idea, but I suppose some shed is better than no shed.

The first layer of the floor for the new hall is down and solid as a rock, which at least means we’re walking on firm ground as we go in and out. In the fullness of time, Cs room will come out 2/3 of the way out over that surface.

Bison beams and blocks in our new hall!
Bison beams and blocks in our new hall!

It’s been good to spend time with folk, and we conclude with a trip to Bournemouth tomorrow – it will be good to have all four generations together, as it doesn’t happen often. C has continued sailing this week, coming 2nd in the youth race at training night on Wednesday. The only wildlife highlight has been a Common Darter at the inlaws on Tuesday, my photo of which has had several compliments on the Flickr site: Common Darter

Badger, Badger, Mushroom!

Female (r) and juvenile (l) badger
Female (r) and juvenile (l) badger

Big, beautiful, badgers. Three of them in total! And we saw them two nights running at Dad’s!! Totally wild but addicted to peanuts, one of them came within touching distance of us, and they don’t seem to mind the camera lights, so a fantastic opportunity for us to photograph wild badgers!

These are my best two shots, but the lad (who has grown an inch in 5 weeks!) got the best piccie. I’ve not included it here because
a) it’s his not mine
b) we’re going to try and get him to enter it for the Countryfile Photographic Competition!

Juvenile badger - up close and personal!
Juvenile badger - up close and personal!

We also had two lovely outings. The first in the forest, parking near Thrifty Gate (off the A31 at Stoney Cross near Minstead) and walking down to Admiral Murray’s Passage then across to the 500ish year old Withybed Oak and back up to Andrew’s Mare before crossing back to Thrifty Gate. It was a bit drizzly and quite blowy, which meant not great for dragonflies which we’d hoped to see at the stream in Murray’s Passage. Neither did we see any deer, but we did find some good fungi, including a few mushrooms and this lovely bracket fungi (which I need to look up an i.d. for).

Fab Fungi
Fab Fungi

Our other outing was to Keyhaven (overlooking Hurst Castle) where we walked some of the lagoons on the reserve. Birding highlights included several Egrets, Heron, 2 Shelduck, 1 Tern, a flock of Turnstones, 3 Ringed Plover, several Oystercatcher, and a large community of Redshanks. We also heard Curlew but never saw them. Over lunch on the “key” we watched a Cormorant swallow and eel – but didn’t have the camera to hand!

C spent most of his time watching boats – and particular a ICAP sail that dwarfed everything else in the Solent. He’s back on the water again tomorrow with his Grandad!

Calm before the storm?

Shed foundations - and a gap in the fence
Shed foundations - and a gap in the fence

Well it’s the end of the second week of building work and today has been total calm as the lads have had to attend a funeral today: their old boxing coach has sadly died.

However there’s been plenty of progress through the week: we’ve lost the doorstep, outside cupboard and the roof over the doorstep; the foundations for the shed are dug and concreted, and the first stages of aligning the front wall seemed to happen yesterday, with a dramatic pair of holes into the front of the house, we think to allow air to circulate beneath a raised floor.

I “preached” last Sunday at our Summer Sunday 10am congregation – in the end it was 3 linked talk/activity slots on God’s Promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:1-13 which involved a beach tent and lots of cardboard boxes! We started by talking about the importance and problems of tents; then we talked about a temple, why David thought it was a good idea, and built one round our ”sacred chest” using empty cardboard boxes; lastly we discovered why God wasn’t so keen on the idea and who the ultimate ‘temple’ would be, concluding with using the same boxes to build a large cross. Although I found it really tough to deliver (such ‘think spots’ demand the memory I don’t have and interaction with the kids) it was reasonably well received.

What's left around the front door
What's left around the front door

Since then there has been a bit of a lull in my normally frenetic life. I’ve read at least two girly novels this week, lounged in the bath for at least one morning (with a book), and watched my son sail… a lot! He had a day with Grandad on Tuesday at Littleton SC (where I found a pair of Holly Blue butterflies on some ivy), did race training with A in a Topaz Omega on Wednesday, and we’ve just returned from Hawley Lake where he came 11th out of 13 in his first pursuit race, sailing a Pico (so he beat the other Pico and one other boat). Somehow I ended up keeping tabs on the race placings, holding an instructors dog, and finally got invited to crew sometime soon! Something to be avoided methinks.

Also purchased and “pay and go” 3G dongle from Vodaphone to enable me to blog away from home. Unfortunately it doesn’t work well at Hawley, and I don’t think it will work from Lyndhurst (which appears to be an internet poor village both by cable and otherwise). It does work at church though, and I’m hoping it will work at Swanwick in the autumn!

Female Holly Blue
Female Holly Blue

Now we’ve got a week of family dominated trips out, plus I need to remember I’m leading and preaching at 8am Morning Prayer on 23rd before have a “4 generations lunch” in Bournemouth. That might sound busy, but it shouldn’t be too bad; definitely calmer than normal. After that it will be back to life in the really fast lane, as it’s all downhill to the stormy waves of life at the start of the academic year in a school orientated household, plus I’ve got Mothers’ Union meetings, the last Reader Residential of training, MU conference and … well I guess you know already!

History of a hole

End of Week 1 of the building works and we have footings… though at present I wouldn’t like to stand on them – if I did, I’d end up encased in concrete!

On Wednesday we thought that we had a pretty deep hole in the garage doorway, though by morning the spade at the end of it was a bit buried by landslip after a little rain.

A good spades depth outside the garage on Wednesday
A good spades depth outside the garage on Wednesday

Then yesterday, we had three guys digging like their lives depended on it, and between them they had produced truly awesome holes. 140cm deep apparently as they had to dig to the depth of the existing foundations, and discovered that we had been built very high with the ground level raised around us!

However, we had torrents of rain for hours last night. About 11pm reading in bed, we heard a loud squelching sound followed
by a grating noise! A trip to the doorstep with the torch revealed a large landslip had actually shifted the 8′ ladder left in the hole for them to get in and out. By this morning, more had fallen in, so there was a lot more to dig before the building inspector arrived about 11am.

140cm deep - before the rain it looked good!
140cm deep - before the rain it looked good!
Concrete delivery becomes a spectator sport!

The building inspector was followed by swiftly by a rather big boys toy… the concrete delivery lorry – mixed and instantaneously delivered down a shoot, with C and his friend D sat in the window above watching! So now we are surrounded with a moat of fast drying concrete and a very large pile of subsoil. We’re well pleased with the week, and look forward to next.

We took C down to Hawley Lake tonight and the older lads convinced him to enter the evening race in a Topper – a hilarious affair undertaken with great good will in a flat calm. Out of the eight boats, C had the advantage of his Toppers’ handicap and his junior status – coming third in this his first race!

No going back now!

Side garden - before work started
Side garden - before work started

As I write, the builders radio in the garage next to me is “sitting on the dock of the bay” which would be a more peaceful place that where we are. So far this morning we’ve had a disc saw and pneumatic drill going as well as much banging as they continue to take the front off the garage, work which started at a rapid pace yesterday.

Monday was simply a day of transferring bits of kit, but good to their word, they arrived yesterday at 8am and worked through till 4.30pm setting up the temporary fencing in the back garden to stop Honey dog getting through. They then started work taking off the front of our garage to discover what footings exist (or don’t) under what was the garage door.

We took Honey with us to Alton for Cs orthodontic appointment (apparently he may be a record breaker, as his lower jaw has moved 4mm in 6 weeks and will be ready for the next brace at the end of the summer) and wandered round the market. Had to laugh, we ended up buying pies from the Pondhead stall – Pondhead being the nearest bit of open New Forest to my Dad’s house! Thoroughly recommended as the the mushrooms had been cooked in wine!

Side of house - end of Day 1
Side of house - end of Day 1

We walked the dog at Bushy Leaze Plantation on Medstead Hill at Beech – well protected from the drizzle by the dense mixed woodland, of which the beech trees are by my favourite, especially the shapes they make along the old field banks. At one point we could here raptors calling, but couldn’t get into the dense bit of conifer to locate what I suspect was fledglings. We also saw a lovely green an black stripped dragonfly, and C glimpsed the steam train on the Watercress line below us.

Anyway, when we returned home about 3.30pm we quickly realised there was now no going back on the extension project – as significant bits of the garage front were missing. The lads had also disturbed a colony of now very bewildered snails… who spent the rest of the evening climbing the remaining wall, covered in brick dust!

Front of house - end of Day 1
Front of house - end of Day 1

Now all we’ve got to do is stop the Honey dog going banana’s at every new or loud noise and movement!