For someone who seems to spend rather a lot of time on Twitter, and is a member of the Twurch of England (who have a cool new website), this obviously shouldn’t bother me. It doesn’t. Well, normally it doesn’t. So, why should my most recent follower on Twitter be worrying me, everso slightly?
You see, it’s not so much who he is, or what he does, but what he did. That is what has just niggled at my normally quite open social media conscience.
OK, so he’s a local journalist, a gentleman (I hope in all senses) who until this week I’d never heard of, and who I have never knowingly met. I follow the Twitter feed of the religious correspondents of three major daily papers so it’s not like I’m allergic to the press or anything. In my ‘marketing and communications’ capacity for Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Winchester, I’m actually more inclined to be chasing the press for coverage of something, than being worried about them chasing me.
But, you see three days before following me on Twitter this chap had phoned me up (presumably having got my number off the church office answering machine) wanting details of a funeral that he’d heard was taking place at St. Peter’s this week.
Now, as a Christian, I want to trust people. I want to be open about my faith, and I hope by being open about some of the details of my ministry may help in a small way to improve the public image of Christian ministers. In fact, I’m a fairly trusting sort of girl generally – until experience tells me to be careful.
In this case my experience of what he asked me, led me to question whether I could trust him. ‘Funeral chasers’ horrify me. For me, that counts as intrusion by the local press.
Any ministry to the bereaved is normally totally personal and private unless with their permission they want something about their loved one publicised, or a very public funeral or memorial service is appropriate. (I’ve had one of each of these in the last 18 months, so I know about them too!) Why should the press wish to invade someone’s grief just because they might be ‘different’ or ‘interesting’ in some way?
Twitter, like a blog (which is presumably how this chap found my Twitter feed) is a public conversation. My Twitter conversation often revolves round my ministry, sometimes the funny side of church life, and often I (like many of the Twurch) will refer to the generality of the pressures of ministry, with references like “Three funerals this week… prayers for strength and sensitivity welcome!” (I made that one up btw.) Especially during our recent vacancy when I was responsible for many things to do with funerals and other ‘occasional offices’ I was tweeting about such things because there is a collegiality to the Twurch community that was incredibly supportive when operating slightly ‘solo’ and needing instant, supportive/helpful answers to sometimes daft ministry questions or statements.
It’s just I don’t want to jeopardise my ministry, nor compromise the Twitter community that contributes to how I learn and share as a minister. I also want to have integrity in both my faith and in my pastoral dealings.
Now, it’s taken me 24 hours to consider this, but I’ve decided that I’m going to trust this chap, and I’ve ‘followed’ him back. You see, I actually believe we’re sort of in related businesses – I hope we’re both trying to build community in my home town. That involves sharing news. I’m just hoping that he has the good sense to realise that ‘news’ doesn’t include the spectacle of someone’s private grief, and that he’ll trust me (and others – after all, I’m not the vicar) to share the details of those things that will help us as a community, rather than hurt it.
But it’s left me with a question which I’m going to take to the Christian New Media Conference in 10 days time is this: How much do we risk compromising our ministry by taking it into the public sphere of social media?