A new sacred canon is sweeping mainline Christianity. This time no scrolls have been found in caves or forgotten mystics
unearthed. This is something different: the movement to drag churches out of the dark ages and create a new generation of tweeting, blogging, iPhone wielding, Facebook friendly clergy.
The latest offering has just appeared on my desk — Elizabeth Drescher’s “Click 2 Save: The Digital Ministry Bible.” The blurb promises to connect digital social media with day-to-day ministry: a way for seekers to open the doors of our churches from the comfort of their homes.
As our eyes are dragged to the future and luddite priests are admonished to embrace Twitter and update their paltry websites, the church’s kalendar sends us in a different direction. One week today we commemorate a very different kind of communicator. Philander Chase was born in 1775 and eventually became Episcopal Bishop of Ohio, responsible for founding Kenyon College.
He’s perhaps better remembered for extraordinary and energetic ministry: his mission work on the northern and western frontiers among the pioneers and Mohawk and Oneida peoples. Chase founded many congregations, beginning at Lake George in New York. His was a ministry on horseback, hacking through the frontier wilderness, enduring attacks and dire financial straits as he preached the word of God and the importance of education in the west. This seems a million miles from our own reality; can we even imagine ministry in a world free from Facebook, let alone telephone lines and email?
When I read the life of Philander Chase, I wonder if extraordinary leaps in communication technology and social media help create a sterile faith: evangelism from behind a desktop; social outreach through a few charitable clicks, rather than by getting our hands dirty. Jesus taught us the eternal value of basic, direct, personal encounters:
engaging face-to-face with those searching for meaning and showing them what the love of God looks like.
It’s good, of course, to find new ways to communicate. It’s good to find a language understood by those we seek to serve. After all, Philander Chase simply responded to the needs and environment presented by his day. But our first and best tool to show how God’s grace changes lives is ourselves and our mouths.
Ours is a faith built on and spread through relationships. We find Jesus in the faces of each other: in gestures as primitive as kind smiles and warm embraces. We preach the Gospel, but use words — or Twitter, or Facebook or blogs — only when necessary.
One fundamental human need is genuine interaction with others. We need real community. Jesus called us together to be a church: a real family, people of all shapes and size, sharing the same journey,
wrestling with the same questions, experiencing joy and sorrow together. By the mysterious workings of God we find Jesus not only in word and sacrament, but in the maddening, wonderful people God sends to keep us company along the way.
As for me? I promise to use my iPhone less. Or … at least … I’ll try!
Father Richard Wall is a priest at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, State College. Visit the church’s website at www.standrewsc.org.