All That Twitters

twitter-tHere’s my latest article in The Living Church. In it I publicly admit that I’m a lousy Twitterer so don’t quote me. I do quote two friends who are also my Twittering idols, the Rev. Scott Gunn, a priest and blogger from Rhode Island, and Meredith Gould, an author, blogger, and marketing communications specialist from Princeton, New Jersey. Enjoy.

 All that twitters

 By the Rev. Tim Schenck

I’m a terrible Twitterer. Granted I’m a novice, but so far I feel like the Mr. Magoo of Twitter: I have no idea what I’m doing. Blogs, Facebook, email, text and instant messages — these I know. But I always swore I wouldn’t Twitter until I could figure out the grammar. I’m still somewhat confused but here’s what I’ve learned: Twitter is the proper noun; tweet is a noun — you send a “tweet”; twitter is the verb (not to be confused with the proper noun “Twitter”). So you can use Twitter to twitter a tweet. I think. I may have to write a tongue twister.

What exactly is Twitter? It’s a free social networking or “micro-blogging” website that allows users to answer the ubiquitous question, “What am I doing?” All within 140 characters. But the underlying question is, “Why Twitter?” Or blog or Facebook or MySpace or anything else for that matter? At one level, Twitter is the epitome of narcissism. It’s all about me – what am I doing? Where am I? How am I? What am I thinking? Feeling? Observing? Sensing?

Conventional wisdom holds that the internet has revolutionized the world as much as Gutenberg’s 15th-century printing press. It has certainly transformed the way we communicate with one another. We now expect instant communication via e-mail, text messages, Facebook, instant messaging, YouTube, and Twitter. Opinions are published via online news sites and blogs so quickly that many believe the daily newspaper is obsolete. All of these communications tools are collectively referred to as “new media,” and congregations throughout the world are exploring ways to help them build community and spread the gospel of Christ.

The Rev. Scott Gunn, an online and offline friend who used to work at IBM, is deeply immersed in church applications of new media. Behind his back I refer to him as Sir Blog-a-Lot. Scott’s theory on Facebook and Twitter is that “it’s the modern-day equivalent of going to a high school play. Fifty years ago, a parish priest would go to local social and school events as a way of staying connected to parishioners outside church. It was a way to show interest in people’s lives and to reveal a bit of one’s whole person to the parish. I don’t go to things, but I blog and I’m on Facebook. It’s clearly different in many important respects, but I think there are some similarities. I get to learn something about people I only see at church, usually. They get to learn some things about me.”

So it’s about connectivity, which is at the core of the Christian faith. Jesus called disciples into community, after all. And there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t use Facebook or Twitter if he came into the world 2,000 years later. Imagine the killer status updates: Jesus is “changing water into wine – the good stuff” or Jesus is “cranking out parables again.”

Which brings me to admit that I’m conflicted by some of the Twitter language. Rather than having “friends” like on Facebook, you have “followers” — people who receive your status updates. At last count I have 10 (versus my nearly 200 “friends” on Facebook). I actually prefer to think of them as “Disciples” and am considering not accepting any more after I reach 12. How’s that for a priestly Messiah complex?

Meredith Gould, author of The Word Made Fresh: Communicating Church and Faith Today and someone I’ve been privileged to get to know (mostly online), puts it this way: “Before there was ‘high tech,’ there was ‘high touch.’ On the short list for high touch community building are: greeters and ushers; coffee-and-donut Sunday gatherings and the church picnic; Bible study and prayer groups; and newcomers groups. These high touch ministries help church become more than just a building. New media enhance high touch by extending and expanding social interaction. By the end of the 20th century, we added high tech to the mix, first in the form of individual and group e-mail, then in the form of websites. These high tech tools have become invaluable means to support high touch ministries. At this point, the church website is considered as essential as the weekly bulletin. Social media allows us to move beyond church business as usual.”  

Therein lies the opportunity and the challenge. Moving beyond church business as usual means trying new things — Twitter in my case. For most of us — as individuals and congregations —this is all a work in progress. As with anythingnew, there is excitement about new possibilities mixed with anxiety about the loss of the familiar. This is also a great way to involve younger members of the congregation who live firmly in the electronic world. Heck, it’s one of the reasons I had kids in the first place: at-home tech support. 

If you take the leap and sign up for Twitter, you can “follow” me here: So far my tweets have been tentative and uneventful. But then, I’m probably doing it wrong. And about that tongue twister, how’s this? “Tim the tweeter triumphantly twitters twisted tweets. How many twisted tweets did Tim the tweeter triumphantly twitter?”




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