By Mike Lang
In a world of tweets, apps and pokes, some parishes and organizations in the Diocese of Wilmington have thought it a good idea to enter the social media universe.
“When the Vatican got their own Facebook page, that was sort of a good seal of approval,” said Deacon John Davis, who created and administers the Facebook site of Sacred Heart Parish in Chestertown, Md. The parish is one of a handful from the Diocese of Wilmington that is active on the site.
Catholics worldwide can “like” Sacred Heart on their Facebook pages; to date, that number is 143. The parish is also using its Facebook site to post its Mass schedule and contact information, and to showcase its activities to people visiting their site.
For example, during the heavy snowfalls of 2010, cancellations were announced on Facebook as well as a phone bank, Deacon Davis said. There are also photos posted of youth activities, Christmas at Sacred Heart and other events.
“It came about as a way to communicate to the members of our community. We use it to announce different events in the parish,” Deacon Davis said. “We find it’s much more effective and less expensive than postage. We’ve gotten away completely from direct mail.”
Deacon Davis said the pastor, Father Paul Campbell, has been very supportive of the use of social media. His counterpart at St. John the Baptist-Holy Angels Parish in Newark, Father Arthur Fiore, needed to be convinced about Facebook’s potential but has come to see its positives, said Stephen Adams, the parish’s music minister who maintains the site along with Amy Press, the coordinator of pastoral services.
“It took probably about a month or two” to convince Father Fiore the parish should be on Facebook, Davis said. “We would find articles and send them right to him to sort of try to convince him. When the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) came out with those social media guidelines, I sent those to him.”
After a while, Father Fiore said, “if the pope’s on Facebook, and the USCCB’s on Facebook, St. John-Holy Angels should be on Facebook,” Adams said.
The parish began with links to the parish site and its Advent and Christmas schedules. It has since added pictures and wall postings about events at the churches.
If church isn’t online
U.S. bishops were told of the importance of social media during their fall meeting in Baltimore. Bishop Ronald P. Herzog of Alexandria, La., a member of the bishops’ Committee on Communications, told the meeting that they would ignore social media at their own peril.
“I don’t think I have to remind you of what happened when the Catholic Church was slow to adapt to (the printing press),” he told the bishops. “By the time we decided to seriously promote that common folk should read the Bible, the Protestant Reformation was well under way.”
People, especially young people, tend to use social media — Facebook and Twitter, for example — as their primary source of information. The bishops need to meet them where they are, Bishop Herzog said. “The implications of that for a church which is struggling to get those same young people to enter our churches on Sunday are staggering,” he said. Or put another way: “If the church is not on their mobile device, it doesn’t exist.”
Blogs, tweets, videos
St. Joseph Parish in Middletown is on Facebook, but the pastor, Father Steven Giuliano, prefers to communicate with his parishioners and others through his blog, These Simple Gifts, on his own online site, thesesimplegifts.blogspot.com. He said updating it frequently is a discipline, “which is what a spiritual life is all about.” He said he has focused his blog [for web log] on formation rather than information.
“The Holy Father has called for us to engage in this as part of the new evangelization. I hope more and more the church will be able to provide positive things for people to stumble across,” he said.
One thing he likes about blogging is how easy it is technologically. “I refer to it as a Ph.D. — push here, dummy.”
The parish staff is determining how St. Joseph’s will use Facebook. Father Giuliano launched the page mainly to establish the parish’s presence on the site.
St. John the Beloved Parish’s youth ministry has embraced today’s most popular social media, Facebook and Twitter. Greg Boulden, the youth minister, said the Facebook page was created about two years ago by one of the students in the youth group, and his leadership team has the ability to update it. Boulden does not use that much, however, preferring to tweet, that is, to communicate by Twitter — an information network for users to send 140-character messages with photos or videos.
When Boulden led a group to the National Catholic Youth Conference in Kansas City in 2009, he tweeted videos and pictures and was able to reach the students quickly with messages. Parents also were able to keep up with their kids.
“It really helped with the parents who had their children away from home for the first time,” Boulden said.
Twitter in 2011 is similar to what a concert might have been a generation ago — a place where people go to meet and hang out, Boulden said. His students are pulled in many different directions, but they all have cell phones or iPods in common.
“I see myself using technology to meet the kids exactly where they’re at,” he said. “If we’re ignoring that, we’re ignoring the way they want to be communicated with.”
The youth group at St. John the Beloved also has a channel on YouTube and had uploaded seven videos as of Friday, March 25. (See a link to one of those below.) Boulden said he hopes more parishes, schools and organizations look to YouTube as a place to reach people online.
All parish social media outlets are monitored to make sure their content is in line with church teaching, and any questionable posts are quickly removed. Boulden, the youth minister, takes extraordinary precautions in his dealings so that he is in compliance with “For the Sake of God’s Children,” the diocese’s guidelines for interaction with young people.
For example, Boulden won’t “friend” any member of his youth group on Facebook, and he avoids exchanging text messages with them. They have his cell phone number in case of an emergency. He must approve anyone who wants to join the Facebook group and what is posted there. If the students need to contact him one-on-one, they can do so through Facebook.
It’s not just young people who are logging on to keep up with their parishes. A look at the people who’ve joined St. John-Holy Angels’ Facebook page reveals a wide range of ages, according to Adams.
“There are even people who have moved far, far away, and they’re glad they can keep in touch with the parish,” he said.
Deacon Davis said concerns at Sacred Heart that older parishioners might not be able to follow the parish’s technological journey have proven largely unfounded. “I’m continually surprised at the number of senior citizens who are receptive” to Facebook.
This article contains information from Catholic News Service.