Monday, July 4, 2011

Christian conferring via twitter

Good morning God,

Today begins the main business work of the British Methodist Conference. It is a heavy agenda, both literally and metaphorically, so there will be the usual need to ensure that the business is 'done'. It's a fine line that the business committee has to draw, determining how much time to allocate to each particular topic without inadvertently stifling debate. The problem is exacerbated however by the fact that reports, even highly significant reports, are seldom debated, nor are they really discussed unless they are highly controversial. Many reports, particularly those dealing with governance and finance are increasingly complex and written in 'technical' rather than theological or scriptural language with the result that few feel qualified to unpack them for general consumption.

But some reports can and do attract comment, and I have no doubt that we will hear much praise and comment about the reports being presented today. But are such 'comments' all that remains of Christian Conferring?
What of the challenge and choice that forms a part of every good conversation, the opportunity to be led to think differently as a result of deeper engagement with the issue at hand? Comments are hardly the same as a well reasoned argument for or against a particular recommendation.

Of course it is possible for someone to speak to the recommendation rather than the content of a report. But this seldom happens in practice.

For years, the surest means of provoking Conference to confer about the consequences of a particular recommendation, rather than simply accept it at face value was to bring a notice of motion. Often it was only through the speeches of the proposer and seconder that Conference was alerted to the fact that there might be a strong argument against what was being recommended. Moreover, whether it was won or lost, a notice of motion still served to remind Conference that its task was not to 'rubber stamp' the work of whoever has written the report, but to CHOOSE whether or not the recommendations arising from it should form the basis of the Church's future polity, practice or doctrine.

There is an alternative means now however of achieving the same effect. Parallel conversations, using the best of modern multimedia and social networking can also provoke some members of Conference to confer. The twitter stream #methconf for example, carries not just a summary report of conversations, but often critiques and contributes to what is being said. In 140 characters it focuses attention on a possible reply to a conversation, and can serve to alert people to an alternative perspective.

Social networking also makes Conference much more inclusive. It is possible for Methodists who are not members of Conference to both follow and contribute to the wider debate for example, through listening to the live stream and making their own comments via twitter or facebook.

I know some are sceptical, but for my part God, I have no doubt that if used wisely and graciously, social media can and does have a real part to play in enabling Christian conferring to take place at Conference.

As @revdrange, I look forward to following the tweets.

1 comment:

  1. I have "attended" several major conferences online and have found the twitterstreams invaluable and enlightening in all those cases- from the Gen Synod of the C of E to the Thinking Digital Conference held recently in Gateshead. Twitter and Facebook have added another dimension to conferring and I have learnt a lot and understood much more than would have been the case! Tweet and blog away!