Joining the Network
In 1966 when I began in my first parish, pastoral ministry was done completely face to face or on the phone. Forty-five years later, my own ministry now includes the use of social media as one of many ways to minister, putting me in touch daily with church members I wouldn’t otherwise get to know nearly as well.
I still visit many individuals in their home, nursing home, assisted living facility, or hospital – usually church members who cannot be reached by computer or cell phone. Personal, individual face-to-face ministry remains crucial in our depersonalized, technological society.
For nearly all the rest, I use Facebook for direct communication. Many of our younger members share messages and information posted daily on their wall.
I receive reminders of the birthdays of my Facebook friends. I can send greetings to them privately or so their other friends can share in these messages. Parents report on the trials of taking care of children, the daily and special events in their family lives. During the past summer, more than twenty families of our parish posted images and reports about their vacation trips.
Recently, as I was preparing to perform two different marriage ceremonies, several attendees posted their reflections about the ceremonies for Meredith and Daniel, Ashley and Adam. This strengthened my pastoral connection, and the church’s connection, to the extended families of those involved in significant life events.
Social networking is helpful during serious illness. Parishioners on Facebook who have been ill keep their friends and family informed, sparing the intrusion of visitors during difficult times. I often add my own prayers and brief greetings. This sort of communication can occur as a loved one is dying, and in the aftermath of the memorial service when family and friends share their grief.
Facebook allows me entry into conversations and experiences that would only happen otherwise if I were in the home or in daily physical contact. Frequently, I have received private inquiries about questions of faith or ethical issues to which I respond privately on Facebook, or by more secure methods of communication.
Several local soldiers who have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan have kept in touch during their deployment with Facebook friends. I have followed Matthew’s deployment, his search for work, and his reintegration into routine daily life.
These forms of outreach do not comprehensively define ministry today, but they have become essential tools of connection that were not possible before the internet.
The Rev. Robert Loesch is pastor of Zion’s United Church of Christ, Sand Lake, NY.