Peter Ould on the Twurch of England and how social media is nurturing relationships
Peter Ould is a vicar in the Church of England and founder of the Twurch of England on Twitter. He speaks here about how the internet is helping Christians cement relationships with each other as well as those outside the church
The Church of England already has its own Twitter, what is different about Twurch of England?
Peter: The Twurch does two things. Firstly it's a twitter aggregator for the Church of England. That means we put together all the tweets of all the people who do some official for the Church of England - Bishops, Clergy, Churches, Dioceses, significant lay people, that kind of thing. We follow way over 1,000 different people and organisations and that includes almost 600 tweeting priests. Anyone can go to our TwurchStream and instantly see the whole of the Church of England tweeting in one place. The second thing we do is comment on issues to do with the Church of England (and wider religion) and technology. The Twurch of England is not an official ministry of the Church of England but we have very friendly relations with them!
Who is your target audience?
Peter: The target is both Church and beyond. Within the Church of England we help to build cyber-community and help Anglican tweeters to feel "they belong". Beyond the Church we help to show the wider world that the Church of England is as engaged with social media as the rest of secular society (if not more so).
What kind of reaction and engagement did you get from the Twitter community? Are you reaching non-Christians?
Peter: Most tweeting Anglicans (and others) love us! We tend to reach non-Christians when journalists find out about us and want to know more, but that's OK - we're mainly about helping to build a social media community with the Church of England.
Why do you think being active online is important for Christian organisations?
Peter: It's important for Christians to be where people are, and since most people are now online that's the place to be! There are tremendous opportunities in cyberspace and the Church of England has been showing in the past year or so that it's really getting to grips with the challenge. You just need to look at the recent highly successful #everythingchanges Easter campaign to see the reach of Twitter and other forms of social media.
Peter: Are you excited by the potential of the internet?
Absolutely, and we're only just beginning to see the potential. As Web2.0 makes way for Web3.0 and cloud management becomes mainstream, the internet will become vital to everyday life and integral to the way people think about how they interact with others. It's important for the church to make use of modern technology and Christians up and down the country are showing that they not only understand the challenges of an e-age but also are able to make the best use of it.
Do you think social media helps the church to be relevant?
Peter: If you mean "Will people think we're cool because we tweet?" then no! We shouldn't use social media because we think people will be impressed, we should use it because it's a great way to build and cement relationships. It makes us relevant because we are communicating naturally in the same way that everyone else is.
Is everything about social media positive or do you see some drawbacks?
Peter: With all gifts, it's what you do with it that counts. Social media isn't inherently good or evil, but it can be used for both. Certainly Christians should realise that just because they can tweet something quickly doesn't mean that it's a good idea! Like all communication we need to think about what we say and how it will be received. But it's an incredibly powerful tool - I can chat to a multitude of friends and colleagues across the world instantly in a way that was impossible even 10 years ago. It's that sense of being in community that is the heart of what it means to be the Church (the Greek ekklesia literally means "the gathering") and social media can help nurture relationships in an incredibly powerful way.