Sister Elizabeth Pio has been a nun for almost three years. Her “work” is praying for the world. The community she belongs to meets six times every day to do that. She also looks after the running of their chapel, and in between all this she tweets on behalf of the community, praying for followers, encouraging them to pray and helping them on their journey with some inspiring words. She kindly (virtually) sat down with me for this interview (slightly longer than the average post).
It must be pretty unusual to have a tweeting nun – unless every group of nuns has one these days and I didn’t notice! How did you get this role in your community?
Tweeting nuns are an unusual breed! Part of our life here involves standing before God on behalf of His world. In order to do that we need to understand people, where they’re at, what their lives are all about. So we need to be where people are, and millions of them are on Twitter and Facebook. I got the role of tweeting because I originally suggested the idea, although I’m not the only tweeter! It’s a great ministry for us and one which we would encourage others to get involved in. Together we can make sweet birdsong! Bring it on!!
How do you explain to nuns who don’t use Twitter and other technology what you do? Have any of them asked for help with their own online efforts?
Social media is totally new to many nuns.
Our explanation of Twitter goes a bit like this: “We have a community of people who are of all ages and backgrounds who we contact regularly. Imagine a big noticeboard that everyone can see – we put up ‘post-it’ notes on that board every day for the community to read.”
That seems to be the best way of trying to describe our activity! We are planning to make it easier for all community members to see the Twitter page and what goes on there!
We’ve seen other monks and nuns using Twitter and Facebook but I think many Orders are either cautious or not interested in using social media. It’s a great way for monks and nuns to minister, particularly those who are enclosed (don’t leave their convent or monastery). We haven’t been asked to give any training but would certainly be pleased to help!
Had you been on Twitter/other social media sites personally much before making the suggestion to tweet for your community
No. I had no experience of social media whatsoever. However, when something becomes mainstream in people’s lives we HAVE to take notice; we owe it to God to. When the next wave of social media tools come along we need to be surfing that too!
What results have you seen so far? What effects on people’s lives have you seen from your online efforts, and what are your plans for the future?
Within a week our number of followers leapt from below 100 to nearly 1300. We are privileged to be followed by young and old, males and females, Christians, pagans, atheists from all over the world.
The feedback we have received so far tells us that we have informed, inspired, comforted, amused, given confidence to people to speak about Jesus, one follower advising that he has begun to pray again after having stopped for some time. We are also changing widespread perception of what nuns are like! Many have been surprised that we’re tweeting, that we use computers and like smartphones, and didn’t realise we could be so ‘funky’!
It’s brilliant to receive this kind of affirmation in what is a new ministry for us. We also receive many prayer requests, those details are shared within the community so that we can pray together. So people take comfort from the fact that a community of prayer warriors is at hand to talk to God for them in their hour of need.
We are recognising the potential of online ministry and we want to explore that. We certainly want to surf the wave of social media and be a part of web-based communities. Although we’re small in number we like to think big for God so our only real plan is to wait on the Holy Spirit – perhaps He’ll tweet us!
What was your experience like finding out how the Twitter community “works” – learning customs such as @ mentions and retweets etc?
We had to learn the Twitter “language” from scratch by using their online “Help” and by looking at other people’s tweets. I’m passionate about learning so loved discovering how everything worked and, of course, we’re still learning. It’s so much fun too! However, I do find that when I’m writing or typing e-mails I’m tending to abbreviate words like “people” down to “ppl” and “because” to “bc” – I have to remind myself that I’m not actually tweeting!
Has using Twitter affected how you read the Bible? If so, how?
Yes, Twitter has affected how I read the Bible.
Twitter has opened up the world more to us, to real people, real problems, worries, issues, needs. I am more aware of what the world is all about because of tweeting on current news stories – an awareness was there before but using Twitter has increased it. So I’m coming to the Bible now as a different person. Instead of reading it solely to feed myself spiritually, I’m also wondering how it can really impact today’s world. How can we convey what God is about in 140 characters? Because we can’t afford to waffle we’re encouraged to look for the real message of a parable or passage. How can we relate what we read to the everyday?
We never expected using Twitter to affect how we read the Bible! It’s all about bringing God into His world so we know it’s cool!
Do you remember the first time you noticed Twitter affecting your Bible reading? What was it like? Do you now look in to the Bible to affect how you use Twitter, and read Twitter thinking about how it will affect your Bible reading?
I do remember the first time I noticed how Twitter affected my Bible reading. Reverend Mother spotted me tweeting over an open Bible – I was taking a line of Scripture and relating it to a current topic to make a message for the day. I hadn’t given any thought to what I was doing but I realised the change from that moment. It’s actually made a HUGE impact on my life which was totally unexpected. Trying to relate the Bible, God, Jesus to real life, to real people, has become a passion!
So, yes, I do now look in the Bible with Twitter in mind thinking “There are current news stories that need God’s handle on them, what does He need to say?” or “What does God want to say to His people today?”. It’s exciting! Similarly, tweets from others make me think, with certain bits of info sinking deep into my being. These are in mind when I next read the Bible and so I may come across a piece of Scripture that links to those thoughts in a totally unexpected way. It’s a fantastic new ministry!
Do you have any tips for anyone wanting to try this method of Bible reading?
Always ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance first.
Ensure you have a sound and stable spiritual life yourself that’s nourished sufficiently – this style of Bible reading is a form of ministry which means you’re “giving out” so you need to make sure you’re getting your own spiritual food.
It’s to be done in a prayerful way – this can easily turn into an intellectual Bible study. It’s reading your Bible with God and seeking His revelation rather than trying to understand the facts.
Before reading your Bible, if you feel you need to perhaps spend a short time recalling anything you’ve tweeted about or seen others tweet about, issues that are on your heart. These can form a “background” to your reading.
It’s a bit of an art to fit something you want to communicate into less than 140 characters! So keep it simple and punchy – include the important stuff and leave out the waffle.
Lastly, thank God for being your God!
What about group worship times – have you noticed your use of Twitter changing those too?
Yes, we come together six times a day before God on behalf of the world. Being more in touch with the world through Twitter deepens my sense of purpose.
We have communal times of prayer where we name people or causes we wish to pray for. Followers tweet their requests and we include them in those times.
Is there anything else you think would be important for the readers to know – about the ministry/your way of using Twitter etc?
This work is for God, it’s not about us (inevitably though we are asked questions about ourselves which we wouldn’t ignore).