Last year, I participated digitally in #cnmac12 though twitter, and using some of these interactions, writing a reflection which Bex used in her closing thoughts from the conference, and had hoped to attend in person, to this years conference, #cnmac13, but did not have the funds or help I needed. As it happened, I was double booked anyway, so only participated in the morning sessions though Twitter. Interestingly, I exchanged greetings with people I met while participating digitally last year, whether they were attending in person, or participating through social media as I was. As I did last year, I greeted those attending in person with a tweet which appeared on the ‘Twitterfall’, a screen at the front of the room which displayed all posts including the #cnmac13 hashtag, so everyone could follow the same conversation. Sometimes, there were ‘in jokes’, too. When Joe Gallant ended up in ‘twitter jail’ as he did last year, for sending too many #cnmac13 tweets, I tweeted him saying I was visiting him in ‘jail’ as I had done last year!
For those unable to attend, #notcnmac13 became a popular hashtag on Facebook and Twitter as soon as Bex began inviting people to #cnmac13 through the events page on Facebook. On the day itself, those who were participating through twitter, or even attending other events began to use the #notcnmac13 hashtag. So many began to use it, it almost became an event in itself! Indeed, separate discussions, and even ‘in-jokes’ appeared, the best courtesy of Karen Kousseff, (@kkousseff). My favourite joke by far was: “at #notcnmac13 final award was for Shirley Myra Ward-Zinheaven, Volunteer of The Year ;-)”.
Other laughs were courtesy of the Bishop of London, who gave the opening address. Some of these were repeated on Twitter, over and over. I guess for some this may have become annoying, but for me it helped reinforce main points when it came to the speakers. John Drane was up next. His talk was the one of the main ones I would have loved to hear in person, and also because I met him briefly some years ago, and never forgot it. To my surprise, many tweets soon expressed annoyance or anger with some of the terminology used, and some of his comments were ripped apart by some for being so controversial. The discussion did become hard to follow at times, and required an exhausting level of concentration. The controversy seemed to centre on the question of whether interaction in digital spaces could be as personal, caring, and evangelistic as ministering to people face to face. Drane was in one camp, arguing for balance of the two, whereas others, including my friend Dave, who began the excellent digital resource ‘WOWChurch’ (now with thousands of Christian and non-Christian followers) strongly disagreed, which made me think about this whole debate more deeply.
Following Drane’s talk was the seminar streams. I chose to follow one on blogging, where I picked up some handy tips, and the other, on personal care. The latter covered some of the themes of the earlier talk, as the two facilitators urged delegates to ‘follow up’ online interaction, and questioned whether this should be through face to face meetings, to prevent the initial contact being just that, a shallow conversation, which does not ‘care’ in the deepest sense. I agree one has to be extremely careful in pastoral care whether in digital spaces or face-to-face meeting to meet the needs of the other person as deeply as possible, while introducing them to the One who truly can meet all their needs fully and carry the heaviest of burdens. If someone in need is a Christian, I believe it is possible to meet each other’s needs through mutual prayer as well as online interaction, without regularly meeting face to face. I am unsure if I have mentioned this previously, but though my prayer partner and I are both largely housebound, we have formed a deep friendship and are still able to wrestle with the deepest questions affecting both our lives while supporting each other online and through prayer bringing each other to the One who can help. Surely this is the nub of the best pastoral care, whether through digital interaction or face to face meetings?
I am aware I have merely skimmed the surface of both #cnmac13 and #notcnmac13, but I could not possibly write everything I wanted to or absorb everything, much like delegates themselves I suppose. As ever, next year, I hope to have the support and finances to attend in person and finally meet those I have connected with digitally, including Bex herself. I’d love to hear what you think about some of the questions I have touched on here. Until next month…