Changes and chances in online community

Posted Sep 09, 2011 | New Media Project

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By Susie Shaefer, guest blogger


Around the world, as the day ends, Episcopalians and others in the Anglican Communion pray the evening service of Compline and read this prayer:

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours
of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

It seems that we have been praying about the changes and chances of life for centuries. The speed of changes online have made this prayer ever more fervent for us, the members and leaders of The Young Clergy Women Project.

From our beginnings in 2006, The Young Clergy Women Project (TYCWP) has existed to connect the youngest ordained women together. We started with conversations on a password-protected blog, back when blogging was the Thing. As blogging slipped in popularity, we moved our community to Ning, a social networking site that allows for forums, groups and chats. When Ning became financially out of reach for our network, we turned to our Facebook group—which became a Facebook page—and then a group all over again.

The changes and chances of Internet technology have made us a nomadic community. Perhaps that is fitting for those of us living somewhere between young adulthood and just adulthood, in these early years of ministry when positions and families and geography can change so rapidly. The project has built its online home—which is really our only home—bit by bit, page by page, adding what we need when we need it.

Vocational skill sets are well-served by this method of growing and adding over time. Homes are often best decorated when they are a collection of personality and utility that develop slowly, so that each room’s form and function line up neatly. Websites built in such a way are less streamlined—more like a clunky collage than a work of art.

Changes and chances are, however, part of the gracious creation. As God works through the organic messiness of our lives, so God has also been present in the twists and turns taken by The Young Clergy Women Project. At five years old, and now over 600 members strong, it is time for us to find a place of rest. The grant from the New Media Project at Union Theological Seminary will allow us to rework our online home so that we can do what we were created to do: to help other young clergy women know that no matter how much our denominations, geography, families or technology may differ—they are not the only one.

The Compline prayer expresses belief in a God of stability. As our participation in the New Media Project gifts us with the opportunity of a more stable dwelling place, TYCWP gets to dream about what that means. Will we own our own online home and not have to rely on whatever is cheap, free or trendy? Maybe it will make us territorial. Maybe it will make us more stable. Maybe it will make us more institutionalized. Maybe it will make us more flexible. Just as the Church is still struggling with what brick and mortar buildings mean amid the changes and chances of this life, we are building our virtual home and are grateful for assistance and partnership in this work.

Susie Shaefer
Susie Shaefer is a priest in the Episcopal Church, a stay-at-home mom, and served for the last year as the co-chair of The Young Clergy Women Project, one of the case studies of the New Media Project.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.

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