A shelter on the web

Posted Oct 14, 2011 | New Media Project

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By Elsa A. Peters, guest blogger


In church groups, social media have raised anew the old question about how people find a church home—through networks via Facebook or Twitter, Foursquare or a Vimeo stream, or through the “older” technology of a website. My experience has been that the people who visit the church I serve on Sundays, did find it through our website. And I find this is even more true for many young ordained leaders of our church looking for a place to call their own.

The young clergywomen I’ve come to know don’t usually find that home first on Facebook or Twitter. More often than not, they’ve had a bad day—someone made them feel worthless and small—and so they open their browser to the Google homepage. Hoping to be lucky, they type in “young clergy women” wondering if there is anyone out there in the whole wide world who is like them. The very first Google search result is our Internet home for The Young Clergy Women Project (TYCWP).

The sad truth is that this website is old. It was created in 2007 to reflect the budding dreams of the first board members of TYCWP. Five years ago, we wanted a platform to tell the stories of ordained young women. At that point, we were not thinking about the flexibility we might one day need. We never imagined that our board would double in size. We never realized that a community that began through comments on blog posts would need to adapt into a more interactive format.

And yet, this is what has happened. We discovered that it is not enough to publish an electronic magazine written for young clergywomen by young clergywomen. Our frustrated sisters grasping for connection need something more. We have innovated in various social media outlets to address the need for community and fellowship required by young clergywomen serving in areas where not only do clergymen outnumber clergywomen, but also most ordained leaders are much older. We have tried to use Twitter to offer a connection. We’ve adapted to every change that Facebook presents us so that none of our sisters finds herself alone. But it becomes overwhelming when your phone vibrates or your email beeps each time a young clergywoman posts on social media. We’ve decided there is a solution: We need a new website.

We need a new home. It’s an interesting question for young clergywomen to ponder. Where is our home? How do we make home? In our community, we span multiple states and countries. Some have life partners. Others are raising children alone. Still others are looking for that place where the people of God will finally affirm her call. Home hasn’t been an easy place to find when our judicatories ask inane questions about the place of women, and our church members challenge us with their narrow assumptions about clergy. We are outsiders who are often treated like strangers, orphans and widows. In the Hebrew Scriptures, God always protects these vulnerable people. God shelters them with love. God advocates for their care, but it doesn't mean that others respond. The strangers, orphans, and widows long for a place. And so do we. We are searching for that one place where we can kick off our shoes, let down our hair, and shout to no one in particular, “Honey, I’m home.”

Over the past two years, the full board of TYCWP has mapped out the requirements for this new home. We have attempted to hire architects, but we haven’t had the financial security. There was no one to pay the mortgage, so home ownership remained a dream. We’ve managed OK with our little fixer-upper at www.youngclergywomen.org, but we’re ready to move out. We’re ready to build the home we need so that we might better support each other in ministry without too much vibrating and beeping. The New Media Project at Union Theological Seminary is helping us to build that home. Admittedly, this is a daunting task as we know that we will quickly outgrow it. Not only will the Internet change, but also (we hope) more young women will hear God’s call to them more clearly through our love and support. We can only build a shelter that is adequate for today.

The Rev. Elsa A. Peters is the Managing Editor of Fidelia's Sisters and chair of the Editorial Board of The Young Clergy Women Project, one of New Media Project's case studies. She is an ordained United Church of Christ minister currently serving at the First Congregational Church United Church of Christ in South Portland, Maine. She blogs at http://impossiblethingswithgod.blogspot.com/.

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.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Jason Stambaugh 31 Jan
    Very cool. Glad the NMP can help you all move into a new home.

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