Community formation and social media: Nurturing one another online

Posted Sep 16, 2014 | New Media Project

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By Lisa Marchal, guest blogger


This is the eleventh in a twelve-part series on Community formation and social media.

Lisa MarchalAbout seven years ago, I returned from nine months abroad doing coursework for professional enrichment. When I returned from this extraordinary experience, I was changed. I was also worried and rudderless. I had given up years of parsonage life to take this early-career detour, so I was essentially homeless. Here I was 33 years old and living with my parents while completing an unpaid internship as part of my enrichment experience. Ninety percent of my belongings were in storage—either at a friend’s house, in my parents’ basement, or in a nondescript concrete storage unit near the interstate. I had circled back to live in the city of my childhood. I knew I was ultimately on the right road, but the road was sometimes demoralizing and awfully lonely.

I knew that the next wise move would be to gather a cohort around me. I desperately needed to place myself so that I could develop fresh friendships with those who would—not to be cliché—really get me. These people needed to understand both the centrality of my faith and the unmoored sensation I had due to my temporary circumstances. Moreover, I wanted to do what I could to feel like a grown-up; I wanted to be able to apply my experience up to that point to an initiative where I could substantially contribute and help others.

That’s when holy serendipity led me to The Young Clergy Women Project (TYCWP). I discovered the Project online, of course, and learned that I was not only qualified to apply, but I could also throw my name in for consideration for one of their open board seats. Much to my delight, my particular vocational journey was accepted, not as something strange, but as an asset. So I was in—both as a participant and as a board member.

The next four years were nothing short of life-altering ... and some of the women with whom I interacted were sister-colleagues whom I never even met offline. Our board and subsequent subcommittee meetings were vibrant online conversations, with our yearly in-person meeting easily augmented through Skype and other communication applications, making it easy to include all thoughts and all personnel. Even the Project application process was done through cyberspace. We sorted out how to facilitate authentic interaction with members around the world—how to nurture friendships, keep confidences, and support one another in our peculiar position of being young and clergy and women all at the same time.

Yes, the deep richness of my TYCWP relationships was cultivated offline. But nothing would have happened without our online presence. With each tap of the keys, I was connected to a sisterhood.

And so, when it was time for me to become an alum of the Project on my fortieth birthday, I was able to share my sadness and love—and feel assured that I hadn’t left anyone out of my communication—by crafting a carefully worded message to my sisters. Through my tears, I hit “post,” copied and saved the phenomenal responses I received in return, voiced a heartfelt prayer of gratitude, clicked on “leave group,” and exhaled an “amen.”

Rev. Lisa Marchal is the Senior Global Grassroots Associate at RESULTS and has been on staff since March 2008. She interned as a Global Grassroots Organizer from July 2007 until March 2008. She was ordained as an elder in The United Methodist Church in 2004 and has served local churches in Indiana, Ohio, and London in various capacities since 1994.

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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