Saturday, March 17, 2012

@Virtual_Abbey: Due for a Change or Maybe Complete Transformation?

Editor's Note: Cross-posting this from The Virtual Abbey blog because . . . I can! All kidding aside, I'm posting this here because three years' involvement with @virtual_abbey (including two as elected Abbess) have enhanced my faith and spiritual practices, as well as informed what I know to be right and true about church social media.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

O Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going,
I do not see the road ahead of me,
I cannot know for certain where it will end.

from a prayer by Thomas Merton
The "I" in this well-know prayer by Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, should really be "we" and "we" refers to @virtual_abbey.

We always go through a major something during Lent. We began during Lent 2009, when founding Abbess, Raima Larter (@raimalarter), decided to tweet the Daily Office as a Lenten discipline. A community formed; the prayer team expanded. We got onto Facebook during that Advent and started this blog. By then, we had ~ 1,900 followers and had launched nearly 14,000 tweets into the Twitterverse.

During Lent 2010, we entered into another discernment process about our structure and our mission. I was voted in as Abbess. Our prayer team shifted a bit and grew, as did what we offered.

Observers, like Tami Heim (@tamiheim) noticed what we were doing and added our story to,@StickyJesus: How to Live Out Your Faith Online, her book with Toni Birdsong (@tonibirdsong). Carol Howard Merritt (@carolhoward), author of Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation, invited me to talk about our growth and challenges onGod Complex Radio.

And then came Lent 2011. And another discernment process. Did we want me to continue? What did we want to do about prayer team attrition?  (You can track the history of our conversations by review posts tagged " announcements.")

Now, it's Lent 2012 and while we have come to consensus about where we are as a prayer team, we have no idea how@virtual_abbey will survive on Twitter. Over 4,000 followers and more than 50,000 tweets later, we're in advanced burnout mode. Still, about this we are sure: praying the Daily Office satisfies a spirit-and-heart filled need for this enduring, structured prayer form.

While we may be a virtual abbey, we're also a real community of real people who, despite our love (and sometimes deep craving) for monastic life, have secular roles and responsibilities. We love and support one another online and off. At this point, most of us have met IRL (in real life). Still, we're tired. Tapped out. Did I mention advanced burnout?

In virtual reality, three years is an admirably long time for a virtual community to thrive and survive. Will  @virtual_abbey continue? Should it?  If so, we need your help. What would that look like? Only God -- and perhaps you -- know the answer to that!  Options include transferring the accounts and tweeting responsibilities to another informal or even formal group...letting it fade into Great Silence...or?

Here's how you can help:

  • Put your proposals into a comment on this blog.
  • Communicate with us via DM to @meredithgould.
  • Participate or lurk on the #pttalk chat on Twitter this Thursday, March 22 from 11:00 AM-noon ET, where I'll be twinterviewed by folks at the Presbytery of Twitter about virtual communities of real faith in general and the @virtual_abbey in particular.

Will you help guide us? We're open to whatever is next. Thanks be to God!

No comments: