Friday, July 15, 2011

Being the Body in the Age of Facebook

This week I am visiting the sessions of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), sister body to my own Ohio Yearly Meeting. During my brief time among Friends here in North Carolina, I have noticed that one area of commonality between our groups is our sense of corporate witness. Friends in both OYM and NCYMc understand our faith as being not merely a matter of individual conscience, but instead a question of corporate commitment, faith and practice.

This was made clear during the business sessions this morning, when Friends here in North Carolina considered the question of their Yearly Meeting's presence on Facebook. It turned out that an individual, years ago, had created a Facebook group for NCYMc, which most members of the Yearly Meeting had never heard about. This revelation presented an North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) on Facebookopportunity for Friends to consider how they as a Yearly Meeting might relate to this new form of communications technology.

Many Friends wondered whether this Facebook page might be misconstrued as being an official expression of the Yearly Meeting, and they discussed how the page might be brought under the administration of the Yearly Meeting as a body. Friends hoped that NCYMc could find a way to administer the page in a manner that would positively affect the visibility of the Yearly Meeting. At the same time, Friends wanted to ensure that the message presented on Facebook would reflect the sense of the body.

There were also questions about the open commenting feature on the group. How would these comments reflect on the Yearly Meeting? While many Friends felt that it was not in right order to restrict public statements by individual Friends, they wondered how care and oversight might be extended to the Facebook group. In the future, might the elders of the Yearly Meeting be charged with administering the body's Facebook presence?

I am heartened to see that Conservative Friends in Ohio and North Carolina(1) Yearly Meetings share the conviction that our Christian faith as Friends is not merely a matter of personal experience and expression. As Friends in North Carolina minuted today, "ours is an experience of aWebsite of a Conservative Quaker Worship Group faith community, not an individual." This is a belief and a way of life that I believe Conservative Friends hold in common.

Customs and technology change, but Friends here in North Carolina seem convinced that discernment and action based in community are worth conserving, despite the pressures of Western individualism. The new power that the internet grants for individuals to express themselves does not mean that we as Friends should abandon our tradition of waiting together as a community to find and act on the will of God. Conservative Friends are embracing new opportunities, but with a cautious eye towards preserving the unity and integrity of Christ's body. I give thanks to God for this witness.


1. Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) may share this as well, but I do not feel as qualified to speak about them, as I have not visited them in some time.


BrianY said...
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Anonymous said...

Micah, most certainly Iowa (Conservative) Friends do share that conviction! Or at least, most of them do.

Had you been present at the FGC Gathering a week ago, you’d have heard that message repeated again and again in the testimony of those members of our yearly meeting who were there.

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Micah, that last message was from me, Marshall Massey. I regret that Google failed to ask me for my name and URL.

Micah Bales said...

I'm glad to hear that, Marshall! I assumed so, but I didn't want to speculate about a body that I am not recently acquainted with. I hope I can get back to Iowa sometime soon, Lord willing.


RichardM said...

I was talking this over with Meg and we came up with the idea of a conservative Friends FB page with moderators appointed by the three conservative YM. Do you think Ohio would be interested in such a joint venture?

Martin Kelley said...

A couple of years ago Ohio YM made some sort of decision on social networks. Was that before you were involved, Micah? It might be interesting to get more on that decision and whether there's been followup. The energy seems to have abated a bit since the decision but it seemed important at the time.

I don't think Facebook will allow us to push it too far into Quaker process. Official accounts to announce things work fine. But beyond that it's a medium designed to have us speak in our own voices. What we can and cannot do will be limited by that constraint.

I think we sometimes think of social media as print, where things should be vetted and edited beforehand, with careful control of the results. I suspect Conservative social media engagement feels more like ministry, where there are some people who we know have due care and diligence. Does it make sense to record them or to come up with mechanisms to aid and help them through any thorny situations that arise?

Susan Smith said...

Interesting ideas, Martin. Last year OYM used Twitter to keep absent Friends informed about details of YM. I think we're planning something similar this year (8/8 - 14). But that's not the same as an ongoing medium for communication among Friends in particular YM's. In fact, as I think more about it, I'm not sure why we would need a Facebook page. Wouldn't quaker.quaker lend itself to that? When does one more communication site become too many?

RichardM said...

We talked about appointing elders to do this and Micah joked that since they were web elders we should call them "welders." Seriously though the idea is not to be try to restrict access but rather to make sure that it is being monitored by knowledgeable representatives of the three conservative YMs in order that each YM should be able to step in an correct misinterpretations of who we are. For example, suppose someone were to say that everyone in Ohio must wear plain dress, I would want an elder from Ohio to clear up the misunderstanding. I think that would be much better than having a North Carolina elder do so. Moreover, if some were to say on there "Conservative Friends believe X" I'd like to have a Friend from Iowa's ministry and counsel there to say "Iowa Conservatives wouldn't express it that way."

There is huge traffic on Facebook and this might be good outreach for all the conservative YMs.

RichardM said...

I should add that our YM set up a committee to look into these matters and that it is far from clear that they will recommend that North Carolina conservative participate in a shared project like this. I'm just floating the idea out there to see if there is any positive response to it.

Martin Kelley said...

Susan: I would be happy to host some of this conversation on QuakerQuaker if Friends wanted that. A lot of it happens there already and Ohio YM already has what I understand to be a semi-official presence there.

The reason that Facebook is considered with any of this is just that it's widely-used. It's a good place to share what we're doing with a larger online world. It gets to the whole not hiding our light under the bushel imperative. It's not good for discussions but good for letting people know there discussions. And it is a way to invite people to the real-world gatherings that are the best ways to share the good news. By gatherings I mean yearly meeting sessions, traveling ministry visits and even just the existence of our monthly meetings and worship groups.

Richard: along these lines, QuakerQuaker has had some interesting discussions on "gays and Ohio" where it turned out that some people who were associated with Ohio YM but not members had stronger opinions than some of the membership itself. I don't want to restart a long discussion here, but it was instructive to see how people saw the official line differently.

Voice in the Desert said...

Conservative Friends overthink Facebook.

RichardM said...

Thanks Martin. I'll look up that discussion you mentioned as I'd missed it. It is actually a good example of the sort of thing I'm thinking of. A "compare and contrast" of the three conservative meetings with seasoned Friends from each YM actively participating but open to the public to observe would help each YM articulate its own self-understanding.

Eric Muhr said...

These kinds of discussions re: the use of new media by Friends seem tempered by fear. Who will say it? What if they say more (or less) than I think is appropriate? How can I know that it will adequately and accurately reflect the sense of the meeting? When we ask questions in fear, we stifle the creative energy from which life-giving ministry is born (and borne).

Martin gets at the issue of how these new media should be viewed. Facebook and others are not official journals. Nor are they YM mouthpieces. They are forums. Open spaces and places. What happens in the forum must happen on the forum. Not underneath it or behind it. If there is to be eldering, it must happen (as it does in meeting) after or during. Processes put in place to control the message make it impossible for people to speak.

I administer the Facebook page for NWYM (evangelical). I have done so daily for almost 2 years. It's more of a journal than a forum, but we're working at developing opportunities for connection, conversation and community:

RichardM said...
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