The twittering church

Paul Vitello of the New York Times writes about the tentative and sometimes awkward embrace that religion gives social media.

He says that a variety of religious groups from Episcopalians to Orthodox Jews have signed up for Twitter, Facebook and other social media networks for some of the same reasons as politicians, celebrities and companies selling products: to gain a global platform and to appeal to young people.

He writes:

Things went smoothly for the first hour of the Twitter experiment at Trinity Church in Manhattan on Good Friday in April.

While hundreds of worshipers watched the traditional dramatization of the Crucifixion from pews in the church, one of New York’s oldest, thousands more around the world followed along on smartphones and computers as a staff member tweeted short bursts of dialogue and setting (“Darkness and earthquake,” “Crucify him!”).

The trouble began in the second hour.

Twitter’s interactivity — its essence — made it easy for an anonymous text-messager to insert an unscripted character into the Passion play: a Roman guard who breezily claimed, “I’ve got dibs on his robe.” When another texter introduced a rogue Mary Magdalene, the intrusion only confirmed the obvious: Twitter’s trademark limit of 140 characters per message is no bar against crudity.

Still, Trinity Church, Wall Street, considered the experiment a success and now Twitters their regular Sunday liturgy to about 525 followers. “If someone chooses to interact with us mischievously, that’s fine,” said the Rev. Canon Anne Mallonee, the church vicar. “The opposite of engagement is not mischief, but apathy.”

“I’m a sporadic worshiper,” said Anne Libby, a management consultant in Manhattan who often follows the services on Twitter between occasional visits to Trinity.

The connection, however slender, has drawn her closer to the church community, she said. She has never tweeted back during a service. She does not always follow every word.

But she has noticed that her favorite Bible quotation fits nicely within the 140-character Twitter limit: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” she said.

Read it all here.

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