Wednesday, December 08, 2010

social media and advent

For at least ten years I have sent a daily Advent message to my congregation and anyone else who wishes to receive it. I wanted to briefly describe what it has been and is, because I am convinced it is an interesting platform to accomplish a number of objectives. It helps that I enjoy the writing process, and also that I do not take it that seriously. At the same time, I am constantly amazed at its reception; it has an audience of more than a thousand households and workplaces, and reaches many people beyond the church. The first daily message is sent on the First Sunday of Advent, and the last one on Christmas Day (or immediately following the last Christmas eve service). If you would like to receive the Advent message simply contact Carol Grinham at cgrinham (at)

I began the daily message as a simple group email. We now use Constant Contact, which I recommend. I put together a word document each day, and it is then formatted for Constant Contact and sent to a mailing list of subscribers. I always ask, in several ways, that those who do not wish to subscribe can simply let us know or they can unsubscribe, and we certainly understand. I really do want those who receive it each day to be willing participants in the shared message.

Having said all of this, the strength of the daily message lies in its unpredictability. The content is somewhat random, and includes humor, sports, music and the arts, comments about television and movies, a calendar, devotional and theological reflection, updates about our congregation's end of year giving, and opportunities for meeting community needs.

A word about each of these categories:

The humor is simply a daily joke or two related to Christmas. These are really bad and very basic Christmas jokes (almost at a child's level) and at the same time I find that people invariably love them...even if they have heard them before. The jokes can be found on the internet, and I also use the Prairie Home Companion Pretty Good Jokes as a resource. I often include one joke, sometimes two each day. For example: Why was Santa's little helper depressed? Because he had low elf get the idea.

I often list football games and basketball games in the calendar. This is somewhat unusual for a church publication, but it is a recognition that many plan their lives around these games. The Advent/Christmas season coincides with the end of the college season and the Bowl games. I enjoy predicting some of the winners, and also poking fun at some of the more bizarre bowl contests in out of the way places. Having attended Duke, and with a daughter who went to Chapel Hill, I also have fun with the beginning of basketball season. I make predictions about some of the outcomes, and this is also fun to report.

There is an abundance of really wonderful and eclectic Christmas music, and I often make recommendations. Dave Brubeck, Bruce Cockburn, James Taylor, Bela Fleck, the Robert Shaw Singers, Taize, Diana Krall, the Chieftains, John Prine, Kathy Mattea are a few artists who have made nice Christmas recordings. I will sometimes provide links via Amazon to a particular piece, or simply refer the reader to the entire work. For years I have made a habit of only listening to Christmas music during this season, but I am selective about what I have going on the in background.

At the same time, I also affirm our choir's Christmas music, and see this as one of the church's great strengths. It is a season to educate the reader and I try to point him or her toward a new work, or something in the tradition like the King's College Service of Lessons and Carols. And lastly, in relation to music, there is a vast amount of really awful material out there, and obviously these are musicians who are simply going after a share of a lucrative market. Of course this is subjective, but I would (and do) include particular artists in this category (Barry Manilow and Kenny G., for example). Readers disagree with me, and that is fine. It is all in good fun.

The Christmas season is a time that is ripe for theological reflection and exposition, and in substance this is all about the incarnation. The daily message is a way to introduce readers to Madeleine L' Engle("The Risk of Birth"), Howard Thurman, Karl Barth, W. H. Auden ("For The Time Being"), and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, among others. Years ago I came across a superb devotional book, Watch For The Light (Plough Publishing House). It is substantive and ecumenical, and deep enough to return to again and again. And I sometimes find myself reflecting on particular phrases in hymns and carols, from "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" to "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus" to "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing".

Lastly, the daily message has a practical purpose: I want to update our congregation about end of year financial giving (in our parish this is often 20-25% in the last month, and so this is crucial), pledges for the upcoming year (encouragement for those who have not yet made estimates of giving) and worthy causes in the area of community ministry and global mission. Many people are very generous in Advent and at Christmas; in part it is the season of giving, and in part, for some, there are positive tax implications. This year our congregation has set three very practical goals for giving beyond our budget: gifts for 110 children in Charlotte through the Bethlehem Center; 10 tons of food for Loaves and Fishes; and $5,000 (to be matched with another $5000) for Haiti Microcredit loans, which will employ 50 women. It helps, day by day, to report progress and to keep these opportunities before those who read and respond to the email.

There are other items in the daily messages, and again the rule is unpredictability: fruitcakes and speed bumps, weather and politics, speed bumps and headache remedies, and even my annual recipe for the scrambled dog, a Georgia delicacy. There is ongoing advice about unplugging the Christmas machine and gentle reminders about when our services will be held. The form of the daily message is a series of notes, all brief and casual. We are a somewhat formal church, at least in worship, and so the informality helps us, on balance. The use of social media during this season, I have discovered, meshes with our church's strengths: excellent traditional worship and inspiring choral music; welcoming and compassionate people and relational groups; and cutting edge, risk-taking local and global mission. People want to experience God, they want to discover community, and they want to make a difference.

On Christmas Eve morning I send a prayer that I wrote years ago, entitled " A Christmas Eve Prayer For Those Who Do Not Attend Church", which has been reprinted in a number of magazines, along with the service times (for us, 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 and 11:00 pm). The last Christmas Eve service ends at about half past midnight, and the last email message is sent, usually Howard Thurman's "The Work of Christmas", with wishes to all for a Merry Christmas.


Post a Comment

<< Home