January 19, 2018

How I Prayed With Hundreds of People on New Year's Eve

This past New Year’s Eve, as I was awaiting the countdown with my family, I was able to pray with more than 1,000 people just by opening up Facebook.

Ever since Hurricane Harvey, my parish has been hosting morning devotions and Compline every Monday through Saturday on Facebook Live. While it was still raining and streets were impassable, we started offering up these times for folks to come together and pray, with my rector and I taking turns officiating.

When I lead the prayers, I’m usually joined by parishioners, family members, colleagues in ministry, elementary school classmates, and (more often than not) a bishop or two. It has been a wonderful example of how technology can be used to bring people together, which we’ve talked about before in this space.

I recently heard a great interview with Tim Wu, author of The Attention Merchants. In the book, Mr. Wu talks about how the field of advertising developed as a way to “harvest our attention.”

We in the church aren’t really looking to harvest attention, but we should be looking to find ways to connect people and share the love of God in new ways. That’s the kind of harvest the church knows a lot about...

For us at St. Mary’s, that meant we turned to Facebook when people couldn’t leave their house. And when the flooding stopped, parishioners asked us to keep praying live online. So we do, and we usually have 50 or more people praying with us, twice a day.

And on New Year’s Eve, when Rev. Beth led prayers for the last 10 minutes of 2017, more than 1,000 people viewed at least some part of the stream.

Nearly 70 percent of Americans are active Facebook users, and worldwide more than 2 billion people (that’s more than 25 percent of the global population) are active on Facebook each month. The numbers for other social media platforms might not be as high, but are still staggering.

That’s a lot of attention, and the church needs to find ways to be present in that world.

How can your church use social media to help build community and share the love of God?

For starters, I recommend Virginia Theological Seminary’s recent webinar about creating community with live video.