Last week, I shared with you my thoughts around the thin place between the church scattered and the church gathered, to which our chaplains bring the person of Jesus. This week I am going to share with you the place in which I think our ‘Communications’ play a significant role in this thin place.
A week ago Liam Beckett, our Online and Website Communications Officer, finished his role with us to go to Melbourne. I work closely with the Diocesan Communications Team and so shared their sadness when he informed us of this opportunity for him and for Mel, his fiancée. For the past four years, Liam has created the many amazing features of our websites, while exploring new and creative ways to communicate who we are, what we do and how we communicate. One highlight for me has been his video presentation of our year in review. For the past couple of years he has been able to capture beautifully our year in images, and with the delicacy of sound. Liam brought with him many skills beyond the online medium of communication – he was a good writer, he took great photos, he explored with others what might make a good story and he created videos with the amazing skill of editing well.
Not so very long ago, messages and connections were verbal and in writing without the use of electronic media. Newspapers, books and television were the main sources of information, and it took time for us to be informed as to what was happening around us – locally, nationally and globally. Within our church setting, we remained connected to our local parishes by word of mouth, from the parish bulletin and through the information the priest shared at the end of Mass. There was certainly less scrutiny and a greater trust in everything.
Now, in our diocesan setting we have Aurora, Diocesan Update, mnnews.today, diocesan and agency websites, Facebook, Twitter, Clergy Update, Bishop’s Communiqué, Tuesday Mailout, emails, media releases, telephone directories – and the list goes on.
Our Communications Team is responsible for working with the Chancery, the Catholic Schools Office, CatholicCare Social Services and the Parishes in attempting to keep people informed and formed, both internally and externally. Liam was part of this amazing team, of mostly young people, who are attempting to move us from a monologue in communication to a dialogue with two-way communication and audience engagement.
When we read our Gospels, it is clear that Jesus was able to communicate personally with those around him. This personal encounter is what enabled a conversion of heart for his followers. In the Gospel from the weekend (Mark 5:21-43) Jesus encounters a large crowd, as well as Jairus and the woman with the haemorrhage. His communication was personal and he captured the crowds by his non-judgemental messages of healing and hope. He is acknowledged as a teacher, a person who is able to say; “Do not be afraid; only have faith.” He was able to transmit his message of faith and love to those who followed him.
Our challenge, and that of our Communications Team, is to translate this personal transmission of the great message of Jesus into a context with which people are now familiar. And of course this is dependent on the age of the person, and the way in which those who connect access the message. Our chaplains (priests, deacons, nuns and lay men and women) and those who come to Mass, experience the personal encounters of friendship and care. This connection with community is what we are called to as humans and what we, as a Christian community, are meant to do well.
What modern communications tools are calling us to, is a re-creation of how we communicate. The Jesus message remains but we are being invited to use other ways to spread the Good News, to evangelise and to make disciples. Liam, Kylie, Tracey, Joanne, Emma and Geri, the members of our Communications Team, attempt to explore new ways of communicating with our various audiences.
The Message, the Medium and the Audience form the key elements of successful and effective communication. In order to get our message out, we can no longer rely on old systems, and yet some with whom we communicate are happy with, and dependent on, these systems. So these are complex times when considering the medium and the audience. Evidently, for those who mostly use Facebook as their preferred communication medium, the messages are effective when captured in the headline and then in the next ten to fifteen words. It they are not meaningful for the reader, then the message won’t be opened. If it is opened, the next thirty words become relevant and important if the reader is to continue. I find it fascinating to watch people on public transport play with their communication devices, observing them flicking on the screen before they eventually stop to read something of interest. Information is processed very quickly, and capturing the audience’s imagination is now an art form. We are missing Liam because he was so good at exploring the various ‘art forms’, each of which captured a particular market or audience.
People are still looking for engagement and interaction, but this is now done via a screen when it suits. We, in church, are being challenged to respond to this ‘new’ technology so that the message of Jesus is still captured in a way which invites people into relationship. Of course, much of what we attempt to do is to invite people to experience opportunities of face-to-face encounters and dialogue. It seems to me that this is where we are struggling. Much of what we have on offer – daily Mass, group meetings, sacramental programs, talks, forums, discussion groups.... provide wonderful opportunities for information and formation, and yet we struggle to attract new people. How are we to get the message out there and how do we know who is listening or even cares?
These are new times and new ways of communicating are being called for. Yet, I don’t think the digital age brings with it a personal community of connection. It does assist in keeping people connected but that is not the same as the relationship of touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight. I certainly appreciate my phone calls, text messages, emails and letters to my children and friends, but what makes this worthwhile is the time I have to spend in their presence.
Our Communications Team works daily with the challenges of assisting us to reach out effectively to the church scattered. Liam will be greatly missed as a young man who searched for new ways in an ancient church.