UM Twitter sub-culture leads to global feedback

TAMPA, Fla.—Even before opening worship at General Conference, a prophetic post went up on Twitter: “Twitter is about to be ridiculously overloaded with Methodists and their iPhones.”

So it was. And so General Conference 2012, whatever else happens, may be identified in UM history as the first where social media took hold in a big way, and proved influential.

“Technology is a game changer,” said the Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive of United Methodist Communications, which is livestreaming plenary sessions. “It allows us to bring the General Conference experience to many more people, as well as helping us to connect with each other and interpret what is happening on behalf of the church to the world.”

Bishop John Schol, of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, agreed.

“This is very much a different General Conference, from the standpoint of electronics and the resources we have,” he said. “If something is happening live, people are already engaging in conversation about it.”

Three days into General Conference, UMCOM said people in about 80 countries had livestreamed sessions, with viewing most common in the United States, followed by the Philippines, Germany and Denmark.

The first days also saw thousands of “tweets” and “retweets” offering instant reaction to sermons, music, addresses, committee decisions and more.

delegate at laptop computer

William E. Brown, reserve delegate from the Texas Conference, took advantage of a break to jump online. UMR Photo by Sam Hodges


@gregmillinovich: “i move we disregard all the rules and go with a ‘hunger games’ style conference.”

@umjeremy: “There’s not equity in this amendment when those that have more voices then get even more voices.”

@robrynders: “We are to increase membership, not out of fear, but because we want to make disciples. But don’t metrics induce fear in our pastors?”

@revmelissa: “If we do half of what Bishop Weaver called us to this morning, this will be a truly historic event.”

@HowellPreaches: “Let’s put the young people in charge. We old guys have had our chance.”

@RevAdamHamilton: “#gc2012 41% of delegates are from Central Conferences!”

That last message came from the Rev. Adam Hamilton, whose plenary plea for Call to Action reforms yielded lots of negative reaction from young clergy—on Twitter, of course.

The Rev. Sky McCracken, a district superintendent and alternate delegate from Kentucky, followed the critics and took to his blog to defend Mr. Hamilton and ask for more civility.

“I do not think God is pleased with our snide remarks,” he said.

But some of the social media humor was gentle, and even self-deprecating.

One pastor tweeted: “I can see @amylippoldt tweeting on her macbook during the Episcopal address. It’s our gen’s version of ‘call and response.’”

It wasn’t just younger people who were wired. Bishop Schol joined them, using a tablet computer.

“I was following opening worship and other activities online as well as being present,” he said. “I was monitoring and watching what people were saying all across the church and even around the world.

Among the international participants was Dorte Randrup Bhutho, of Denmark.

“Following closely and also enjoying the stream from time to time,” she said in a Facebook message responding to a post by Bishop Christian Alsed, of Northern Europe and Eurasia. “Great to be (on) my own couch and still be there with you.”

Mr. Hollon, of UMCOM, said there are dangers in high-speed communications, as well as blessings.

“There is no filtering system for rumors and for inaccurate reports, and so a part of our role is to make sure that we provide quality information and accurate information to be able to represent the Church well,” he said.

The Rev. Baughman is an ordained UM elder and social media coach who is helping with Reporter coverage of General Conference.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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