Special Contributor to UMR: Michael Rich
Connexion ’13 had been in the planning stages since last fall. The people at Central UMC in Concord, NC were told that they would never get a crowd out on a Thursday for a seminar on internet topics. All the nay-sayers were proven wrong on October 10th.
They sold out every seat over a month before the event using only internet based tools and word of mouth. There were participants from all over the Western North Carolina Conference including laity and clergy of all ages. The average age was certainly lower than the average age of an annual conference session, but it was obvious that older participants saw the need.
Andy Langford, the senior pastor at Central UMC, welcomed the group. He is admittedly not comfortable with new media, but he understands the need. “All but one visitor in the last two years at Central participated with us online before physically coming in our doors. We are living in a new world, and we need to be prepared for it.”
They seminar featured two keynote speakers from Nashville, TN. Gavin Richardson, who has been working with social media within the denomination for many years (and most recently with the new online United Methodist Reporter) and Sophia Agtarap of Rethink Church at UM Communications. They challenged the group to recognize the major shifts happening in the world from “Gutenbergers to Googlers”.
Agtarap made clear that “the web is the new front door of the church and we need to provide access points that bridge faith and culture in our world.”
Richardson shared stories of his experiences working in social media that proved that online relationships are real and involve real people and faces. “Technology should be an extension of who we are in real life. Even with technology, we still need to be a church that knows how to hug.”
Following the keynote, participants broke in half to hear a variety of presentations. There was a beginner’s track that learned the basics of social media from Scott Smith, the husband of a United Methodist pastor who runs IT for a county school system. More advanced topics were discussed using a “TED talk” format of 8-10 minute presentations in the sanctuary. The topics included ReThink Church, Webpages, New Media, Constant Contact, EPublishing, Blogging and Tweeting, Constant Contact and Cautions About New Media.
As a part of those presentations, Andy Langford and Daniel Wilson presented the concept of Central Online, the new online congregation that is being developed through Central UMC. Wilson is thought to be the very first United Methodist clergy to be appointed to be appointed to an online congregation. Langford notes, “Central is committed to sharing the Good News in new ways. Every other institution in our society now operates 24/7 while most congregations are open only on Sunday mornings. The new media age offers every faith community new challenges and opportunities. Let’s journey boldly into new lands.”
Mark King, a United Methodist from Western North Carolina serving on staff at the Marble Collegiate Church in New York, presented about E-Giving for the entire group at lunch, and then about financial thinking from a new paradigm after lunch.
The afternoon session included more talks on topics ranging from Missions Online, Ethics and Technology and Teaching Online. Amy Coles, the Superintendent of the Smoky Mountain District, shared her thoughts on new media and technology from a DS’s perspective that envisioned a future where the many boxes of forms and reports that are produced each year at Charge Conferences could be done completely online and stored there.
Coles reflected after the event, “I found ConneXion 2013 to be an extremely worthwhile event which offered participants important tools to continue to increase the health and vitality of their local church. The wide variety of topics covered enabled both the novice and the expert the opportunity to hear new ideas for reaching out to their community in this new media era. I am proud to serve with churches like Central UMC in Concord, who not only coordinated this conference but has also generously offered to continue sharing resources with others across the Conference.”
Another superintendent, John Boggs of the Blue Ridge District commented, “I am so grateful for my participation in the ConneXion event today! It was a strange experience of feeling inspired, overwhelmed, motivated, challenged and inadequate all at the same time.”
Daniel Wilson, who was the point person from Central UMC for the event offered this reflection: “Looking back on Connexion13, it was beautiful to see so many churches working together to better understand new media and how it relates to ministry. I really saw our “connectional” system at work!”
There was a positive feeling coming from everyone at Connexion. It may be summed up by a young clergy person who was overheard walking down the hall, “As I look around at who’s here, I have greater hope for the church.”
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Central UMC is making all of the presentations and video of the conference available at: http://wncconnexion.org . They also have ongoing discussion and updates at: https://www.facebook.com/wncconnexion. Twitter conversations can be found at #connexion13 and #wncconnexion.