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Presbyterian Voices for Justice

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Engaging Conversations: Social Media and Justice Networks

by the Rev. Melissa Lynn DeRosia

In January the board and network leadership teams of Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA) met in Louisville, KY, and invited me to engage in conversation about my experiences with social media. They were particularly interested in how I utilize it in my local ministry as a pastor and connect with others across the denomination, as I serve as moderator of the Presbytery of Lake Huron and an elected member of the General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC).

For those who have finally gotten the hang of email, it can be overwhelming to think about learning how to use interactive technologies like Facebook and Twitter, or starting a blog. For others there is a downright resistance to acknowledging social media as a practical means of communication between individuals and communities. People fear that it is attempting to replace all of our face-to-face contact.

Nothing replaces face-to-face conversations. For the networks and members of PHEWA – a community of ministries working for justice alongside persons who are often marginalized by the church and society – face to face interactions are essential. As those networks seek to connect with one another to share information and engage in conversation with networks that span across the country, face to face contact is not always possible. Social media offer additional tools for conversation and advocacy. They provide places to give voice to our stories, our views, our prayers and our joys in creative ways.

It was thrilling to talk with PHEWA about these tools and watch as the board and networks began to envision how their ministries might be enhanced by connecting to people in new ways. The Presbyterian AIDS Network immediately put together a Facebook page that shares who they are and brings people together through discussion boards around topics like “Know your Status: HIV Testing and the Church” and “World AIDs Day/Advent Resources 2010.” They also see this as a way to invite new voices of leadership for the network and Leadership Team. Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options (PARO) also recognized that there are Presbyterians talking about overtures concerning reproductive health on Twitter. PARO wondered how they might use the 140 character maximum on Twitter to educate people about the PC(USA) social witness policies.

There are websites that can help answer some basic questions about different social networking tools. The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator of the 218th General Assembly, also has helpful posts. You can search his blog,, which covers “Tweetable Tips for Beginners,” “101 Blog Posting Ideas for Pastors and Other Church Geeks,” and “Two Tips for Dealing with Facebook Apps.” Here are a few helpful hints that I have found useful in using social media to engage in social justice ministry:

Jump In and Stay In: The best way to get started in social media is to jump in. Give it a try. See if there are conversations already happening and if the vision of Presbyterian Voices for Justice (formerly the Witherspoon Society and Voices of Sophia) can be enhanced by these community building tools. It is true that Twitter isn’t for everyone, but if there is a desire to build relationships and gain the attention of others then you’ve got to stay in. Like any community-building efforts, to be viably competent on a network takes time and commitment to become part of the growing, changing, expanding group of participants.

Be More than a Follower: Building community and raising awareness happens in the context of interacting with that community in a meaningful way. “Following” someone on Twitter or “friend-ing” someone through an organization on Facebook means that you find ways to contribute in conversation and invite others to interact further by sharing their experiences.

Open It Up: A major shift from traditional means of communication (via newsletters and press releases that convey information from sender to recipient) to interactive forms of communication (Facebook discussions and blogs) opens up the dialogue and encourages the community to create, administrate, comment, and criticize. Leaders of justice networks need to spend as much time asking questions, soliciting ideas and creating avenues for an open exchange of ideas as they do sending out information.

Over the past few years we have witnessed how social media are empowering voices to connect ideas and voices in new ways. There is no denying the impact it is having! The challenging question is: do you or do you not want to participate in these conversations? It really doesn’t matter whether or not we think that social media have a purpose, what that purpose is, or if we can attain measurable outcomes from it. Social media are already creating the virtual space for hundreds and thousands of people to come together around an idea or cause in a matter of minutes. They are signing petitions, raising money, mobilizing community action groups, and praying for those who care about injustices they experience in their day-to-day lives.

It was an amazing experience to spend a few days with the community that has mentored me in ministry from my time in seminary to my first years in ministry. Even though our time in Louisville came to an end, it is exciting to know that our continued conversations are only a Facebook message, blog post, and even *gasp* – a Tweet away!

Follow me on Twitter @melissalynn24 or on my blog

The author:

The Rev. Melissa Lynn DeRosia is Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Caro, Michigan. She is currently serving as Moderator of the Presbytery of Lake Huron, and is an elected Member of the General Assembly Mission Council, as well as a former board member and Network Co-Moderator of Presbyterian Health Education and Welfare Assocation (PHEWA).


And now it's your turn!

What is your experience using the social media, such as Facebook and blogs, in your own work and relationships?  How is it helpful to you?  What are the problems and concerns you have? 
Please send a note, and we'll share it here!

Some blogs worth visiting


Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.


Witherspoon’s Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, Witherspoon’s Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, politics, culture, travel, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.


John Shuck’s Shuck and Jive

A Presbyterian minister, currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


Plan now for our 2010 Ghost Ranch Seminar!


July 26-August 1, 2010



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