Last week Husband S and I went to an unusual wedding reception. Other than the families of the bride and groom, almost everyone there had met each other through Twitter. There were a few people who knew each other before, which is what allowed to connections to grow in the first place, but I have known most of these folks for about two years and have gotten to know them 140 characters at a time.
The Anchorage Twitter community is very close-knit, more so than other places from what I have heard. In the time I have participated real friendship have emerged. Anchorage Tweeps babysit each other’s kids & dogs, they housesit for each other. They bring medicine and food to people when they are sick and offer moral support when times are tough. Frequent “tweet-ups” bring us together in “meat space” and just this month there was a memorial service and the aforementioned wedding for members of this unofficial community with no rules whatsoever for belonging. Last year, a favorite local musician’s car broke down right before leaving on her self-supported tour. We responded with a fundraiser and many of us chipped in a few bucks to help her get on her way. A few people even started an Alaska Tweets Kiva team. While non-traditional and leaderless, this is a community. Tweetup events are some of the only places where I can talk to both conservative Christian librarians and openly gay IT professionals who are both treating each other civilly.
Why can’t we have a spiritual community that operates in the same way? I’ve been on Twitter with my personal account for about two years, which is just about the same amount of time I have been involved with AUUF. Both of these new communities are of roughly equal importance to me. There is something really important going on with social media that most religious organizations are missing out on. Social media should be more than a tool to let people know about official events; it should be a way for people to make community outside the church walls. It should be more than just ministers using it, too.
I love the UU blogosphere. I value being able to learn so much about Unitarian Universalism and about all of you, but this loose network is dominated by ministers and seminarians. What I would like to see is a social media tool where lay people can reach out both to clergy and each other for ministry. Not all of us live on the east coast. Alaska probably has fewer than 1,000 official UU church members, and other western states also have small numbers of UU’s. What if we could connect people and enable them to enhance the spiritual community they find at church? I do not believe that social media should replace real life church, but it can have a role in building relationships and retaining young adults. We have many tools to inform people, but not necessarily to engage them. Speaking for myself, when I am engaged in something I am much more likely to be committed.
With a structure halfway between Twitter and Facebook, I am interested to see what role Google+ could play in creating such a community once it goes live. There is a lot of talk in the UU blogosphere about how to attract and retain members to prevent UU-extinction. I believe that for most people, relationships trump theology. Anything that helps people find each other and minister to each other can only be a good thing.