From Facebook to face-to-face care
by Amaury Tañón-Santos | Synod networker for the Synod of the Northeast. A teaching elder and member of Elizabeth Presbytery, he is also the parish associate of Nuevas Fronteras Presbyterian Church, a congregation that serves the Latino/a community of the greater Plainfield, New Jersey, area.
The workday began as any other workday. First, I had to find an office—an interesting, local, small business or family-owned coffee or tea place. Then I opened my computer, checked my to-do list, scrolled through the barrage of unread emails, and logged onto social media.
As the networker for the Synod of the Northeast I am blessed with the opportunity to connect passionate Presbyterians from throughout 22 presbyteries in New England, New Jersey, and New York. We have taken to thinking of the synod as a regional community instead of a higher council. This “flattening” allows the whole synod to realize the gifts we hold in common and enables shared interests to inspire new programs.
I am one for whom social media has become an important work tool as well as a way to connect with friends and colleagues. It provides me with a quick way to gauge where people’s interests are—what’s trending, if you will—in life, politics, society, and ministry. It connects me.
That day at work, I came upon a network on Facebook that gathers young(ish) leaders from throughout the church. I confess that I asked to join the group out of mere curiosity. I stay because of the honest and even vulnerable conversations that take place in that (online) space.
Distance and ministry contexts notwithstanding, members of this group trust and care for one another because we share at least one common passion, our vocation to service with and to the church.
That vocational passion allows me now to be networked to a significant group of people with whom I can share a question, a concern, and a joy, and from whom I’m sure I will get prayers, and more often than not a thoughtful comment or suggestion.
Space to grow
Out of these online conversations came a thought: What would it look like for the synod to serve as a gathering space for these leaders?
The synod created the Emerging Leaders Gathering, which allows for over 50 leaders who are age 40 or younger to connect.
Rather than impose an agenda, the synod provides a space for participants to come together with their comments, likes, and shares. The gathering is planned, set forth, and followed up by the young leaders who participate. The synod provides only whatever logistical support is needed for the planning and funding to subsidize the gathering.
The Emerging Leaders Gathering is a safe space that seeks to be a community for the couple of days we are together. We share one another’s joys, struggles, and challenges. The gathering continues to strengthen our vocation and enhance a sense of a shared call.
Similarly, as I was visiting some of our presbyteries (in person, not online), I kept hearing conversations about the number of prisons throughout our region. Leaders of local congregations involved in prison visitation, prison chaplains, advocates for fairer sentencing guidelines, and those opposed to the privatization of prisons were interested in connecting with one another.
As we began to plan a conversation regarding prison ministry, some participants asked what the agenda would be.
“We’ll have a conversation, no agenda,” I said. “If there is an agenda, each person wants to convince the others their idea is best. A conversation is just an opportunity to share our experiences with each other and learn from them.”
With this common expectation, nine leaders from four presbyteries gathered. As they talked about their experiences, they discovered places where their interests converged and began to plan for shared ministry and resourcing opportunities.
Conversations give life
These conversations are a form of networking. It is conversations—and not advice from so-called experts—that often move people away from feeling isolated and impotent to seeing that ample resources are already found within those gathered.
To get together, to gather, to network is hardly a new thing in the church. As a matter of fact, gathering is at the center of our identity as a people of faith. Mid councils are perhaps in the best position to enable these gatherings. And I say enable gatherings, not themselves gather.
When power and energy behind a shared passion in ministry are strong, things will happen. As enablers, mid councils can position themselves to be a relevant space that nurtures innovation in ministry and deep vocational discernment while allowing themselves to be transformed. For those passionate about their calls, networking can be life-giving. For the church, particularly mid councils, intentionally enabling networking can bring us together for the sake of witness to Christ and inspire our vision of the new things God is calling us to be.
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