by Mary Nelson
One of the side benefits of my work as a Regional Minister that I deeply appreciate is the opportunity to travel. I am traveling to work, of course, and I rarely get to see the place I’m visiting outside a church council meeting or windowless hotel conference room—but often it’s the people with whom I am meeting who bring me such joy, I don’t even notice that I haven’t left the building in two days. A trip to Chicago means the chance to see my colleague Mark; a trip to Boston means I might reconnect with Kate; time in D.C. means coffee with Michael and Amber; a visit to Cleveland means a hug with Elizabeth and Keri and Cheryl and probably a few bonus-hugs I didn’t anticipate. This upcoming trip to Milwaukee for Synod will mean seeing a whole host of people I probably haven’t seen since the last Synod, and I am so excited.
I am excited to work with such amazing people all over the country. The United Church of Christ brings me together with smart, interesting, dedicated Jesus-lovers everywhere.
When I connect with folks on Facebook, it’s just not the same. Sure, I may be able to relax differently, scrolling through my feed from the comfort of my couch, barefoot and pajama-clad. But I know that the life my online “friends” choose to show the world on social media isn’t fully who they are, just like the life I choose to show the world on social media isn’t fully who I am either. It’s a performance. It’s curated: see how hard I’m working! See how tired I am! See my papers piled on my desk! See the stack of books I’m reading! See what I want you to see, and not what I don’t want you to see. See my victories, not my mistakes. See my perspective, not the other side of the story.
Sure, I can connect with *more* people online than I can in person, but these connections aren’t very high quality. No matter what Facebook calls them, my online social connections are not necessarily my “friends.” Rarely, very rarely, does a “friendship” formed via social media develop into a genuine relationship of trust and showing up for each other. It’s an advertising platform, not a community-building platform, and we confuse those uses at our own peril. Social media, ironically, promotes self-promotion, and centers self-centeredness.
That’s why I’m so grateful for the opportunity to travel and meet my colleagues face-to-face. Some of them genuinely have become friends – but only because of the embodiedness of our interactions, and the trust that has developed over time, sitting together in those convention center breakout rooms with their horrible carpet patterns and movable walls that never block the sound from the room next door. These are people who are willing to show up for Jesus. And so I will show up for them. Working alongside each other – not for ourselves, but for Christ, for the Church, for the Kin-dom.
This whole project of bringing together the Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts Conferences, is a genuine opportunity to show up for each other in a new way. We have access to *more* colleagues—not in a shallow way (though I’m sure we’ll have a few “my steeple is bigger than your steeple” competitions to endure), but in a way that develops depth of connection over time because of our embodied interactions. By putting more of us in one room together, building trust, building collegiality, we build up God’s realm here on earth. Our gatherings will be a chance to strengthen the Body of Christ to serve the world. Wherever the meetings, whatever the horrible carpet patterns, we get to show up for each other and grow to love Jesus more.
Thanks be to God!
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