Meet the Internet priest
Earlier this month, the Rev. Jesse Dymond began his work as General Synod's first online community coordinator. A priest in the Diocese of Huron, Mr. Dymond brings a wide range of experience in parish ministry, theological reflection, technology, and communications.
Canadian Anglicans will be seeing more of Mr. Dymond as he tweets, posts Facebook updates, and finds new ways to connect people online. Since the focus of his ministry will be to cultivate online community, we gave him more than 140 characters (the Twitter limit) to introduce himself. Read on for the interview.
What do you do at General Synod?
For now, I'm working behind the scenes: networking, planning, and taking care of our involvement in existing communities such as Facebook and Twitter.
Within the year, however, we will be launching our own online community, what Vision 2019, the strategic plan, calls "A national communication platform, integrated and accessible at the parish, diocesan, and national levels." My job will be to watch over that platform, both behind the scenes on a technical level, and publicly in the forums as a mediator-or what some colleagues are already calling "Internet priest."
This online community will be a place where clergy, parishioners, and seekers can engage in dialogue and share resources for ministry. A place where Anglicans across the country can share their successes and struggles. A place where Anglicans separated by geography can support one another. A safe place to ask questions.
At least part of that community will be centered around the lectionary, allowing parishes to move through the seasons of the church year together.
Working on this project feels like church planting-but without the building. In this case, the church already exists. It's all of us.
What brought you to this ministry?
Too often, we see ministry as something that occurs only in traditional venues and by traditional means. The reality is that we are called to live as ministers of the gospel in all that we are and in all that we do.
In that light, I come to this ministry as an Anglican priest, but also as one seeking to live out both my baptismal covenant and ordination vows with the gifts and experiences God has given me.
My formative years were spent learning constantly changing ways of communicating. I often joke that Atari Basic was my second language. Computers have always been part of my life and I participated in the early days of the Internet. I suppose that's as good a place to start as any.
My educational and professional life before seminary consisted of variations on this theme. In photography, news, music, and radio, the same questions were asked: How will the changes in the way we communicate affect our vocation? What does technology offer us? What does it take away? And perhaps most importantly, "How must we change?"
As a parish priest, I have found that many of the same questions pervade the ministry we share in, from worship to administration to pastoral communication. I have continued to explore these questions with particular attention to developing a Christian ethic for our use of technology.
So how does being a priest inform this online ministry?
When the time came to discern whether I might be called to this ministry, I looked to the lives of the first apostles Jesus called. When we retell the story of Simon, Andrew, James, and John leaving their nets to follow Christ, we tend to emphasize change. And change they did; answering God's call is nothing short of transformative!
But if we assume that the apostles never fished again, we may have missed the point. Not long after, we read about Jesus and his friends back in the boat. We read about them grilling fish for breakfast. In short, while Jesus had called them to new places and purposes, he also called them to be stewards of the gifts God had already given them.
To adapt an old phrase from the computer industry, he called them to "fish different." I suppose that could describe my role at General Synod: fish different and lead others in doing the same.
What are you most excited about in this role?
Bringing people together. I wonder, sometimes, if the church avoids communications technology for fear of its dehumanizing effects. On one hand this makes sense. Email can never replace face-to-face conversation and a text message is no substitute for human touch. But the Internet alone offers countless resources to help us build relationships that would otherwise be impossible.
I'm excited about the possibility that a parishioner in Charlottetown might share a children's ministry resource with another in Brandon. I'm excited that clergy might have a place to share homiletical reflections unique to our Canadian and Anglican contexts. I'm excited that a big-picture, national resource might foster grassroots ideas and ministries to help our church grow from the ground up.
Why is it important for Anglicans to connect online?
Quite simply, for the same reason it is important for Anglicans to connect in their homes, or on the street, or in the parish hall: because we need one another.
If we really are the Body of Christ, we should be doing all in our power to be united, and to use the gifts and skills of every part. Today, the Internet is more than simply a means of communication-though that definition alone is enough to necessitate its use. It's a place where people make connections, share ideas and find community. And Anglicans are already there, in their personal and professional lives.
If we really do believe what we confess, then that faith should permeate every part of our lives, both physical and virtual. Perhaps a more appropriate question is, "By what rationale can Anglicans avoid connecting online?"