For a while last Sunday morning, the hashtag #episcopal was trending nationally on Twitter. That’s because Sunday, June 29, had been declared Social Media Sunday in The Episcopal Church, and congregations around the country were participating.
Here in central Arkansas, another hashtag was also trending: #stmarkslr.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Little Rock saw the day as a chance to practice a new sort evangelism, a way to connect with a broader audience. In the foyer to the sanctuary they had installed a Tweetwall, a television screen displaying a rolling feed of all the tweets marked with the #episcopal and #stmarkslr hashtags.
Standing beneath the screen, welcoming parishioners as they filed in, was Annie Thompson. Thompson was hired just two weeks ago as St. Mark’s lay ministries coordinator, a position which includes handling the communications and social media for the church. When she started in the position, she told the Rev. Danny Schieffler, rector of St. Mark’s, “Social Media Sunday is in two weeks. This is the first thing I need to work on.”
And work she did. In addition to the Tweetwall, the social-media emphasis extended into the church service itself. The Rev. Lisa Fry, who preached Sunday morning, worked several references to social media into her sermon. “Lisa’s got everybody holding up their cellphones,” added the Rev. Schieffler, “and we’re tweeting during the sermon.” And for those social-media newcomers, there was a help desk set up after the service.
Thompson understands that social media isn’t for everyone and stressed that this was a special occasion, not the new norm for St. Mark’s services. In fact, Thompson counts herself among those who are more traditional. “I probably have the same reaction that most people have, which is, What are you doing to my service? But I think it’s important for people to understand what social media’s impact is on the world.”