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SEMINARS BITES

THE CLERGY AND SOCIAL MEDIA IN COVID 19 ERA

By The Revd Karo Ogbinaka
oogbinaka@unilag.edu,ng, karogbi@gmail.com

I should commence by first appreciating my Lord Bishop, our Father, The Rt Rev’d Dr James Olusola Odedeji for privileging me to lead this discussion among many competent fathers here. I call it a “discussions” because I am not the most competent to do this. Indeed, when I got the message for this assignment via WhatsApp, I thought it was wrongly routed to me. My Lord, I remain sincerely grateful to you for the uncommon opportunities you have given my family and I in the ministry call; and again for today. Thank my Lord, and by extension I say Thank You Mama Lagos West.

1.0 INTRODUCTION
Moving forward now, there are many ways I should say that the issue of Social Media concern all of us. In this presentation, I shall look at the following key concepts: “Social Media”, “Clergy” and “COVID 19.” This shall nevertheless be done against the backdrop of the fact that we are all largely familiar with the meanings of these key words.

1.1 COVID 19
This stands for Corona Virus Disease of 2019. Its is a pandemic the world is currently undergoing. It was first announced to have started in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. The pandemic has gone beyond being a medical issue. In Nigeria for example, it has exposed a few inadequacies in our infrastructures and social investments. In the larger world, it has led to many conspiracy theories on the 5G, anti Christ, etc. Essentially, the virus has demonstrated how interrelated and vulnerable the human species is globally. In this presentation, we shall only deal with the COVID 19 pandemic as it relates to what is today called the NEW NORMAL.

The new normal did not recommend that we as human should not relate with one another. It is indeed impossible to go against this trait of man; being a gregarious animal. As preventive measures against the spread of the disease, the new normal holds that:

- We maintain social (really physical) distancing
- Wear face (actually nose/mouth) masks
- Watch our hands constantly
- Avoid free movements/large gatherings as much as possible
- Maintain hygienic conditions by regular sanitization
The above measures have consequences that reflect on our social, economic, religious, and education life styles. It has affected the ways we go partying. It has reduced the way we can congregate as worshippers. The contacts we make as buyers and sellers are impeded. So not only religious organisations did suffer under the COVID 19 regime, airlines and transporters, schools, businesses are all the COVID 19 frontline victims. It led to a worldwide lockdown; that is still ongoing.

Now, bringing it down to our concern, Christianity was one of COVID 19 earliest victims. At its peak, many anti-Christian jibes were thrown at the Church. The question then was where is your God and His healing power? There emerged a neo-celebration of science and government. Healing could only come from science. The power to worship and congregate in whatever form was the prerogative of government. This was the new thinking.

1.2 SOCIAL MEDIA
The Social Media (SM) was the first beneficiary of the Social Distancing measure as antidote to such a communicable disease. The thinking is that we could do many things through this medium without being in contact with one another. Through the SM we could chat (audio, video, or written); we could congregate, etc. Consequently, people were encouraged to begin to rely on this platform to express their social experiences such as burial, birthday parties, visitations, schooling, watching sports, and church activities that include Sunday worships, etc.

One effect of the SM on the Church is such that many people now find it difficult to return to our sanctuaries for normal human worship. Now, it has also brought about a new awareness to the Church leadership. Is it possible for one to be a complete pastor if one cannot use the SM? If your Church is not SM friendly and compliant, can you really say you have a full, complete and acceptable Christian Church? These are not questions this discussion will directly attempt to answer. But let us quickly add that attempting to answer these questions challenged most pastors to embrace the SM as an essential part of their ministry call. So today, we can see the huge presence of many Churches and pastors on SM platforms.

1.3 CLERGY, CLERIC and CLERICALISM
Clergy: This is a special class of Christian leaders (reducing it usage to our audience). They constitute the leadership cadre of the Church. The Clergy is the driver of the visible Church, the body of Christ. The A Concise Dictionary of Theology defines it “as a collective term for ordained deacons, priests and bishops.”

A cleric is defined as “somebody who has received an ecclesial ministry entailing precise obligations and rights over and above those of lay persons. One becomes a cleric by receiving the diaconate [at the least].”

Clericalism is defined as “an effort by clergy to enhance their influence in non-ecclesial affairs; an approach to pastoral and theological problems that seeks to concentrate everything in the hands of the clergy.”

The above conceptual clarification is important to what we are discussing because a good number of us may slip into some forms of clericalism without knowing that we have crossed our bounds. This caution is being highlighted because we wish to note that the COVID 19 experience was also a challenge on the level of clericalism the Church could go. Its understanding helps in answering questions such as where is your God?

2.0 WHAT THE SOCIAL MEDIA ENTAILS
We come to this again because we consider it as the most essential aspect of our discussion here. The SM has become such a powerful platform that even governments worldwide and institutions cannot treat it with disdain. It is however easily used than understood as a concept. In other words, not many who use the SM really understand what it is conceptually. The SM is just part of the internet culture. It is not the internet. It only requires the internet for it to exist. The SM we are speaking about is virtual. Invariably we do have actual and physical SM. Like everything virtual we can only see and read whatever is hoisted on the SM platforms. This platform comes in the forms of our SMART PHONES and COMPUTERS.

So whereas we can determine where our legs can carry us to, we cannot determine what comes into our smart phones. We can determine who we want to talk to and visit. Yet, we cannot determine who calls us through our phones. All the latter needs is to have our phone numbers, email addresses, and to have the same social media platform as us. Curiously, we call our contacts in the SM platforms as FRIENDS immediately we have “accepted” them. In the actual world we know that many people to whom we are acquainted are actually not our friends, even though they may be our family members.

So there are a lot of misconceptions, misrepresentations and deceits in the world of SM compared to the real actual world. Except this difference is drawn and noted we may fall into errors of grossly overestimating the SM. Permit me to reproduce this very lucid explanation of the SM below:

Social media refers to the means of interactions among people in which they create, share, and/or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks. In most organisations, a SM UNIT OFFICE is set up under the Office of Communications and Public Relations to manage their platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and Vimeo accounts. An array of tools, including one-on-one consults with various human communities such as schools, churches, departments and offices looking to form or maintain an existing social media presence; to discuss social media goals and strategy, as well as offer insights and ideas exist..

As free and easy going as this procedure is, one must be sure to check with his organisation s communications office for any specific regulations or guidelines. The key Principles for Social Media Managers are:

• Social media is about conversations, community, connecting with the audience and building relationships. It is not just a broadcast channel or a sales and marketing tool.
• Authenticity, honesty and open dialogue are key. • Social media not only allows you to hear what people
say about you, but enables you to respond. Listen first, speak second.
• Be compelling, useful, relevant and engaging. Don’t be afraid to try new things, but think through your efforts before kicking them off.

3.0 TYPES AND CLASSIFICATION OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Again, we shall rely extensively on www for the classifications we have offered below. Popular Social Media Tools and Platforms may be listed as below:
• Blogs: A platform for casual dialogue and discussions on a specific topic or opinion.
• Facebook: The world s largest social network, with more than 1.55 billion monthly active users (as of the third quarter of 2015). Users create a personal profile, add other users as friends, and exchange messages, including status updates. Brands create pages and Facebook users can “like” brands’ pages.
• Twitter: A social networking/micro-blogging platform that allows groups and individuals to stay connected through the exchange of short status messages (140 character limit).
• YouTube & Vimeo: Video hosting and watching websites.
• Flickr: An image and video hosting website and online community. Photos can be shared on Facebook and Twitter and other social networking sites.
• Instagram: A free photo and video sharing app that allows users to apply digital filters, frames and special effects to their photos and then share them on a variety of social networking sites.
• Snapchat: A mobile app that lets users send photos and videos to friends or to their “story.” Snaps disappear after viewing or after 24 hours. Currently, we are not allowing individual departments to have Snapchat accounts, but asking that they contribute to the Tufts University account.
• LinkedIn Groups: A place where groups of professionals with similar areas of interest can share information and participate in conversations.
Apart from the above, there is also the tenfold classification of SM. According to Curtis Foreman “As a social media pro, you probably already use all the biggest social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) and media sharing sites (Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat), along with maybe a handful of others like Pinterest and Google Plus. But there s much more to social media than the top social media and media sharing networks.”
Beyond those social media juggernauts that people are using, there are many different types of social media to connect online for all kinds of reasons.

The Church and its clergy are not exempted. It may be grossly inadequate to categorize networks only based to their functional capabilities such as Twitter for short text content, YouTube for video, and so on. More networks add rich features like live-streaming and augmented reality. The lines between the feature sets of the platforms continue to blur and change faster than most people realise. Hence rather than categorizing of networks according to hyper-specific user interests or shifting technology features, a few experts group networks into 10 general categories that focus on what people hope to accomplish by using them. Thus:

1 Social networks—Connect with people
2 Media sharing networks—Share photos, videos, and other media
3 Discussion forums—Share news and ideas
4 Bookmarking and content curation networks—Discover, save, and share new content
5 Consumer review networks—Find and review businesses
6 Blogging and publishing networks—Publish content online
7 Interest-based networks—Share interests and hobbies
8 Social shopping networks—Shop online
9 Sharing economy networks—Trade goods and services
10 Anonymous social networks—Communicate anonymously

Knowing about these categories of social media and understanding why people use them can open up new ideas and channels for engaging with your audience more effectively.

4.0 THE CLERGY, SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE NEW NORMAL
What is today called the new normal can be argued to have been an unexpressed reality that has always been with us. We see people seat together as a family yet socially distanced from one another. What they share is perhaps physical closeness. They remain closer to those with whom they are chatting on their phones. Games are no longer outdoor or ludo-like. People prefer and do engage themselves in phone games, chats and experience sharing. Social distancing as a new normal was only amplified by the COVID 19 pandemic. The same can be said of the use of other forms of SM based networking.

4.1 THE PROBLEMS OF SOCIAL MEDIA
The ease with which the SM is accessed by all makes it difficult for anybody to gag it. Almost all SM platforms are a tab or a tap away from us so long as we have either the requisite android like phone or laptop. All one needs to do is to download the required apps so long as you have data or wifi. The truth is that we can say, show me the apps on your phone and I can tell you who you are.

1 Many have however seen great abuse and misuse of SM. It is therefore not surprising that people are suggesting control-measures in its use. This will surely come as many institutions are already doing so in order to protect their core values and corporate image as well as ensure staff discipline. This is important for us as clergy. We are successively witnessing even some of our colleagues take their doctrinal biases – ones they are unable to express in the actual world to the virtual world. This is a form of protest one may add. But they may call it right teaching!
2 There is the tendency, especially among youths, to “visit” and “access” ungodly sites that a Christian should not visit. This is possible because the relationships we share with our phones are like those we hold mentally as our thought. People are usually not permitted know the contents of our phones and other smart equipment. Our responsibility is to God in Christ Jesus and not to our fellow men.
3 With the SM the phenomena of cyber crime has become high. People have been bullied, duped, blackmailed, robbed, misinformed and mis-educated, etc using the SM.
Given the above, we can say the SM promotes ungodly conducts. Its threat to Christian teaching and catechumen is huge and real. It is a mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly of contemporary human culture.

4.2 THE INESCAPABILITY OF SOCIAL MEDIA?
The SM is nevertheless an inescapable tool for us today. You cannot say you will vacate the street on which you live and own a house because there is a hotel there. We all know the evil and immoralities that occur in hotels. Hotels are also useful for us, and are used decently by many people. The same can be said of the SM. Indeed, we can argue that more harm is done, and allowed by the pastor who is not using the SM. Parents should be encouraged to do so.

There is however a rider. Efficient use of the SM should be a consequence of our knowledge of the core values of the Church as well as its vision and mission. The Church is a religious institution set up to fulfil some purpose. This includes worship, evangelism, discipleship, fellowship and service. The Diocese s vision and mission are put in place to achieve these set goals.

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:1-3)
In these opening statements of the Acts of the Apostles, the author Luke summarised the task of the church. In my former book, The Gospel according to St Luke, I wrote the gospel or good news of Christ Jesus till He ascended into Heaven. Before the ascension, Jesus gave the leaders He selected (Apostles) instructions, they and those they are leading, should obey. He did this through the Holy Spirit. Following His passion, he proved to his followers that he is still alive or living with us.

4.3 ORGANISATIONAL GOALS AND THE SOCIAL MEDIA
No good and adequate use of the SM can be articulated by any organisation and those who drive its organisational goals except it conforms to, and harmonises with, the organisation s goals and core values. In the Diocese of Lagos West for example, we aspire and envision to being “the leading Diocese in the Church of Nigeria in preparing this Nation for the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We have a mission thus: “

? To ensure a sustained growth in the number of Churches and worshippers within the Diocese
? To continue to enhance the mode of worship, teach and preach the Word of God in all our Churches thereby creating worshippers for the kingdom of Heaven
? To assist every member in the understanding and practice of the 39 Article of Our Faith
? To develop and inspire in every Church the principle of self-sufficiency and Christian generosity, thereby ensuring a strong and viable Diocese
? To continue to promote peaceful and cordial relationship with other Dioceses, and in particular the Diocese of Lagos, in order to ensure the success of our common commitment.

We need to interface our use of the SM with the above core values of our Church. The questions we may ask is can the SM promote, propagate and enhance the above? If yes, how can we engage it in that direction? We may also notice that the above harmonises with Luke s summary in Act 1:1-3. But what SM platforms would enhance the clergy s duties more?

5.0 COVID 19 AND THE DUTIES OF THE CLERGY
The COVID 19 experience has proven that video sharing platform like Zoom, Facebook and YouTube were highly engaged for worship and meetings such as Bible Study and Parish Church Council meetings, Conferences and Seminars/Webinars. WhatsApp has proven to be useful for sharing messages, information, videos sharing and posters and other graphic matters. Not much of Twitter has been engaged by us. We need to do more. Almost all Dioceses and Diocesans, Parishes and Priests in the Western World have Twitter handles, they are on Facebook, and maintain Blogs for Mission Purpose.

The fact of for Mission Purpose should be emphased. We must not mix up our social media handles with our Christian Media. We therefore advocate that we replace the SM with the CM. If this is done we will be in the SM world but not of the SM world; because ours will be a truly CHRISTIAN MEDIA.

My experience as a Deputy Dean of Student Affairs at the University of Lagos suggests why I remain an advocate of the right use of the SM by adults and institutions. The recent youth protests (i.e #ENDSARS) has reinforced my position. Most of our youths no longer watch TVs and read newspaper the way we do. They get their news real time through platforms like Twitter and Instagram. We must accept this reality. We must go to seek and meet them there. If you don’t have a WhatsApp group for your immediate family members, I advice you do so.

I follow the Archbishop of Canterbury on Twitter @JustinWelby. He is currently driving prayer programme tagged #PrayForTheNation that is hosted by both Twitter and Facebook. It is a purely religious programme with the Archbishop s profile photograph wearing a clerical shirt and jacket. As far back as August 08, 2016 the University of Lagos had initiated her presence in the SM. Today the institution is visible on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. This has enhanced the promotion of her core values and goals as well as curtails cyber attacks. It has enable the institution to maintain cyber awareness on the SM. The Anglican News Service has @AnglicanNews; GAFCON Global Anglican has @gafconconference; Archbishop Foley Beach has @ArchbishopFoley; The Anglican Church of North America has @The_ACNA. Newspapers and Television houses, the Presidency and many more have all found spaces for themselves on the SM.

It is imperative therefore for institutions to be on social media networking platform; and to guide and regulate such. Universities now do so. The Information and Public Relation Departments of institutions such as the Church should have SM Units manned by trained experts. The Clergy should also be trained on how to engage the SM in the course of their clerical duties.

It will be wonderful if we, as well as encouraging our parishioners to do so, follow our Bishop on Twitter @BishopJamesOdedeji for His short daily prayers. This is possible if 100 priests are each tasked to write four prayers (140 character limit) to be sent to the administrator in charge of the Bishop s Twitter handle.

6.0 THE CHALLENGES OF SOCIAL MEDIA FOR THE CLERGY
The SM is the most distractive and infectious media anybody could think of. It is so addictive that a good number of people have lost precious time and opportunities due to SM addiction. It is today the hub for fake news. SM provides platform for drug addiction, pornography, flirting and fornication. It has made enormous contributions to crimes such as suicide, robbery, terrorism, blackmail, impersonation, frauds, etc.

Yet, given the governmental restrictions in the face of the COVID 19 pandemic, the Church relied on various social media platforms for its activities. The effect (positive and negative) is being felt today. It will be difficult to let go this reality. But it has its own danger.

The Diocesan made reference to one of such when he noted at the 2020 Diocese of Lagos West Harvest Thanksgiving service on August 29 that worshippers should be encouraged to return to attending Sunday Services physically. Accordingly, our Bishop quoted the Bible: “I was glad when they said unto me; we will go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1).

There cannot be an alternative to physical worshipping. Virtual worship cannot be actual worship. The theology of fellowship was never underplayed by Apostle Paul. His epistles were replete with his desire to visit the Churches in person if and whenever possible. For Paul, letters were only alternatives not replacement for physical presence. See for example Roman 15:29, 16:2; 1 Cor. 4:19-21, 7:5, 11:20, 33; 2 Cor. 12:14-21, 13:10; 1 Thes. 2: 8; 18, 1 Thes 3:6. Apostle Paul s benediction underscores the essentiality of physical FELLOWSHIP in the Church. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the FELLOWSHIP of the Holy Spirit be with us always.”

This fellowship talks of the “physical” spiritual presence of the Holy Spirit. I really cannot know if the Holy Spirit has SM Apps the way we have. I doubt if we can begin to use virtual bread and wine for communion, can we do virtual baptism, confirmation, weddings, harvest thanksgiving, etc.? These are only possible to the extent that objects can be monetised and the congregation perhaps equated with a passive watching audience.

7.0 CONCLUSION
To the extent that we had a terrible infectious pandemic which made the reliance on SM very useful, does not mean that we should say that our worship mode be open to options between actual vs. virtual. The SM should be seen to have served us well. Where we still find it useful should definitely be complementary part of our church s culture today. This may include:
- Small group and committee meetings like Marriage Counselling, Harvest Committee Meetings, and Bible Studies, etc may still be done alongside physical actual meetings.
- Sermons can be hoisted on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp, Blogs, etc. They cannot replace actual preaching during Sunday worship.
- Daily Prayers and short messages can be sent to members of our Church using the relevant SM platforms

I should actually suggest that the live streaming of Sunday Eucharist and Morning worship services should be discouraged. The Clergy should, for example begin to serve members of their immediate family – wife especially, with the same Cup at Communion; perhaps we may – if health protocols are met - begin to use one cup for those at the altar till it gets to all members of our communion who would have gained confidence and build their faith. In essence, we are arguing that we should, without undermining the COVID 19 health protocols, return to the CHURCH NORMAL.

We may conclude by noting that the view that the SM gives us unrestricted freedom to do whatever we like is wrong. Institutions now have social media regulations for staff. Football Clubs hold players accountable and responsible for their conducts on the SM. This is important for us as Clergy of the Anglican Communion. Whatever errors you may make on liturgical conducts during service being streamed live may be eternal misrepresentations of Anglicanism. We are successively watching various practices being hoisted by various clergymen and pastors as revival, deliverance, miracle services, etc. There seems to be vigorous and desperate attempts by us, and among us, to outdo each other in our SM presence. This should be guided and guarded with every form of safeguards before it becomes chaotic.

The SM does not forgive. It does not forget. It retains anything and everything given to it. Its contents can be recalled anytime and anywhere because it is hoisted on the internet. This point is being made to establish the huge damage any form of misrepresentation could cause the Church through unguarded use of the SM by us. Always ask:

- Am I authorised to issue statements on doctrinal matters by the Diocesan?
- Is what I am saying a true reflection of the Diocese s position?
- How is my SM activity enhancing core Christian values along with the vision and mission of the Diocese?

As stated earlier, people and organisations use SM platforms for various purposes. The table below may be adapted to fit our purpose. Some of the listed platforms may not fit into our vision and mission. Some may be useful for small groups like the Choir, Guild of Stewards, etc. A few may be permanent or ad hoc in existence. You are expected to figure out how each of them can benefit your Church and your ministry. Under the column of “remarks” you may state if the beneficiary is the entire Diocese or the Choir or evangelism, etc

A Work Chart on the Clergy Duties and SM Networking Platform Relevance
S/No Type of SM Examples Why People Use Them How it Benefits Your Church? Remarks 1 Social Networks Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn To connect with people (and brands) online 2 Media sharing networks Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube To find and share photos, video, live video, and other media online; 3 Discussion forums Reddit, Quora, Digg, WhatsApp To find, discuss, and share news, information, and opinions; 4 Bookmarking and content curation networks Pinterest, Flipboard To discover, save, share, and discuss new and trending content and media 5 Consumer review networks Yelp, Zomato, TripAdvisor To find, review, and share information about brands, products, and services, as well as restaurants, travel destinations, and more 6 Blogging and publishing networks WordPress, Tumblr, Medium To publish, discover, and comment on content online. 7 Social shopping networks Polyvore, Etsy, Fancy To spot trends, follow brands, share great finds, and make purchases. 8 Interest-based networks Goodreads, Houzz, Last.fm To connect with others around a shared interest or hobby. 9 sharing economy’ networks Airbnb, Uber, Taskrabbit To advertise, find, share, buy, sell, and trade products and services between peers. 10 Anonymous social networks Whisper, Ask.fm, After School To advertise, find, share, buy, sell, and trade products and services between peers. If we break into ten groups as above and attempt to adapt these SMs to our purpose, we may discover that not all may be useful; aspects of some may be of use or we may find some of our objectives better promoted by some SMs than others.

I wish to sincerely appreciate the listening time you have generously offered me.

My Lord and Father in God; that was my presentation!

Thank you.

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