Reflecting on a "blogging" Lambeth

When Bishop Sue Moxley got back to Halifax after the Lambeth Conference, she was surprised at how popular her blog (online journal) had been. People in her diocese, particularly those under 35, were quite excited, and friends further afield, in Ireland and South Africa, had enjoyed keeping up. “Even when I went to get my hair cut, the hairdresser had been reading it!” she said.

Bishop Moxley was one of dozens of bishops who blogged during this once-a-decade meeting of all Anglican bishops in Canterbury, England. No one knows exactly how many of the 670 bishops in attendance were blogging. Some were linked officially to their provinces (the Episcopal Church had 8 official bloggers, for instance), but many more blogged from their diocesan websites, or independently. Most bloggers represented the Global north.

Canadians were certainly keen to blog: five Canadian bishops, including Bishop Moxley, wrote blogs, and at least two others sent email updates. One bishop’s spouse, Pauline Hoskin of Calgary, sent frequent email letters, and blogs were kept up by two General Synod staff, one Anglican Journal writer, a youth steward from Montreal, and a recording secretary on loan from the Diocese of Quebec. (Find their links at General Synod’s Lambeth hub.)

Bishop Moxley liked blogging so much she’s considering keeping one up full-time. “It was a good experience,” she said. “It meant that I had that time to reflect on what went on in that day.” During the busy conference schedule this meant blogging late at night, after others had gone to bed and before morning prayer at 6:30 a.m.

But what to blog about? Most bishops were writing to keep in touch with their dioceses and the details of the jam-packed conference were enough to keep them busy, including stories from the Eucharists, encounters with Archbishop Williams, and the best place to get a latte in Canterbury.

Some topics were more sensitive to blog about, however: not only the current tensions over homosexuality within the Anglican Communion, but personal details that bishops shared in discussion, including stories of persecution in their home countries.

“There was an agreement in my Bible study and indaba [mid-sized discussion] group that people would not share stories that people said could not be shared,” said Bishop Moxley. She also said she trod carefully around more volatile topics: “My strategy was to have [my blog audience] get a sense of what the day was like and the kind of topics we were dealing with, rather than give my own viewpoint on what should and should not have been said.”

Lambeth bound up with the web

This potential for instantaneous Internet communications dramatically shaped Lambeth 2008. Before, during, and after the conference, Lambeth news and opinion could be found all over the Internet, produced by official church bodies, independent news sources, and interested individuals and organizations.

This information appeared in a variety of forms. For example, the official Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS) produced a “Lambeth Daily” with news storiesaudio featuresa video journal, photos from the day, and lots of other textual content, including prayers and cartoons from official cartoonist Dave Walker.

“It’s a whole new enterprise from 10 years ago,” said Archdeacon Paul Feheley, the Primate’s principal secretary, who worked as a member of the 2008 Lambeth’s external communications team. On their core team of 19 (not including the helpful part-time diocesan representatives) four people worked specifically on the website and six took photographs, many of which were shared online.

The team was also also kept busy with the blogging bishops. They hosted two sessions for bishops, where they discussed confidentiality issues and equipped first-time bloggers. “Blogs were an extremely good thing to have,” said Archdeacon Feheley. “They helped get the story of Lambeth directly from the bishops.”

At Lambeth 1998, the Internet was a relatively new medium and the technology issues were very different. The conference’s “Telecommunications Team” was excited about sharing ACNS’s Lambeth updates by email and on the website for the first time.

The 1998 conference was also a time to educate bishops about the Internet’s potential to enhance ministry. The Telecommunications Team offered to set up websites for all provinces, gave demonstrations of online resources, and set up email addresses for all bishops. In the designated “E-mail Centre” bishops could use electronic mail with the help of attendants.

Also in 1998, the conference saw how the Internet could be used to critique or lampoon. When Lambeth launched a merchandise website selling branded t-shirts and mitre-and-crook ties, a Canadian known as “George” launched a spoof version. The same merchandise appeared, but with a British pound sign in the middle of the compass rose emblem. This satire seems tame compared to many of the websites and blogs that have published criticism and condemnation of Lambeth 2008.

Our “Star Trekky” future?

Since Lambeth conferences are 10 years apart, there are bound to be huge leaps in technology before the next one. It’s difficult for conference organizers to predict what their Internet presence and strategy will be like until closer to the 2018 meeting.

Archdeacon Feheley shies away from an official prediction for 2018, although he does muse about “something kind of Star Trekky, where bishops appear on web cams instantly talking to their dioceses.”

Back in 1998, Lambeth website manager John Rollins made his own prediction in the Church Times: “One thing I’m sure of, though [for Lambeth 2008], all those study documents and reports just won’t have to be typed in. People will just read them out, and the words will appear on the screen.”

We have both of these technologies already, but the question is what will be useful and feasible for Lambeth 2018?

This writer is hoping for transporter technology (“Beam me into the chancel Scottie”) and a couple of holograms. We will have to wait and see.

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