When we talk about creating community online, I have to admit that the tagline to an ad from an internet financial services and information company comes to mind: “Turn to the Nerds.”
Now, I have many friends who would proudly declare themselves nerds of one form or another, so I am familiar with the idea of online community. They meet people in online games or in Facebook communities. They talk to their online team as they play a game, or comment about a topic that interests them which leads to a deeper discussion. Friendships form between people who have never met in person.
That can seem strange to those who are used to relationships formed in person. However, to those in these communities, these relationships are real and strong, and we can learn from them.
During the past several months, I participated in an online faith-sharing group that we hosted here at RENEW. Aside from Sister Terry, president of RENEW, there were two people in the group whom I knew in person. Yet, after our weeks of sharing, I feel connected to the other members of the group.
Each week we would log in a bit early and chat beforehand. I learned that one member’s wife and I went to the same college and, in fact, knew several people in common. We discovered common interests, learned about each other’s families, and, most importantly, grew in faith together.
The very definition of the word internet is: “a global computer network providing a variety of information and communication facilities, consisting of interconnected networks.” It is all about connections. Using this medium to help our parishioners form connections with each other and with our Church is a natural progression. While the message of the Church is eternal, the way we communicate that message must evolve as our communication forms evolve.
While creating community through online forums may be new to many of us, it is old hat to many and if we take our cue from them, we can continue to strengthen the bonds of community in our parishes, even in this time of social distancing.
Jennifer Bober is manager of marketing at RENEW International.