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Cyber-Savvy Pastors Blog When the Spirit Moves Them
"First of all, half the coffee came flying out instantaneously," Batterson wrote. "And it all came right back in the car. It splattered on my face, on my shirt, and in my lap! . . . Hopefully that makes you feel better about you."
Many of the pastors' blog posts revolve around a religious lesson. Entries sometimes include Bible passages or mini-sermons as well as song lyrics, links to articles or other blogs and personal anecdotes that contain a message about how the bloggers think people should live their lives.
"Today, I ran into a family that [my wife] and I met ONE YEAR AGO in Reston Town Center . . . and struck up a new friendship that will bring good things," Arment wrote in a recent post about the importance of spreading the Gospel to "unchurched" friends and strangers. "This is such a great reminder to be patient and wait on God to work in people's lives."
Centreville Presbyterian Church Associate Pastor Neil Craigan said he views his blog as a chance to get people thinking about faith daily, sometimes in untraditional ways. Entries on his blog, "Broken Bonds Loosed Chains: The Musings of a Devoted Follower of Jesus Christ," often include song lyrics from U2 or Bruce Springsteen. Craigan believes rock-and-roll songs raise questions for Christians to consider; he recently posted the lyrics of the U2 song "Grace" to prompt people to think about the role of God's grace in the world.
"There is still something in our secular culture that recognizes the role of a spiritual leader," Craigan said. "I'm in a position to raise important questions, and blogging is a tremendous way to do that."
Bailey said building a successful blog is not as easy as posting church newsletters and Sunday sermons under a clever domain name.
"The most common temptation is when you don't know what to write about, and you see that bulletin sitting on your desk," he said. "People are not interested in blogs that are PR announcements. It needs to be the personal voice of an individual."
Several churchgoers said blogs are a fairly natural fit at "new paradigm" churches such as History Church and National Community Church, where one of the 12 core values is "everything is an experiment" and 75 percent of the 900 members are single and in their twenties. Several Catholic and mainline Protestant ministers said their blogs do not blend in as seamlessly within their more traditional congregations.
The Rev. James A. Tucker, a parochial vicar at Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church in Woodbridge, said his blog "Dappled Things" contains stories that he hopes provide spiritual lessons, but he tries to distance it from his official role as a parish priest. The site, which mixes daily homilies with discussions of new science fiction books, identifies Tucker as a Catholic priest in Northern Virginia but does not mention the name of his church. Only a handful of his 1,000 daily blog visitors are members of Our Lady of Angels, he said.
"I do think a lot of people keep their blog as a way to evangelize, but when I put mine up, it was specifically not to do that," he said. "This is personal, not professional, for me."
Both Tucker and the Rev. Richard A. Lord, rector of the Church of the Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Vienna, said their congregational ministries benefit from their blogs' roles as portals connecting them with other ministers.
"I'm constantly trying to help people understand that this is ministry for me," Lord said. "It's virtual preaching, really," he said of his blog, "World of Your Making."
Unlike standing in the pulpit, virtual preaching allows pastor-bloggers to reach people from all over the world, they say. "John Wesley [a prominent 18th-century evangelist] had to travel 250,000 miles on horseback to reach people, and I can do it with one click of the mouse," Batterson said.
The Rev. Jan Edmiston, pastor of Fairlington Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, said the historical analogy is apt because the blogging phenomenon is part of a larger shift in the way religion is practiced -- although she is unsure what form that change might take. She now devotes every other Monday to "monastery day," when she sits in a coffee shop reflecting on the state of the church and expressing her thoughts on her blog, "A Church for Starving Artists."
"I'm doing the things you would do in a monastery except with a cup of coffee and my laptop," she said. "It's completely spiritually energizing in ways a lot of people wouldn't think possible. I think the church is going through a transformation similar to the Reformation, and blogging helps me work through where I fit into that."