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Interview: Dean Aaron Roberts Winner, Young Blogger of the Year Award

28 November 2014

'People can forget that behind every computer screen is a person who has feelings'

The Blogger of the Year award is a recognition of the efforts of those who are engaging with Christian faith online. It's part of what it means to go into all the world and make disciples.

THE award was given by Premier Media, a big Christian media company in the UK. I felt so honoured and encouraged to win.

My blog is a place to discuss theology and current affairs. It's a personal blog, hence no snazzy title, just DeanRoberts.net; so other things creep in to the blog from time to time - personal anecdotes, news, etc. But it's mostly a theology and current-affairs comment blog, where I'm open to dialoguing with others, learning from them, and appreciating other viewpoints.

I'm passionate about blogging as a tool to encourage discipleship, and I'm not afraid to tackle the hot potatoes that the Church has to deal with. Same-sex marriage in church and women in ministry are two. It's very hard when people speak of these in the same breath as if they were the same sort of issue. As far as the Church in Wales goes, there's exploring how to grow the Church through the empowerment of lay people, which is a problem for people with a high theology of sacramental worship.

People speak with conviction online. The problem is when people don't like to agree to disagree. We can't change each other's views.

I started my blog as a theology student at Cardiff University. I wanted somewhere to jot down my thoughts and opinions - like a digital version of thinking out loud, but documented and shared, so that other people could join in, with a chance to formulate their ideas, too. Since then, the blog has evolved, adapted, and changed, and will continue as I progress in my ordination training, ministry, and formation.

Initially, my blog readership were people I knew; but, after a while, the readership diversified and grew. These days, my main audience is from the UK and the States, of varying church backgrounds or none, or from other religions, and of different ages. It's a regular readership from 136 countries around the world.

It's usually through Twitter where the discussion continues. People have to think what they want to say because they don't have many words to say it in, but that itself can be a problem: you need a lot of interaction to get to understand what they are saying. And I get a lot of emails from people who want to dialogue with me but not in public.

I don't blog for as long as I used to: now maybe four or five hours a week. We're blessed with lots of countryside around here, and that's an incentive to get out. It's important to have a life outside a computer screen, and I have my studies, and it's important for us to have time for each other and for friends. It's also important that we don't become an individualistic society and indulge ourselves online.

And I'm training in context. I'm training on the job to be a vicar; so I commute over from South Wales to Trinity College, Bristol, three days a week. Monday's a study day, and Saturday is a day off, and the rest of the time I'm working in the parish. The job informs the learning, and the learning informs the job, training like a nurse or teacher would.

Formation isn't meant to be easy. It's meant to be exposing: it's supposed to take you apart and put you back together. It's challenging but good. We're not left on our own, though: I have the rector and the ministry team. I think it's a good method of training, and will only increase in popularity in the Anglican Church. You don't lose much if it's done properly. I still have a college life, though it's not residential. It takes more discipline to keep a regular pattern of prayer and worship, but I think the net result is a positive thing.

If you're a blogger, it's important to read other blogs. There is such thing as a blogging community, and quite often we write blog posts in response to other people, and vice versa. I look for simplicity and meaning. I want to get to know someone when I'm reading a blog, and understand what they believe; I want to take something away with me.

It's wonderful when people read what you have to say, and engage with it. But people can easily forget that behind every computer screen is a person who has feelings.

I had a career in sales within a telecommunications company, and then worked for my church for a three-and-a-half years, before being recommended for training.

Music has been pretty key to the growing of my relationship with Jesus. I've learnt most of what I know about the Bible through hymns and worship songs. I play the piano and a bit of organ. I also feel that my prayer life has improved through music. I think it will be important to my ministry. God can use music to speak to us in profound ways.

I grew up in Wrexham, North Wales. I have one sister who belongs to my mum and my dad, but I also have lots of other brothers and sisters as a result of my dad's remarriage and my mum and her partner.

Life was hard, growing up. I lived with my mum and stepfather, and suffered terrible physical and emotional abuse as a child at their hands. It was when I was 11, after an awful experience, that I heard a voice inside my head telling me to jump out of my bedroom window, and run. I thought I was suicidal, but I jumped out and ran anyway, and my dad was waiting for me at the end of the road.

After that experience, I came to the conclusion that the voice was God providing me with the courage and opportunity to escape. I started to discover who Jesus was and why he came, and eventually I put my trust in him.

I love walking and socialising. Megs and I love having people round. I think it's important for us, but especially for me, as ministry can be quite lonely; so we make the effort and time to see friends. We have a dog called Taliesin, and a cat called Eira at home. I think I'm happiest when I'm with others in good company.

My passport ran out when I was a student, and I haven't bothered to renew it. But we've found that Britain has so many lovely places to visit; so we try and go away as often as possible for a few days to explore different parts of the country. I'd highly recommend doing this. Going abroad is overrated.

What last made me angry - and still makes me angry - is that we're living in a consumerist, individualistic society that's only concerned with self; yet people are so unhappy living in it. Worse still, the Church has got caught up in it.

My grandparents have had a massive influence in my life. They helped me understand more about faith, and encouraged me as a Christian. There have been loads of older people in my churches who have been like spiritual mums and dads to me. So I'm really passionate about church being a family, and that younger people are encouraged to learn from the older ones.

The work of Soul Survivor and Momentum, a youth and young- adults Christian festival run by Mike Pilavachi and Andy Croft and their team, has influenced me in more ways than I can imagine. God's used that ministry in amazing ways: it's one of the main reasons why people my age are in church today.

I have to read a lot of books. The works of C. S. Lewis have really inspired me, but also reading You Can Make a Difference by Tony Campolo when I was 14. It really excited me about serving God and not just having some shallow belief in Jesus.

I pray most often "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" - or some variation of the same. At Trinity College, Bristol, we try and live as if the Kingdom were fully revealed in the present. Massively challenging, as no one can really comprehend what that should look like, and we won't find out the answer until heaven. I think it's mostly about recognising Jesus's rightful place in our lives. It also means we are called into community, but what does it truly mean to be the body of Christ? Being at Trinity is helping me work that one out. It's a simple yet huge prayer.

If I could be locked in a church with a fictional character, I would choose the Dowager Countess of Grantham from Downton Abbey. She's a great laugh, but has some very wise advice to give. If it's a real person, it would be someone like John Wesley or C. S. Lewis: Wesley for his desire to bring renewal to the Anglican Church, and Lewis for his way with words, and excellent apologetic skills.

Dean Roberts was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

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