Start the clock
OUR attention span is now about eight seconds, Laura Treneer, a passionate Christian communicator, says (speak for yourself, madam), which doesn’t bode well for the rest of this column; but that statistic, which she gleaned from Microsoft, should not excuse parishes from plunging into social media, she says.
Eight seconds of attention seems excessive for most Facebook posts; and as for Twitter — a “tweet” still speaks to me of birds in the garden: it’s good that they’ve survived the cats, but I’m not asking their opinion (or wanting a real-time narrative of life and opinions in the parish office, come to that).
As for the other digital fora and flora — choose carefully. That is one of Treneer’s messages, since you could be wasting your time unless you have “focus”, like “One church in Eastbourne [who] set up a Twitter account because they felt they should. No one in the church is on Twitter — so they’re now considering using it solely to attract students and to connect with local businesses that want to use the hall.”
For more such advice, including basic commandments (”Don’t attack people. . . Don’t spread lies. . . Don’t spread rubbish”), her book is Church Online: Social media* in the new Reach Out series on church communications from the Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF). Three other volumes cover, respectively, websites; displays, noticeboards, invitations, and PR (which doesn’t seem to include relations with the religious press); and welcome, news-sheets, magazines, and stories.
Each is 10.5 × 14.5 cm with about 100 pages of shiny paper and a fount that looks like Gill Sans Light; so sustained attention is made needlessly hard work. One decent-size paperback, cheaper paper, more illustrations, and a readable serif typeface (with a san-serif one for contrast) would be my communications advice — for what it’s worth.
*978-0-85746-557-3, for £3.99 (CT Bookshop £3.60), as are the others: Church Online: Websites (978-0-85746-552-8); Church from the Outside (978-0-85746-553-5); and Church from the Inside (978-0-85746-554-2).
Sing as we go
NOT enough people, it is reported, are taking a health-boosting ten-minute walk. That cannot, surely, be true of the people of All Saints’, Margaret Street, in London.
Not, at any rate, on 15 August, when, to my surprise — perhaps I hadn’t been paying enough attention to social media — I found them going out for the feast of the Assumption into the highways and hedges of Oxford Street with a statue of Our Lady of Walsingham.
The image was borne aloft in a blue-painted portable shrine, for which there is probably another term. A member of the congregation, who may well not have been its designated PR person, told me that it had been borrowed from St Magnus the Martyr in the City. The congregation was reassuringly large, there were plenty of clergy, properly attired, the singing was well supported, with drum and brass, and most of the hymns had well-known tunes — though I wasn’t familiar with all the words.
Whether the walk was brisk enough to qualify under NHS guidelines, I don’t know; but if you sing as you go, like Gracie Fields, that may double the health benefits.
It certainly gained attention from the Tuesday-night crowds in the shopping street that I still think of as a place to see and be seen, even though the “Less Protein for Less Lust” man, who paraded up and down it for a third of his lifetime, peddling his little booklets, is long gone (and his cause fares as badly as ever in those parts).
The All Saints’ banner “For God and for the Church”, with the leaflets that were handed out, may have helped to explain that it was a C of E church behaving in this extrovert Continental fashion. Nature abhors a vacuum, and, if the Protein man now has more dogmatic successors (turn east out of Oxford Circus station for the most popular spot for a conventicle), what a pleasure to find Fr Moses and his flock entering the fray.
PERHAPS it was the effect of watching A. N. Wilson’s BBC documentary Return to Betjemanland for the first time when it was repeated last month that decided me, after decades of living close to the Underground, to go at last to Pinner.
The programme had, at the time, put me in a mood of nostalgia — not for Middlesex and Metroland, but at seeing again my first boss at the Church Times, John Whale, interviewing Betjeman for ITN in the 1960s — and sounding even more well-bred than he did in his latter years — about the eventually unsuccessful campaign to save the Euston Arch. This was a monumental neo-classical gateway that stood in front of the old Euston Station — and in the way of progress, according to the modernist canons of that decade.
But something else must have entered my mind, and, in due course, the sun being out, though the day far gone, Pinner suddenly seemed a manageable and inviting destination; for, if it disappointed, I could soon get back on the Metropolitan line to other untasted delights of Northwood Hills or Rickmansworth.
I’m happy to tell you that Pinner, associated with idyllic art deco London Transport images, still had its prosperous village feel, with an exhibition in the church hall of artwork by the Pinner Sketch Club (which I avoided as too socially demanding) and an open church with a well-stocked and methodically organised parish library (the diaries of Fr Victor Stock? — well, I was on holiday).
Pinner has somewhere to get a cup of coffee, and a picturesque Arts and Crafts police station that must feature in one of Betjeman’s own documentaries. It was worth the tube fare.
BREXIT or the Brexodus, there is no getting away from European issues; and N. J. Inkley, of Walton-le-Dale, Lancashire, found another avenue for the debate while listening to the Daily Service recently. The reading was the marriage at Cana; and the capacity of the water-pots was given in litres.
”Whilst I do not have a very clear picture of the dimension of a firkin, I do feel that the use of the word gives a ring of authenticity to the account which ‘litres’ does not,” he writes.
Indeed — though I would suggest that it is the not knowing exactly what a firkin is, not the firkin itself, which makes all the difference.