Monday, February 27, 2012

Guest post: Laura Sykes on running an online house group

This blog has never had a guest post before. So it's really, utterly lovely to have the first ever guest post written by Laura Sykes, editor of Lay Anglicana - the unofficial voice of the laity throughout the Anglican Communion. As an Anglican who occasionally worries that the dog collars tend to get all the say on Church stuff, I think Lay Anglicana is fab. Nuff said.

Anyway, I've been doing some writing and thinking lately on social media and the Church, particularly from a spirituality perspective and I have been particularly taken with the idea of online house groups (not 'virtual house groups' - online is as real as offline). The fabulous Bex Lewis told me that Laura was setting up an online Lent group, using the Big Read 2012 resources.

So last week I dropped Laura a line asking her how it was going and what her reflections on the process were. That convo turned into this guest blog: take it away, Laura!

I started the website Lay Anglicana in November 2010 to provide a forum for Anglican laity worldwide. So far, most of our exchanges have been within the UK and with the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, but in all we have had just under 17,000 visits from 7,000 people in 118 countries. The main restriction on worldwide use is of course the language, which is English.

We have thus started on the road leading to the ambitious target I set – a cyberspace where all English-speaking Anglicans around the world could exchange news and views from the pews. Almost all other religious sites are run by churches and clergy, in other words from the top down. I wanted somewhere those in the nave (Anglicans making a great distinction between the nave and the chancel!) could talk amongst themselves.

We are not as exclusive as that may make us sound. We have lay people from other denominations who have joined our community, as well as Anglican clergy – and indeed now one ‘pastor’. I would not like to say we are the opposite of ‘Thinking Anglicans’ but it is more relaxed and, dare I say, convivial!

Since attending the CNMAC 11, I have got to know Bex Lewis and Pete Phillips of CODEC, hence I became interested in ‘The Big Read’ and in particular the proposal that as many house groups as possible should join in the study of Mark’s gospel during Lent, all using Tom Wright’s exegesis. My ‘offline’ house group had different plans, so I thought it might make sense to use the Lay Anglicana forum to discuss the book at the same time as everyone else. In practical terms, we have been enormously helped by SPCK and 12Baskets in making Tom Wright’s text available to copy to the forum. Lots of podcasts are on offer from the main website, as is support and fellowship. I regard it as an online house group.

This is only our second day, but I have already been approached by people from as far afield as New York and China who say they may contribute, but in any case are going to ‘hover’ over the discussions. I don’t mind this at all – some people are shy of joining in this sort of thing, but the hope is that real bonds of friendship will be formed. Assuming that people do actually take part, I have little doubt from my own experience that that will happen. In the last eighteen months, my life has been enormously enriched, and my faith strengthened, by the people that I have met online (many of whom I have gone on to meet offline as well).

I find it an immensely appealing idea that all over the world in different time zones are people reading the same verses of the same gospel and discussing them amongst each other and with people of other nations. (My degree was in International Relations, and I have lived all over the world as first the daughter and then the wife of diplomats, so I suppose that is why I am still a little dewey-eyed about ‘hands across the sea’ and the Anglican Communion).

Laura Sykes

1 comment:

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you, Anna, for including this on your blog. I had no idea this would make me your first guest blog post, but I am thrilled and delighted to be able to claim this honour.

I hope as many people as possible will join in - I call this online group transient, permeable and temporary, so please do not be put off by the fact that you are not lay, Anglican, or both. Everybody who is interested in the gospel of Mark is very welcome. Why not have a look at today's reading, with Tom Wright's commentary, at