Diocesan clergy take to the interwebs

By Amanda Lauer | For The Compass | July 2, 2015

Faith leaders showcase using social media to evangelize

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]GREEN BAY — Like it or not, social media is here to stay. And according to Bishop David Ricken, if you want to be relevant to the current generation, you have to be in those places. That’s exactly what some priests in the Green Bay Diocese (and Bishop Ricken) are doing.

Bishop David Ricken sends out a tweet on his iPad in his office at the Chancery June 9. “We are called to be salt and light everywhere, and that means being on Twitter and other places, too,” said Bishop Ricken, whose Twitter handle is @BpDavidRicken. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)
Bishop David Ricken sends out a tweet on his iPad in his office at the Chancery June 9. “We are called to be salt and light everywhere, and that means being on Twitter and other places, too,” said Bishop Ricken, whose Twitter handle is @BpDavidRicken. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

Fr. Brian Wideman, 39, parochial vicar of Sacred Heart Parish, Appleton, was ordained in 2014. He admits to not being much of a social media user before. Now he posts his daily and Sunday homilies on his Facebook page under the name Fr. Brian Wideman and his blog, fromtheambo.blogspot.com.

“There were enough people who had seen my homilies on my personal Facebook page, and they seemed to like to be able to read them, so I thought that would be a good thing to do with my daily homilies,” Fr. Wideman said.

He said other people use social media more as an evangelizing tool, but it is not a substitute for interpersonal communication.

“Social media can be helpful, but it doesn’t ever replace the personal encounter that we have with Christ and others,” Fr. Wideman said. “So many people have their faces buried and their hands busy on their phones, so it’s almost like you have to put that out there because that’s where they are.

“So there is a value there for sure, but the effect we want to give through that social media is to bring people to that personal encounter, to basically get them off the social media a few minutes today and sit in prayer — connect with other people face-to-face,” he added.

For Fr. Dave Pleier, 64, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi, Manitowoc, joining the social media scene was more of a need than a want. “Everybody I know and love was doing it, and I didn’t want to be left behind.”

Fr. Pleier has a Facebook page under David J. Pleier. “Sometimes I use it for ordinary stuff and sometimes I have a message to share. I did a pilgrimage to Greece so I did some sharing of that,” he said. “I use it more to comment on things that other people have written. Sometimes it’s serious things like people who are sick or people who have died, and it’s an opportunity for me to reach out. It’s a way to find out where people are at, what’s going on.”

Parishioners connect with him through private messages on Facebook.

“I would hate to see social media become a complete substitution for face-to-face communication, but I think it’s an initial step, particularly for some people who are way too nervous to give me a call and say, ‘Can I come in and see you?’ It’s a little safer in their minds,” Fr. Pleier said.

As Catholic campus ministry director at UW-Oshkosh, Fr. Jason Blahnik, 35, is also actively involved in Facebook both through his personal page, FrJason Blahnik, and the UW-Oshkosh Newman Center page. He is known for the selfies he posts on the Newman Center page.

“We use that page for getting out the message of what’s happening at the Newman Center. It’s kind of a pre-evangelization,” Fr. Blahnik said. “We just get them in the door so they can grow in faith and community.”

According to Fr. Blahnik, the basis for bringing the Gospel to anybody is a relationship. “We’re in a different time where people aren’t as connected. Most people want the spirituality but they don’t see the need for organized religion. Just love them as a person, the person that is in front of you, that’s what Christ did.”

Like Pope Francis, Bishop David Ricken is an active presence on Twitter (@BpDavidRicken). “Social media is an important way that we communicate today, and it’s important to me that we as disciples are personally present in these digital places. We are called to be salt and light everywhere, and that means being on Twitter and other places, too,” Bishop Ricken said.

“My purpose in tweeting is close to my calling in life — to be a disciple of Jesus. And just as I share the joy and life that I have in Jesus Christ with others in person, I hope that I’m sharing it with others on Twitter,” Bishop Ricken said. “I use Twitter to connect with individuals in prayer, and every Sunday I try to post some sort of tweet inspired by that week’s Gospel.”

Fr. Blahnik noted that social media is a gift, a result of human ingenuity given by God. “We are called as Christians and especially as priests to engage our people in every way so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ enters into their life,” he said. “We need to use every means available to us — whether it’s Facebook or Twitter or if standing on a corner works, I (will) do that.”

As Social Communications director for the Diocese of Green Bay, Matthew Livingstone feels blessed to be part of the discussion of what it means to be a disciple in an increasingly digitally-connected world. “God will lead us as we seek to understand how to be disciples in this time and digitally-driven world,” Livingstone said.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_message color=”alert-info” style=”rounded”]Five social media tips

Matthew Livingstone, social communications director for the Diocese of Green Bay, offers pastors, parish leaders and others interested in social media these tips for social media success:

  • Start with prayer. “Always make prayer your top priority. Good relationships online and in person begin with a good relationship with God. Once we know how to relate and communicate with Jesus, then we’ll know better how to connect with others.”
  • Social media is about relationships. “You’ll be successful in social media to the extent that you are your God-given self. Be authentic, approachable and real, always. What works in person, works online. People can recognize authenticity and a true desire for positive connection, and appreciate this in the social networks.”
  • Do less, but do it better. “It’s better to start with one social network effort and post consistently than to be on several networks but not connect regularly.”
  • Ask your audience how they want to connect. “If social networks are about connecting with others, why don’t we ask others how they want to connect? We’ll find great insights if only we have the humility and courage to ask those we’re trying to reach. Take a survey of your parish, or simply ask around.
  • Ask for help. “Even the ‘experts’ are always learning, because the social networks are always changing. We can learn from one another and grow together in this ever-changing digital landscape. If a pastor or parish would like some help in doing this, I’m available to share social communications presentations and consultation, provided through the generous support of the Bishop’s Appeal.”

Parish leaders can contact Livingstone at (920) 272-8214 or [email protected].[/vc_message][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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