Getting #Married: an interview with Meredith Gould (@MeredithGould)

by Elizabeth Cunningham
Getting #Married: Using Social Media to Celebrate the Sacred

I am honored to be interviewing the SWGOTU (Supreme Word Goddess of the Universe), SMQ (social media queen), prolific author, Abbess of @Virtual_Abbey and newlywed Meredith Gould about her latest book Getting #Married: Using Social Media to Celebrate the Sacred.

Unlike thousands of her Twitter followers, I did not meet Meredith (@MeredithGould) through social media but via 20th century technology, email, when she wrote me about Maeve. I quickly became a subscriber to her thoughtful and witty blog More Meredith Gould. When I finally ventured into Twitterworld and Bloglandia, Meredith was welcoming and generous with practical help and advice.

Meredith and her husband The Reverend Canon Dan Webster shared their journey to the altar with friends and followers in several forms of social media culminating in the live streaming of their joyous wedding to which we were all invited. You better believe I was there, dabbing my eyes and joining others in sending heartfelt tweets that are now part of Dan and Meredith’s recorded history.

Hot off the press, Getting #Married is a thoughtful, informative guide for couples who might want to incorporate social media in both the preparation and celebration of their own weddings. Welcome, Meredith!

1) Sometimes social media strikes me more like parallel play, as when two toddlers play side-by- side but have limited interaction. You are actively involved in a number long-term, close-knit of communities. Can you tell us about your experience of building community and friendship through social media?

Building community and friendship is essentially the same online as in “real life” (IRL). It takes willingness, ability, and commitment to generate and then continue communication. In my case, I also bring a seemingly endless ability to multi-task and write short copy!

As a sociologist I was fascinated by the role social media could play in creating and sustaining community. I started out on Twitter by following church communications folks because The Word Made Fresh had just been published. But because I also create healthcare content, I got involved with the #hcsm (healthcare social media) and #hpm (hospice and palliative medicine) communities.

I can now say without (my usual) exaggeration that many of my dearest friends and most of my valued colleagues have come into my life via Twitter. LinkedIn is a close second. I use Facebook to stay in touch with high school friends. My favorite social media tool is Twitter, which I experience as an ongoing dinner party with smart, clever people. It’s also my go-to resource for news and information…and prayer.

2) One of the online communities I find most accessible is @Virtual_Abbey where Compline is prayed in tweets (140 characters). You have referred to this open, ecumenical community as “church beyond church-the-building.” Could you speak about the significance of this church and how relates to your wedding and weddings in general?

I believe @Virtual_Abbey demonstrates how the Body of Christ (aka, church) need not be limited to a physical space. A review of the RTs (re-tweets) on any given evening reveals attendance by people all over the world. Many of the “regulars” chat in between times of prayer and reach out to one another via back channels (e.g., direct messages, email) to request and receive support.

My experience with this community is, in large part, what prompted me to use social media to make our wedding more accessible. As I note in Getting #Married, web-based tools make it possible to restore the sacrament of marriage to its status as a public celebration.

As it turned out, most of our current prayer team attended our wedding IRL, with Virtual Abbey founder, Raima Larter, serving as a chalicist and our virtual Music Director, Rob Passow, serving as Cantor. Even more delightful? Most were meeting one another IRL for the first time and years of shared prayer made that happen seamlessly.

3) Your guide to available media goes beyond Twitter and Facebook to YouTube, various programs for sharing slides and photos, tools and websites to make planning more efficient. And you note that most these services are of low or no cost and you can do much your planning while wearing fluffy slippers and sipping tea! Do you have any special words of encouragement and comfort for those who are interested but (like me) technologically timid?

Get friendly with twelve year olds? Six year olds? I hope it’s of some consolation that I wasn’t always gung-ho about this stuff and slow to adopt computers. I had to get over my fear of irreparably breaking something. I was not keen on the ego-deflating experience of feeling stupid. Learning the difference between hardware and software helped, as did seeking help. 

I encourage the techno-timid to watch online tutorials, then read and follow instructions. If that feels overwhelming, then I recommend finding (or hiring) a tutor. Years ago, I was blessed to have a dear, tech-savvy friend talk me through setting up my blog. One of the first things she taught me was how to “un-do” what I feared were fatal bloopers. Very comforting.

Trite but true advice: Just do it, don’t worry about breaking anything, view these tools ways to support creativity. Don’t let fear get in the way of fun.

4) You note that although your vows were public, Holy Communion felt too intimate to live stream. With this explosion of social media in our culture, the distinctions between public and private space and interaction are being redefined and sometimes just plain lost. Could you tell us a little about your discernment process?

Relative to sacred and secular matters, my discernment process always involves asking, “Will this enhance my relationship with God or will this distract me from my relationship with God?”

Although we are called as a community to the table of the Lord, I’ve always experienced Holy Communion as an intensely personal and somewhat private encounter, even when I’m the one distributing Eucharist.

Fortunately, Dan and I agreed about maintaining a zone of personal privacy within the public sacrament of Communion. As a practical matter, we couldn’t imagine online guests wanting to watch onsite guests receive Communion. Even more to the point was the fact that Holy Matrimony is what guests – online and onsite – were invited to witness, so we wanted to zoom in on that. 

Thank you so much, Meredith, for sharing so generously with so many. Readers, even if you are not getting married, Getting #Married is an excellent guide to social media and community building.  Congratulations, Meredith and right on, write on!

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