It obviously depends on what kind of ministry we have, whether in my kind of situation or where the minister or priest is in charge of a parish and is occupied with normal pastoral work. Blogging is a ministry of the word – of preaching, teaching and education. It is sometimes not easy to avoid polemics and unkindness, but we should remember first of all that we are writing for real people. This is not a computer game where we can simulate killing people and suffer no legal consequences. We have pastoral responsibilities, and I have sinned as much as any other in this respect.
The first requisite for doing a blog is knowing how to express ourselves in writing. Many people have given up reading, let alone writing. Someone trained for the ministry of a church is generally literate and cultivated. Some of us have been to university where we are expected to write essays, more extended researched works and prepare seminars. I am lucky to have enjoyed writing as a schoolboy and to have had a good schoolmaster (yes, he used the slipper!) who didn’t allow the least error of grammar or spelling to escape. If I got bad reports in many things, writing English wasn’t one of them. The use of language is a gift. Like music, we can learn technique, but underneath we have it or we don’t. Simply, not everyone is called to be a writer. I wasn’t called to be an engineer or many other occupations. Each to his own job! This is why I wouldn’t recommend blogging for all ministers and priests, just those who express themselves well and enjoy writing.
I too recommend that articles should generally be brief. Any kind of written work needs planning. Generally one chooses a subject, a “state of the question”, a historical or systematic approach, and finally a section where the writer wishes to add his contribution and speculations. That is when we want to write more formally. Pieces of music have form, especially from the classical era (Mozart for example). Styles of writing also follow the same cultural roots as schools of music. Form in writing is a result of clear thought and planning. With some of us, the “planning” is intuitive, in the same way as the spatial perception needed for navigation at sea without modern electronic instruments.
Another thing we should decide is whether our blog is personal. It doesn’t engage the ecclesial body to which we are affiliated as priests or ministers. As I have found by experience, we should be careful about representing our Church. These are things to discuss at length with our Diocesan Bishop and the Metropolitan Archbishop, and to try to get the thing going with their official recommendation and some intellectual heavyweights on the job.
Communication is essential, but is a double-edged sword. People can answer back! We become accountable, even to those who are not always very kind.
The blog as a pastoral tool has its limits, because the relationship between the priest and a Christian soul is highly confidential. We can use e-mail and Skype when physical presence is impossible because of distance. It can’t be a “confessional”, but the blog can be an excellent “pulpit” and “professor’s chair”. Outreach ministry? Well, the blog certainly lets people know you are there. In America, it can bring seekers to get in their cars and come to services. Not so much in Europe. But, my objective is not to “fill empty pews” or look for “customers” as I do with my translating business, but to be of service. Some priests publish sermons on their blogs. Personally, I don’t. I occasionally give a little liturgical catechesis but that is all. Frankly, I usually find online sermons quite boring, and I don’t feel it to be my role to “preach” on the blog. That’s just the way I am with no reflection on anyone else.
I can’t overemphasise the importance of having one or several central themes that keep the blog coherent. This blog is somewhat diverse, as I can afford to be as this is a personal blog. My central theme is classical northern European Catholicism and the pre-Reformation English traditions. From there, I expand into my various more or less related sub-themes and my non-religious hobbies like sailing. However diverse subjects are, keep a golden line that underlies the entire blog and keeps it cohesive and a product of your unique personality.
I became fairly well-known through my brief participation in The Anglo-Catholic blog in its heyday from late 2009 to the summer of 2010. This was a very widely read blog, which after the Ordinariate movement was completely resolved and instituted, went into a long hiatus. It may yet pick up again and find new blood. It was a good blog, and gave me precious experience. I wasn’t the captain of that particular ship. It was enough to be one of the officers.
Another thing to watch out for is burn-out because of being over-sensitive to comments from mean and nasty people. Any of us with a democratic instinct is tempted to allow freedom of speech to all. Try it and those nasty, provocative or mean-spirited people will ruin your blog, just as surely as if you let in all the spam that tries to mimic legitimate comments. In medio stat virtus. We have to learn to manage comments, moderating as little as possible, yet keeping up the quality of the blog. WordPress has administrator options for moderating e-mail addresses so that we have a choice with those commenters who are getting on our nerves. In the end, remember that your blog is your blog. It is like your home – you let in those who are respectful guests and who keep control over what they write.
Also, posts can be written in too much haste. For me, a post going wrong should never be published. It “runs out of steam”. I have sometimes published a bad post and have needed to take it down (my own conscience or a quiet e-mail from someone), and that is embarrassing. If in doubt, don’t publish. Keep it in your draft section on the blog or on your hard disk. The night brings counsel, and we can save ourselves regrets by not publishing. What’s a bit of writing gone sour? Get rid of it and wait for a better time to write. We all get episodes of Writer’s Block. Mine can last for up to a week or so. Just don’t worry about it. Do other things and your hobbies when you’re not working – and it will come back. We don’t write for the sake of writing, but to say something.
I don’t recommend blogging for all, but it can be immensely rewarding if we love writing. Comments and private e-mails are most welcome.