Using your cell phone in church is generally taboo.
But Church of England vicar Andrew Alden is making sure that his congregation gets the message – via Twitter.
“Abraham 123″ says a sign on the pillars of St Andrew’s Church in Weston-super-Mare, in the southwest of England. But rather than signifying the Bible reading of the day, it reveals the password to the church’s Wi-Fi network.
“Tweet Andrew During His Sermon,” says a message displayed on dozens of large computer screens suspended from the church ceiling, while cables and electronic consoles covering the floor.
And people do. Close to 600 tweets and 637 followers are on the vicar’s profile. He sends on average between five and 10 tweets a day, which often include psalms but can also be answers to questions put to him.
“You have to learn the language of the people you are trying to reach,” 46-year-old Alden told dpa in an interview.
“I call on people to tweet me during services,” he added. “Just like with note taking, people can summarize what my words mean to them and share it with the congregation.”
Alden, who was introduced to twitter and Facebook by his teenage son, says the technology he uses does not alter the message.
“Jesus was a creative communicator. He often used images to convey his message,” he said.
Alden said he wanted to create a platform to communicate with young people who “organize their social life via the social network.”
“Young people today are perfectly capable of doing their homework at the same time as listening to music and texting and instant messaging…For a growing number of people, the standard approach of one person standing up and preaching from a pulpit just doesn’t work any more,” he told the Daily Telegraph.
His aim is not only to fill the church, but also to make sure that 25 per cent of those attending his services are under the age of 25, 16 per cent are under 15, and 17 per cent come from non-British family backgrounds.
As it happens, not only the younger members of the congregation have caught the tweeting bug. The older generation are busy with their thumbs on the iPhone, too.
“The severe storms of life are reflected in our emotional turmoil and anxiety,” observes one tweeter.
“Learning to stay afloat is critical,” says another, commenting on the story of Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee.
After initially posting all tweets on the screens, Alden’s technical assistants have become more selective in their choices.
“I try to get a mixture, including a few jokey ones, but I try to choose only the ones that are going to enhance the debate,” tweet selector Mike Pimms told the Telegraph.
Amanda Thomas, an older member of the congregation, said: “Some people prefer to take notes; I prefer to tweet.”
A fellow church-goer, in his 30s, said that tweeting helped him to stay interested. “It means I stay with the sermon till the end.”