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Lay Anglicana: The Next Generation

I have just had one of those conversations with our webmaster, James Briggs, which turn out to be life-changing. All right, let’s not exaggerate, website-changing.

When we started this website in October 2010, it was still true that the way most people exchanged views and information online was via chat forums. With hindsight, the focus was already beginnng to move to social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, but hindsight was not available to us as a tool at the time. It was decided to start with a forum. A blog was added, and Lay Anglicana also started Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Gradually, over the last two and a quarter years, the contributors to discussion on Lay Anglicana do so on the blog (sometimes with a little encouragement)  but also on Facebook in particular. As recommended by experts in social media, I put a link to every new blog post on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and, where appropriate, Linked In. Subsequent conversation takes place increasingly right there on Facebook, which is understandable. When the conversation seems important, and likely to be of more than ephemeral interest, I have on two or three occasions obtained permission from the participants to copy the exchanges to the blog, so there is some semi-permanent record.

But it seems that cyberspace is sending us a strong message.

We have therefore decided to delete the forum. This was a heart-stopping moment, I admit. But the idea is to move discussion, chat and even idle gossip to the Lay Anglicana Facebook page, which is here. If you are on Facebook and don’t already know our page, do drop by and ‘like’ us and say hello. The idea is to make the page busier than it has been up to now. (This is the page for Lay Anglicana; my personal stuff is on my own page).

Alternatively, if your natural home on line is Twitter, then do follow me at Laura Sykes @layanglicana  if you feel inclined.

Thank-you to all who have contributed to the forum, and made it at times such an enjoyable place to be. We hope to continue the relationship on Facebook and here in the blog.

Where You Come In

I hope very much that the next stage in Lay Anglicana’s existence will see ownership become truly more multiple. Chris Fewings, Wendy Dackson and Taylor Carey have all greatly enriched the blog and I hope that 2013 and beyond will see an increasing number of people willling to write for us on a regular basis. We will also continue to seek out people who just want to write for us once. We hope to have guest writers from the clergy as well as the laity – we are not separate beings, after all, and may find we have a lot in common!

We are also going to expand the ‘Articles’ section, so if anyone feels like writing a piece about the workings of the Anglican Communion, Church of England or any of the component parts of Anglicanism, please make a proposal in Facebook or Twitter and let us make it happen!

Progress to date

We have made some headway in the charts, currently in eleventh place on the Ebuzzing rankings on Religion and Belief and are also doing well on Alexa, the website-ranking site. (In fact if any of you felt inspired to review us for Alexa, I am sure that would be very helpful!) Our global ranking today is 656,520 (as against 748,537 a week ago) and our UK ranking is 23,283. By way of comparison, the Church of England website is 189,599 (you will appreciate that the lower the number, the better) and 13,231. And Thinking Anglicans today is 668,116  and 87,783 (their chief readership is in the US). Anglicans Online today is 705,130.

Lest you think this unduly hubristic, we are well aware that different sites measure different things, and none of them on their own truly rank influence. There are several reasons why we might be currently flying high, and unfortunately none of them guarantee that this happy situation is permanent.

Let us see what Spring brings!


Social Media Metrics – Again!

It’s a while since we have discussed social media metrics. And there’s no particular reason to do so again, except that I have discovered that the blogs on ‘religion and spirituality’ ranked every month by ebuzzing score remarkably differently on alexa, another highly-rated measure of websites (though not specifically blogs). And as it is a rather dreary Saturday afternoon, it seemed a good time to set this out for your entertainment. For that is what it is, surely – if the websites are rated so differently by the two algorithms, they are surely froth and bubble, not to be taken seriously?

In a sense, the most interesting results are the first two: there is a dramatic difference in the score for Adrian Warnock’s blog, which will not surprise anyone who knows it. In fact, according to Alexa, his blog scores 1,539 out of all US websites, surely an amazing feat!

Ebuzzing publishes 100 results, and I quailed after the first twenty, but that is because I am trying to make a general point rather than a specific one about individual ratings.

Vanity of vanities, as someone once said, all is vanity!


The image is copyright nopporn  via Shutterstock

Christian New Media Awards & Conference: Alice Goes Back to Wonderland

Last week, in the twenty four hours between 6.00 pm on Friday and 6.00 pm on Saturday, I lived in an alternative reality, like Alice in Wonderland.

It began with dinner in the splendid Wren church, St Stephen’s Walbrook, known to me as the London Internet Church whose Compline services I ‘attend’ every night. Superbly lit, the room seemed bathed in the light of an illuminated swimming pool in which we were collectively submerged.  Characters whom I ‘knew’ well came and went, like the Bishop of London (the Duchess, I think); Peter Kerridge (the Caterpillar perhaps?); Krish Kandiah (the Gryphon?); and Maria Toth (as the animatrice she would have to be the White Rabbit, but, unlike him, she remained calm, cool and collected throughout). In these surroundings, I wasn’t at all surprised when it was announced that I had won a prize – it was that sort of dream- and everyone was clapping and laughing at a (not very good) joke I made.

The baroque surroundings contrasted in an arresting and challenging way with the 21st century  trappings  of these awards for bringing British Christianity into the digital age:  the worlds of yesterday, today and tomorrow united to celebrate the newest expression of the good news which is over two thousand years old. Continue reading »

Social Media May Prove The Key To Christian Unity

Die, Heretic Scum!’ I expect you know the “joke” that has been doing the rounds on the internet for a while, of which this is the punchline? This is a particularly effective version of it on You Tube. I put the word ‘joke’ in inverted commas because its essential truth is too painful to be really funny: we are all apparently born with a strong desire to keep only the company of people whom we think, as Margaret Thatcher put it, are ‘one of us’. Another equivalent, this one ascribed to Anon, is

‘All the world is queer, save me and thee. And even thee’s a little queer.’

As we saw in the past only too clearly in Northern Ireland, for example, Christians have been strongly identified with this: Catholic children went to school with other Catholic children, grew up next to Catholics and married other Catholics so as to produce Catholic children of their own and continue the cycle. Protestants did the same. In its most extreme form, great care was taken to see that never the twain should meet.

Continue reading »

Rioting And The Herd Instinct

‘Why?’ ‘Why are people doing this?’ These are the questions being asked in bewilderment over and over again, in the press and on television, on twitter, facebook and the blogosphere.

I don’t know the answer, of course I don’t.

But I have an idea for a way of looking at the question which may just help us understand something of what is going on.

It has been an extraordinary couple of days, of lows but also of highs. There is universal wonderment at the fact that ‘pray for London’ and ‘riot clean-up’ were the top subjects on twitter for several hours, now replaced by ‘operation cup of tea’. What does this mean? Well, I think it may be easier to understand the violence and looting if we first look at these extraordinarily positive reactions. It is a very practical solution to turn up at Clapham Junction with gloves and a broom. But if you had been the only person to do so, you would have felt a bit of an idiot. A self-righteous idiot perhaps, but an idiot nonetheless. The people who responded to the #riotcleanup tweets must have wondered at first if  they would be a tiny group who responded. In contrast, can you imagine the life-affirming feeling of being in the crowd below, waving their brooms together in the air? That must have been an exhilarating moment! Heavens, it’s exhilarating  just looking at the photograph. What  might have been regarded as a well-intentioned, but slightly dotty, reaction to the violence if carried out by one person becomes instead a heroic feat if carried out by a multitude, who have universally, if unconsciously, responded to Robert Lowell’s poem:

Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,

And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.

Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied…

Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.


So this is the good, the uplifting side of the events of the last few days. But if we turn to look at the looting and violence,  can an analysis of those who came to wield their brooms shed any light on the actions of the rioters? Well, to begin with, I wonder whether those who set fire to cars and buses, and threw stones at the police before smashing shop windows and helping themselves to the contents would have done any of these things if they had been alone? I suggest not. I think they too felt that being amongst a crowd who were doing these things as one was an exhilarating and life-affirming experience.

I expect you, like me, studied Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ at some point in your education. Do you remember how easily the crowd were swayed by Mark Antony’s ‘Brutus is an honourable man‘, so that by the end of the speech he had turned the crowd 180°? Have you ever had the experience of standing in a crowd and being swayed by the emotion of the moment? I have, and it was a salutary lesson. In 1977 Indira Gandhi had been prime minister of India for 11 years, but in that election she lost not only the leadership but her own seat. My friends and I joined what felt like millions of people congregating in front of the newspaper offices to hear the result. When it came, complete strangers were hugging each other with joy. I too felt swept up in the elation, my blood tingling, my pulse racing. In a calmer moment the next day, I wondered what I would have been capable of doing if a demagogue had called on us to act.

It is thus that apartheid, Stalinism and Nazism take root. Look at the Nuremberg rallies. Look at Kristallnacht. What one man or woman on his or her own knows perfectly well is an outrage to human decency becomes acceptable, the norm even, when you are one of a herd.




The main photograph is by Peter Galbraith via fotolia. The second is from Lawcol888 via yfrog

A Pilgrim’s 21st Century Progress

You remember your Bunyan, don’t you? In ‘A Pilgrim’s Progress’, written in 1678, Christian is on a journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City.  His path takes him through the Slough of Despond,  the Hill of Difficulty, the House Beautiful, the Valley of Humiliation, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Vanity Fair, the Doubting Castle, and the Delectable Mountains. He also meets characters like Evangelist, Faithful, Hopeful, Discretion, Prudence and the Shining Ones, as well as Flatterer, Hypocrisy, Ignorance, Formalist, Timorous, Mistrust, Talkative, Giant Despair and of course Atheist, who help or hinder him on his way. Here is a map of his journey.

I have been thinking about pilgrimage in general recently, and my own journey in cyberspace, which I set out on in November 2010 with the launching of the Lay Anglicana website, followed in April by the blog. I am certainly aiming in what I hope is the general direction of the Celestial City, in that I am convinced the Church would be a better place if the powers that be worked in partnership with the laity – would ‘equal but different’ be pushing my luck? But of course I may be wrong. I cannot prove to you, or even to myself, that what I am trying to do is the will of God. Straight away, then, I am in the Doubting Castle, and trying to ignore the cautious but undoubtedly well-meant warnings of Timorous.

Hopeful takes me on one side and  points out that several people (who do look like genuine people of God) have encouraged me along the way. If I am wrong in thinking this is the way to the Celestial City, then they are wrong as well. Just as I am beginning to perk up, however, Mistrust ‘kindly’ points out that they may be Flatterers. But then why would flatterers bother to flatter me – there is absolutely nothing I can do for them. Well, apart from flattering them in return, I suppose. The Slough of Despond and Giant Despair lie in wait for the unwary, like Scylla and Charybdis, and the path that lies between is called Difficult. You’re telling me! First of all, you have to  understand the machinery (and machinations?) of the Church of England. Then you have to push your personality to its most extravert extreme in order to get your message out there.

And then you have to understand the dark arts of Social Media. Although I have met many Shining Ones along the way who have tried to help me, they usually speak like oracles, so that, for those beset by Ignorance, some interpretation is needed : they too are to be found on the Hill of Difficulty.  But I have been lucky, like Christian, to have found many helpful companions and Talkative twitterers along the way: they rally me when my spirits are low, share my jubilation when another obstacle is overcome, laugh with me over some of life’s absurdities, occasionally remind me of the need for Prudence, and teach me much that I need to learn. Even my Atheist is a Christian gentleman, though he might argue with the description.

There is one more problem, though, and it was anticipated by Bunyan. It is tempting to try and measure one’s progress along the way, like every child on a car journey who has whined ‘Are we there yet?’ I can see that we are indeed not there yet, but I would dearly love to know whether I am making any progress. ‘Easily done’, say some of the experts, ‘you need to check your tally on the social media metric sites.’ A month or two ago, I conducted a little experiment, checking the names of some illustrious fellow-pilgrims against these tables of success. The measurements varied considerably from site to site. And now, my Mentor has pointed out that these sites give unwonted encouragement to those un-Christian gentlemen, Pride, Arrogancy, Self-conceit and Worldly-glory, in whose company one will never succeed in walking through the Valley of Humility, as must all Christian pilgrims:

  Christian: He told me indeed that he saw you go by, but I wish you had called at the house, for they would have shewed you so many Rarities, that you would scarce have forgot them to the day of your death. But pray tell me, Did you meet nobody in the Valley of Humility?

Faith: Yes, I met with one Discontent, who would willingly have persuaded me to go back again with him; his reason was, for that the Valley was altogether without honour. He told me moreover, that there to go was the way to disobey all my friends, as Pride, Arrogancy, Self-conceit, Worldly – glory, with others, who he knew, as he said, would be very much offended, if I made such a Fool of myself as to wade through this Valley.

Christian: Well, and how did you answer him?

Faith: I told him, That although all these that he had named might claim kindred of me, and that rightly, (for indeed they were my Relations according to the flesh) yet since I became a Pilgrim they have disowned me, as I also have rejected them; and therefore they were to me now no more than if they had never been of my lineage. I told him moreover, that as to this Valley, he had quite misrepresented the thing; for before Honour is Humility, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Therefore said I, I had rather go through this Valley to the honour that was so accounted by the wisest, than chose the way which he esteemed most worthy our affections.

The story, as we know, ended happily for Christian. Let us hope that it ends equally happily for those who would emulate him in the twenty-first century.









The engravings of the map and Christian’s entry at the Wicket Gate are taken from a 1778 edition of the book, reproduced in Wikipedia.

The conversation between Christian and Faith takes place in the fifth chapter of the first part of ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’

The Mirage of Social Media Metrics?

I don’t need to go on, do I, I am sure you have got the drift! Anthologies of quotations are full of  similar advice handed down through the ages.

Despite this, many of us who are perfectly capable of cultivating a little amused detachment in the rest of our lives find ourselves obsessively checking and re-checking our listings in  Klout, PeerIndex, Twittergrader and Wikio (listed in alphabetical order to discourage the competitive spirit) as we seek the illusory will o’the wisp of enlightenment. If I have missed out any vitally important social media performance analysis sites, please, please do not tell me about them as I am having a hard enough time as it is trying not to become addicted to the ones I already know about.

You may well ask by what right I, a novice, presume to address my fellow bloggers and tweeters after less than three months’ experience. I will reply by offering you the old saw about foreign writers in India:
New arrivals excitedly tell all who will listen that they intend to write a book about the sub-contintent; after a year of fact-finding, they have decided that an article is all that they feel capable of; and after five years they hesitate to utter even a sentence, knowing that its opposite is likely also to be true.

I casually said on twitter that I thought all this social media needed to be treated as a game; to be any fun games need to be taken quite seriously, of course, but perhaps not as a matter of life and death. I was tempted into four successive tweets on this, to the surprise I think of my recipient, and one of my fellow tweeters suggested (hinting perhaps that I had delighted my audience long enough) that I should turn it into a blog post.

Some strange features of the blog and twitter assessment sites have emerged recently. Klout, for example, says that the Revd Pam Smith is an expert on beards and the Revd Maggi Dawn is an expert on coffee. Both deny these allegations. Unfortunately for Pam, the bearded Pete Phillips has taken the opportunity to give her a ‘K’ for her expertise on beards, saying that she has recently influenced him in this field. (I put it to the jury that I am not the only one who thinks this is a game).

I thought I would take a dozen of my colleagues and subject them to scrutiny by these four analytical websites. It seemed only fair to include myself (but if anyone objects to being included, I will of course remove their name). I began with the top 100 Wikio scores for May in the Religion category, and chose a dozen people whom I knew also to be members of Twitter because I follow them.

Here are the Klout rankings for some people who both blog and are on twitter.

  1. Pete Phillips (62)
  2. Maggi Dawn (62)
  3. Peter Ould (59)
  4. Church Mouse (56)
  5. Lesley Fellows (55)
  6. Stuart James (eChurchBlog) (52)
  7. Richard Littledale (49)
  8. Bishop Alan Wilson (49)
  9. Laura Sykes (48)
  10. Charlie Peer (44)
  11. Doug Chaplin (39)
  12. Lucy Mills (37)

For comparison, here are the respective Peer Index rankings:

  1. Church Mouse (58)
  2. Pete Phillips (49)
  3. Maggi Dawn (47)
  4. Peter Ould (47)
  5. Bishop Alan Wilson (32)
  6. Lesley Fellows (28)
  7. Doug Chaplin (22)
  8. Stuart James (eChurch Blog) (22)
  9. Laura Sykes (14)
  10. Charlie Peer (9)
  11. Lucy Mills (9)
  12. Richard Littledale (8)

Now, the same list according to Twittergrader:

  1. Church Mouse (100) 
  2. Bishop Alan Wilson (100)
  3. Maggi Dawn (98.3)
  4. Stuart James (eChurch Blog) (97.3)
  5. Peter Ould (97.3)
  6. Lesley Fellows (95.4)
  7. Pete Phillips (95.4)
  8. Richard Littledale (89)
  9. Charlie Peer (89)
  10. Lucy Mills (87)
  11. Doug Chaplin (86)
  12. Laura Sykes (77)

 And finally, Wikio:

  1. Church Mouse (1)
  2. Stuart James (eChurch Blog) (4)
  3. Lesley Fellows (5)
  4. Doug Chaplin (Clayboy) (8)
  5. Maggi Dawn (13)
  6. Bishop Alan Wilson (17)
  7. Peter Ould (20)
  8. Lucy Mills (34)
  9. Richard Littledale (39)
  10. Pete Phillips (43)
  11. Charlie Peer (45)
  12. Laura Sykes (still not listed)

As you will see, the rankings vary widely. Let us single out Pete Philips (whom I don’t somehow think will mind). Out of a field of 12 he comes 1st (Klout), 2nd (Peer Index), 7th (Twittergrader) and 10th (Wikio).  Triumph and Disaster, the two imposters? Oh yes, I think so.

So if it is all a game, how should we, the poor punters, treat it? Well, if you can honestly ignore these rankings – as many actors claim never to read their reviews – you are made of sterner moral fibre than I am, but I congratulate you.

If, on the other hand, you are made of the same clay as the majority of your fellow members of the human race, may I suggest that you pick the website which gives you the highest score and check no other.

If that is unacceptable, then you must play the hand that you have been dealt as if you were playing bridge, poker or racing demon, in other words with gusto – while relishing the fact that it really is all a game and while remembering that you want to be able to look your fellow bloggers and tweeters in the eye between games at the next conference of  the blogosphere!

1. The illustration (author unknown, but issued under creative commons licence) is of a hunt for will o’the wisps. School of Henri ‘Douanier’ Rousseau?

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