Social Media Guidelines for Clergy

I do not usually comment on things that happen in other jurisdictions in the Orthodox Church, but I felt compelled to comment on the new “Guidelines for Clergy Use of Online Social Networking” released by the Orthodox Church in America on Friday.
First some general observations. This obviously was written by someone who does not see the value of this type of communication tool or someone who does not like it. (There are several people that could have been consulted before this was written:  Fr. John Peck and Bishop Savas of the GOA are just 2 that come to mind.)  The Church needs to speak with the voice of the current generation if we ever hope to reach them. Right now the present generation is using Social Media as a way to communicate. Jesus used the media of the day, standing on a hill speaking to large groups of people, I have no doubt in my mind that Jesus would use Social Media if He were to come today.
With that said I take exception with several of the points;
“Individual personal profiles of clergy are to be used to interact with real friends, family and peers. Clergy should not submit “friend” requests to parishioners and others to whom they minister. The disparity of power may not give the other person the ability to decline such request.”
In the 21st century we need to communicate with people the way they communicate. My parishioners for example live in 3 states and trying to communicate with them all is impossible. Social media is one of the fastest ways to communicate. Not to “friend” your parishioners seem a little ridiculous since we communicate with them face to face so why not on the Social Media. Again the person crafting these guidelines has little or no understanding of the Social Media. When the telephone was invented I wonder if there were guidelines for its use as well. Only call family not parishioners because of the power you have they may not be able to not answer the phone!
“Clergy are strongly advised not to accept “friend” requests from people with whom they have no prior relationship. “Friends” on social networking sites should be limited to people you have met before in person.”
This goes against Evangelism! So I should only speak to parishioners? What about the great commission? “Go into all the world, but only speak to people who come to your Church” I have more than 2k friends on Facebook 99% of whom I have never meet before. I have made some lasting friendships on Facebook and have helped people with prayer and guidance that I never would have been able to help. Who knows the fruit of these relationships? Does this replace face to face communication? No. But again we are using the communication medium of the day. If there church is not present is society who will her message be heard?
“When a clergy assignment at a parish or other ministry setting ends, the cleric should remove parishioners as “friends” or contacts in all forms of digital communications.”
I can see the point behind this but consider the impact of removing from your friends list people that you have established a relationship with over the years. When one leaves a parish assignment does one cut off all communication with his former parishioners? How many times has a priest returned to his former parish for a funeral, wedding, or a baptism? Yes they have a new spiritual father but you remain their friend!
“Clergy should refrain from making political statements, joining political groups, or “becoming fans” of particular political candidates or political causes on social network sites”
This is an ongoing struggle for many of us in the ranks of the clergy. I do not make political statements from the pulpit that is not the place for it. Do I preach what my church teaches? Yes. But I would never mention a candidate’s name or say you should vote for this person or that person. However, I am still a citizen of the United States of America and just because I am ordained I did not surrender my right to free speech. When I speak on Facebook or my blog I am speaking as an individual not as the Church and I make that disclaimer. Again, we need to instruct our flock and what better way to do that than by speaking in the social arena. Yes this is a thin line here but as an adult I believe I can think for myself.
I do agree with most of the guidelines for working with the youth. We do need to be careful when interacting with youth and young adults in any arena not just the Social Media. Again use your brain and be sensible. I realize that much of this is a reaction to law suits and what not but in the end I am a minster of the Gospel and must minister to people. I need to use common sense but I still have to minster.
My belief is that these guidelines were written by someone who does not understand the value of Social Media to the Church. They were approved by bishops who themselves, do not use the Social Media. There are many priests who use Social Media and as far as I know were never consulted on these Guidelines. I am not a priest in the OCA, but I am very visible on Facebook and twitter and there are several more who could have been consulted.
The Church needs to be active and seen in the public square. Facebook and Twitter are the new public square. Communicating in this area is necessary, as necessary as the Sunday sermon in fact I would say more important as we stand to reach far more people! I call on the Synod of the OCA to reconsider these guidelines and ask those of us that actually use Social Media for some suggestions and guidelines.


  1. That's a curious document which seems to be designed by a committee. The rules on friending clearly came from two (at least) different people. "Don't friend parishioners" and "don't friend people not in your parish whom you've never met". I'm sorry, Father: no friends for you.

    On the other hand, the general idea seems good: clergy online seem to often forget that they are clergy. If I get into a fight with someone on my blog, it's just me yelling it out, but if a priest or bishop does so, his office comes in with all the adjacent power and authority. A priest making snark or "fisking" as it used to be called, is especially painful because a priest *is* his office, and can not talk "in public" without being a priest. The same issue arises in personal relationships… I know clergy (in several denominations) who "just want to be friends…" but, with one exception, I've never let them drop their titles. It's hard (but possible) for a layman to be friends with "father", but it is impossible, from a layman's POV, to be friends with "a guy" who is also a priest.

  2. social media is very important for priest and parishioners.
    Many people work all kinds of hours and days of the can you keep contact with your parish when we are all in different states and work scheduals.
    also a priest is called a father because he is supose to know what his children are doing and who they are talking to on facebook,
    social media also allows for the meeting of new people and the better understanding and definition of what the word is about.

  3. The document could have been written by the social-security-aged ladies' auxillary at the local Methodist church. It's an obvious attempt to legislate an all-around low-risk policy. I'd be surprised if the ensuing discussions involve more than idle chit-chat about the weather or banal admonitions to consult one's spiritual adviser.

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