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Virtual Accountability

 

The Rev. Jeremy Steele
January-February 2016

Central to the teaching of the early Methodist movement was what founder John Wesley called "social holiness." In modern discussions, "social holiness" is often erroneously used interchangeably with "social justice" when it actually refers to the centrality of relationships to growth in personal holiness.

Wesley was committed to this, saying in his 1739 preface to Hymns and Sacred Poems that there is "no holiness but social holiness." We can't do it alone.

The Rev. Brian Sims and the Rev. Aaron Buttery met while part of the same church and school in Kentucky. As a part of a class exploring Wesley's concept of social holiness, they began meeting to develop a relationship of covenantal accountability. Over time, they developed a pattern of conversation based on Wesley's questions about accountability with extra emphasis on the areas where each needed more support.

Moyo: Where contemplation and action meet

Connecting "being and doing" is the theme of Moyo (www.moyoliving.org), the new interactive website of "a spiritually minded community for those looking to engage with global issues." The Upper Room and the General Board of Global Ministries created the site with a mission to "create a global community that meets at the intersection of contemplation and action."

Moyo invites participants to combine the "being" and "doing" of life.

Users can choose a "Guided Path, which will lead them through an encounter, reflection and action." In "The Feed," Moyo team members provide updates on topics and events from around the world. They work "to create a space for community where shared values, beliefs and inner experience inform our choices, priorities and influence across the globe."

Site visitors can also submit creative content about the intersection of spiritualty and social justice for possible posting on Moyo.

Moyo also has a feed at Twitter.com/moyoliving. For more information, email info@moyoliving.org.

Moyo, www.moyoliving.org

However, it wasn't until Buttery, now on staff at University United Methodist Church in San Antonio, moved away that they realized how important their meetings for accountability had become. After a couple of months, Sims, director of the Center for Lay Mobilization at Asbury Theological Seminary, says they realized "how much we needed the accountability, fellowship, encouragement and sharpening."

That's when they turned to a technological solution to overcome the distance. Using their iPhones, they chose the FaceTime video chat service to resume the Wesleyan spiritual practice.

It wasn't a perfect transition from physical face-to-face meeting to the virtual world. Buttery said, "It took some time to realize the implications of the fact that we were not in the same physical room." It took a little more openness, trust and vulnerability to receive friendship in that virtual space. Though they had some learning to do about how use technology, "we both really leaned into it because we realized that this was how we could live into a powerful relationship," he added.

Sims thinks that because their relationship started in person, it doesn't feel too different. If you don't have time to build a relationship in person first, the virtual space can feel awkward. He says, "Sometimes people can become more truthful and less vulnerable. That's why it's critical to begin these relationships in person."

Buttery and Sims offer these tips for those who might want to follow their practice:

  • Meet at a standard time each week.
  • Give each other the opportunity to make a shift if needed by touching base the evening before or the morning of a meeting.
  • Make sure to be in a quiet, private space away from distractions.
  • Turn off notifications on your devices.
  • Refuse to log onto something else (like Facebook).
  • Come to the call ready to engage with the deep questions right off the bat.

Buttery and Sims have now engaged in distance friendship and accountability longer than they did in person. They look forward to the grace of God they receive each week and encourage others who find themselves in new places to take a chance on virtual accountability.

The Rev. Jeremy Steele is Next Generation minister at Christ United Methodist Church, Mobile, Alabama. He is also an author, blogger at jeremywords.com and a frequent contributor to MyCom, an e-newsletter published by United Methodist Communications.