07 September 2011
Praying the Manhunt on Twitter
A "Why Twitter?" Ministry Story
A police officer was shot in my city yesterday. He was responding to a robbery at a local jewelry store.
Twitter immediately lit up and tweets started flying about the incident from news outlets, community leaders, and residents. Most people used the hashtag #woburn - the general hashtag we use here for community information - to tag their posts. For the rest of the day, Woburn was trending on Twitter.
Twitter is one of the ways I've become more engaged with our local community and so I recognized many of the people who were tweeting.
I jumped in and started retweeting information. One suspect had been apprehended. Three other suspects were on the loose, considered armed and dangerous. It was a manhunt. Local and state police, SWAT teams, helicopters all on scene. Road blocks. Door to door searches. Schools and the YMCA were in lock down. Residents were urged to stay inside with their doors locked. The officer had been shot several times but was in stable condition.
It was chilling.
In the midst of this flurry of tweets, I recalled an article that Elizabeth Drescher had written about the rescue of the Chilean Miners, in which she wrote that although the rescue was spiritually and religiously charged and millions gathered to watch and pray across social networks, there were very few clergy and ministers present in those digital spaces. She wrote,
I have to wonder what impact their spiritual, biblical, ethical, and other insights might have brought to a worldwide spiritual experience that unfolded through the day...had more seen their ministries extending beyond the walls of churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples and into the waves of 1s and 0s that drew millions together in prayer."
I realized that my role, not only as a resident of Woburn, but as a minster in this community, was to try to offer some measure of solace, support, and to point to God's presence in a horrific and confusing situation.
I began to tweet prayers.
And there were more. I know these prayers connected because they were retweeted by members of the Woburn community - residents and community leaders alike. Kathi Johnson from Texas even appropriated one of the prayers to prayer for the central Texas fires.
At a recent community event I joked about being a "Twitter chaplain," but yesterday was no joke. And I got to be pastor to a community of people in Woburn and beyond that were trying to make sense of the violence and tragedy that had just happened.
With the city in lock-down (and even if it hadn't been) there would have been no way for me to keep people informed and comforted in this way without social media.
I am grateful that Twitter is a part of my ministry, that it has drawn me deeper into my community, and that yesterday that I could use it offer some kind of grace in a terrible situation.
And thanks be to God that Officer DeNapoli is in good condition today.