Membership Has Its Benefits

I recently had a interesting conversation with a Episcopalian about the need for “membership” in a church. His argument (I think) was that if a church has official members, it creates an “us vs. them” mentality. I think he’s probably right, but I wonder if that’s bad. Let me explain… no, there is too much. Let me sum up.

He was trying to convince me that I would be welcome “in his church,” which I took to mean, as a member. As a member of the Johannite Gnostic clergy, I thought this would be unlikely. This began the fundamental misunderstanding on both our parts. After some circular discussion I finally realized what he was actually trying to tell me. I would be welcome to attend mass and take communion at his parish. Great! I’ve done so at Episcopalian churches before, and he would also be welcome to do the same at my parish. His parish, as it turns out, doesn’t have any formal membership process at all. People are welcome to come and go as they feel the need to, and that’s just fine. (I should be clear that he wasn’t talking about his entire denomination, as I’m positive that the Episcopal Church does, indeed, have members.)

The Johannite Church, on the other hand, does have members, and I think that the option to become a member is spiritually useful. I also think it creates an “us” and a “them” but I can’t find too many reasons to think that’s a detriment. Yes, that kind of thing can be abused, and has been in the past, but I don’t think that’s something we do. Our membership procedures are extremely loose. At this point there is no formal process, and each parish does it slightly differently. Members in our church are not required to “renounce” their membership in other churches, or anything else, for that matter. Membership is self-selecting, and the only commitment you make to become a member is to yourself. If your path takes you elsewhere  go, with my blessing. Also, our church doesn’t require membership to participate in our sacraments (with the possible exception of Holy Orders, but even that is unclear logistically). A non-member can fully participate in the life of the AJC as much or as little as s/he wants.

My problem with the “no members” model is that there is very little middle ground for the laity. You either go to mass on Sundays or you train to become clergy. Now, I realize that this is overly simplistic, but it seems to me that the “community” aspects of a church with no members would have to be transitory by their very nature. To me, the very word “church” implies a dedicated family of believers. A religious institution that has no method of formally affiliating is not much more than a community center.

It’s not that I don’t think there is a need for exactly that kind of institution. I think there is a perfectly viable niche for a non-denominational, Christian, feel-good, drop-in-when-you-need-to social club. I would just call it something other than “church.”

I’m sure I’ve created a strawman of this particular argument. I’m positive I misrepresented the reality of this particular parish. I’ll be sharing this post with the person who inspired it, with the hope that he understands that the conversation was merely a jumping-off-point for these ideas. I will be sure to post any comments he would like to make, and hopefully we can have an interesting dialogue.

Evangelizing, using Google+

Google+ got so much prettier today, don’t you think? You can see the difference if you look at my page (+Tony Silvia) or Saint Martin’s Parish page. It wouldn’t kill you to circle those either, you know.

In the spirit of hanging my light from a lamppost, I have started a Google+ Community called “Google+ for Religion“. I hope it will become a place for people of all religions to come and share tips with each other for how to best use Google+ (and the whole Google family of products) to increase their visibility on the web and social media. I hope you will join us too, especially if you have plans to form your own local community, esoteric order, crazy fringe religion, or what have you.

For being such wonderful people who are brave enough to follow my little “plusblog” experiment (now discontinued), you get my first tip before anybody else. One thing you can do right now to improve your visibility in Google search is to link your Google+ Page with your website. If you don’t have either of those, do that first. If you do, then you need to link your site to your page using the “rel=publisher” tag.

The bottom line is, if you link your site to your page, and your page to your site, Google knows that those are the official versions of your brand or organization. This moves you up in the search rankings when someone is searching for you. It could even, possibly, give your organization a special place on the search page with Google Direct Connect, with a picture, links, and a button to add your brand to a circle, all right from the search page. I think we all can see the value of Google giving us special treatment.

The photos below will give you a little more info on how to do this and what to look for, but if you have questions or need help, head on over to the Google+ for Religion Community and we’ll be happy to help!

P.S. It takes several days for the site to be verified, and you may not show up in the Google Direct Connect program at all, at least not soon. Google is rolling these things out slowly. Here is Google’s official help page about this subject.

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Why Gnosticism Can Really Grow On Google+

Since the advent of Google+ it’s no secret that I’ve been pretty excited about it. At first it was simply because it wasn’t Facebook. I’ve since mellowed a bit on my dislike of Facebook, but I still know that Google+ is very valuable to the future of our religion.

First of all, do a search for “Gnostic” on Google+. You’ll see that it’s mostly me,+Thomas Langley, +Miguel Conner, and a few other folks from the AJC as well. You know who you don’t see? Anybody from the Gnostic Movement, or Sylvia Browne, or any of the various groups and individuals who use the term but have no connection whatever to the actual historical philosophical, religious, and cultural movement from the Middle East around the time of Jesus.

This is going to be essential to the growth of Gnosticism over the next several years. As people search Google looking for information about Gnosticism and groups practicing the same, we, and the people who are most philosophically related to us, are going to be the ones that they find. Google+ is Google, and we know that Google is placing more value on the social activity that people take on Google+ when serving up search results. I can’t begin to tell you how excited this makes me.

I know that some of us have differences in style, and some people feel quite strongly that one style is right while others are “evil.” I honestly and truly have no stake in any of that. I genuinely welcome any and all sincere dialogue with anybody from the Gnostic world. Let’s make Google+ a place of learning and community, just like the good old days of the Palm Tree Garden. We have an opportunity here unlike any we’ve seen for a decade. Let’s not waste it.

If I can help any of you increase your presence on Google+, please ask me. I am eager to help.