More than Sisters
Every computer class in Assembly 2010's Experience Hall was bursting at the seams. Located next to rows of prayer shawls, several dozen women peered into computer screens learning how to chat with friends, share photos and videos, and update their statuses online.
Many of the women attending the computer classes were among the 40 million people already on the social networking website Facebook.
Stay in touch
Katrina Wheeler joined Facebook simply to stay connected to United Methodist Women. She chats online with women in the United Methodist Women's young women's consultative group. Ms. Wheeler also stays in touch with the new and outgoing presidents of her South Georgia Conference United Methodist Women Conference.
"We're friends for a lifetime now," Ms. Wheeler said. "We're more than sisters, we're friends."
June Lafferty-Cooper from Kansas West Conference, explained, "I look at the pictures of my family online. There are gobs of them!"
Coralee Thornburg likes using Facebook to send real-time messages. "The chat is instant," she said.
Many, like Mollette Hall, were logging on to social media for the first time. "We're trying to find old friends," Lia Ruth Miller said. Ms. Miller and Ms. Hall are among the fastest growing group of new users on Facebook – women over 55.
Facebook connects networks of like-minded people, explained Lynne Gilbert, Women's Division director, as she taught women at Assembly how to link to United Methodist Women's page on Facebook. The women in the social media class learned the Facebook meaning of the words, "like," "poke," "create profile," "friend," and "get connected."
Catherine Heggerty, who oversees UMWOnline, United Methodist Women's new social networking site, floated around the new social media users, answering their questions. While several expressed concerns about online safety and stolen identities, the leaders advised the women to use common sense if asked for personal information. The leaders said the positive outcomes for staying connected through social media outweigh the potential negatives.
Missy Buchanan taught a workshop encouraging women to use Twitter, another social networking tool. With only 140 characters to write an update or "tweet," short phrases are essential. On Twitter, for example, one person who was not able to be at Assembly, tweeted, "Assembly is such an incredible experience – even online!"
Another Assembly tweet encouraged members of United Methodist Women to visit the Experience Hall. User "Karentobo" wrote "Stop by the Mothers Acting Up booth (105) and say hi!"
Finding your way
Social media sparks real-life conversations in real time. For example, when I was lost in the Experience Hall, I typed or "tweeted" to my fellow Global Ministries staff on Twitter. I typed, "@ConnectnMission Where is our booth in relation to the prayer shawls? I don't see it. #umw2010" "UMWomen" replied, "Go towards the Mission Resource Center booth." Using Twitter at the Assembly helped me find my way.
While Twitter and Facebook are popular ways to connect online, they are not the only ways. United Methodist Women members are also connecting through the social media venues of Skype, LinkedIn, Google, blogs and YouTube.
Like the women at the Assembly computer classes, you, too, can become a "friend" of United Methodist Women on Facebook or follow "UMWomen" on Twitter:
- Go to facebook.com or twitter.com,
- Sign in,
- Start searching for your first friends on social networking by typing in "United Methodist Women."
Once there, you may find, like Ms. Wheeler, that your sisters become your friends.
*Mary Beth Coudal is the staff writer for the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries. You can "friend" her on Facebook or "follow" MaryBethC on Twitter.