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#Ashtag and Sharing Religion on Social Networks

Ash Wednesday marks the start of the Christian period of Lent. Christians often receive a sign of the cross in ashes on their forehead, and tend to wear that mark with pride throughout the day. It’s generally one day out of the year where the lines between secular society and personal belief are blurred, where people can recognize other Christians in their workplaces, play groups, or gyms.

Mashable noted the rise in priests and other Christians using #ashtag to share selfies with ashes on their forehead. Mashable outlines a number of the responses against the trend — specifically focusing on whether or not it’s theologically-accurate or appropriate to display publicly ones’ private views. But I think this has always been an indicator of insider/outsider status — it’s a chance to recognize the people who are in your group versus those who aren’t. Within the American context, beliefs are rarely discussed in professional contexts. Ash Wednesday is a day when you can show your privately-held beliefs in a visual but not pushy way, and provides a chance to connect with others with similar views. Sharing these selfies through #ashtag allows Christians across a social network to feel solidarity and group cohesion.

In congregations, a vital part of creating a strong community is to have a strong sense of common identity or culture. #Ashtag allows people to feel part of a larger group across a diffuse social network, but what can you in your congregation do to create a sense of community and group solidarity? And, thinking about social media, how can that be shared and encouraged? How can you encourage your members to share their private views publicly and encourage them to share information about how great your congregation is?

Ellen Childs
About the Author
Dr. Ellen Childs holds a Ph.D. in sociology from University of Notre Dame. She is Website Director at StudyingCongregations.org