So I’m WAY late to the party on blogging about my amazing November weekend in Baltimore … but I spent most of the month of November on the road before undergoing a knee surgery that’s been a lot more paralyzing than I had planned for. So forgive me.

Wanna read about Cardinal Dolan? Keep going … it’s worth it. 🙂

During the summer via my good buddy Tom Pringle, I received an invitation to attend a meeting with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to talk with Bishops from across the United States about blogging (and social media). What an honor! As many of you may already know, I work in social media as a trainer and an account manager so my day to day life is filled with statistics and news on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, blogs, Reddit, etc etc. I was excited to hopefully share some of my knowledge with some of the leaders of the American church – and maybe have a run-in with Cardinal Dolan.

Okay, so confession: That wasn’t all I was excited for. As with any event where us Catholic social media geeks get together, I expected some merriment and “community building” (code for bar time!). As I always do wherever I go, I researched and found a couple great beer spots within walking distance of the hotel … then found out who else would be in attendance, sent some emails and put together a Catholic Drinkie Tweet-Up for the Saturday before the meeting. I think it’s fair to say we had more than a lot of fun (let’s put it this way: Some things are best left at the bar).

We had quite the crew in attendance at both the bars we patronized: Tom Pringle, Father Kyle Schnippel, a very good friend of mine who lives in Baltimore named Jakki, Father / Friar Matt Foley (another local), Steve Nelson, Lisa Hendey … and Rocco Palmo even showed up for a cameo nightcap.

We began with an afternoon libation at the Heavy Seas Alehouse. Heavy Seas makes some really solid beer so I was excited to see what was in store. They are known for making more cask-conditioned beer available than any other brewery in the United States – they certainly didn’t fail us! I think altogether we tried every beer on draft.

Notre Dame was playing that evening and I wanted to stake out a spot at our next bar to ensure we got a seat in front of a TV. We migrated to Max’s Taphouse where the beer list was tremendous and we could all find something to enjoy – by we, I mean I selected beers for everyone. It was such a wonderful day/night of community filled with laughter, theological discussions and generally getting to know each other face to face! I had met Fr. Kyle, Lisa Hendey and Steve Nelson before so it was great to see them again, but especially wonderful to finally meet Tom, Frather Matt and Rocco. I’m blessed to call each of them friend.

Beers at Max’s

Then it was Sunday. The big day! I was growing nervous in anticipation of what the meeting would hold for all of us. We learned a lot. They delivered the CARA report to us on the state of social media usage by Catholics across the United States. Some things shocked me; others didn’t. But what rang out for me the most was the real conversation the Bishops in attendance wanted to have with us about how we, as successful users of this medium, suggest they use it. There was a genuine interest, a sincerity, present and it was so refreshing to see.

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My super sweet official nametag

I had the privilege of chatting with Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, Wis. in a small group setting. He is a joyful, gracious leader who is doing great things for the Church (he’s fighting the good fight to keep the non-profit status for the Church there post-election so pray for him!).

Following the small group break-out, Bishops asked bloggers questions and Bloggers asked Bishops questions. The Bishops posed many interesting questions. And me being me, I got up and gave a short speech on the importance of social in ministry and some basic learnings I typically throw out as best practices. Some would say I ranted … others would say I was teaching. Guess the world will never know. 🙂

Encourage your Bishops to embrace social … to make it a real priority. We must get ahead on this one!

It was a pleasure to meet so many powerhouses in Catholic social media that day in addition to my Tweet-Up buddies: Kathy Schiffer, Mark Shea, David Cheney, Mary DeTourris Poust, Brandon Vogt , Tom McDonald, Leah Libresco, Deacon Greg and anyone else I forgot! Keep it up, y’all. You inspire me daily.

Catholic News Service did a nice video recap of the meeting … I may have a cameo or two! Check it out here: http://youtu.be/PoWELOMCbjU

It was an epic weekend overall with the feel of a retreat and a vacation all rolled into one. It energized me in a big way for several reasons: I was able to spend time with peers, having real, true discussions about the future of the Catholic Church; it was FUN; I got to meet some amazing leaders in the U.S. Catholic Church; AND I had some tasty beer!

A few more pictures from the weekend for your enjoyment:  

Mass with all the Bishops … it was amazing. TOTAL. CATHOLIC. GEEK. OUT. (Also, I received communion from Cardinal Dolan who celebrated this Mass. I thought I was going to explode with glee)

Bloggers with +Cantu of San Antonio (photo credit: Lisa Hendey)

Bloggers with +Chaput (Philly) & +Gomez (LA) (photo credit: Lisa Hendey) +Chaput and I shared a moment over our knee issues. We promised to pray for each other. What a humbling moment it was to talk with him.

Oh you thought I was done, didn’t you? I left out one important person from this weekend … so. It’s a well-known fact that one of my dreams is to have a beer with the Pope and/or Cardinal Dolan. While I didn’t get to buy him a beer, I did get to talk with Cardinal Dolan before Mass one morning! I stood there among the leaders of the U.S. Catholic Church in awe (just ask Fr. Kyle cause he was making fun of me for days following) … when I saw +Dolan walk in to prepare for Mass.

I did some light stalking before taking a deep breath and walking up to him to say hello. I introduced myself and told him why I was there (he didn’t attend the Saturday meeting). I talked with him about how I always make it a point to attend Mass at St. Patrick’s when he celebrates when I’m in NYC on a Sunday. I also told him about my passion for young adult ministry, especially through my blog. This piqued his interest.

Then I asked him the all-important question: Your Eminence, what is your favorite beer?
His reply: Well, I’m from St. Louis so it has to be Budweiser.
I looked at him very politely and said: What about a real beer, Cardinal? We can do better.
He took a second to think and said: Well, I also enjoy a Stella Artois (and something else to which he asked me not to tell the whole world – buy me a beer and I’ll tell you!).
I thanked him and asked for a photo (mad props to Tom Pringle for snapping the pic). He then invited me to contact him for coffee (or a Bloody Mary) next time I’m in NYC. You’ve got a deal, Cardinal.

I am so blessed to have been part of this weekend. I will cherish these memories forever. Thanks to all my friends. I hope to see you again very soon.

Cheers,

Vabs