My first concern was that I wouldn't be able to think of anything to say. I should really have known myself better - as a preacher, and former teacher, I find it far too easy to share my opinions, which makes me a natural blogger. Not that this is necessarily a good thing. The temptation to sound off on anything and everything is very strong - especially as making a lot of noise tends to get more attention online. But as a reader, I don't enjoy blogs that are constantly whingeing and grumbling. So, although I allow myself regular rants about the Terrible State of Things, in between I deliberately reign myself back and cultivate a more reflective voice as well. I don't know how this comes across, but it works for me.
It's been harder work than I thought. Bloggers who say that it doesn't take time out of your life are blaggers. I have to make an effort to apply myself to this, when time is already precious. The reason I carry on is because I think (but I don't yet know) that it might be doing something worthwhile. However, readers will have to live with the one or two week pauses that result from other things getting in the way. Some weeks I just don't have any spare time (or at least, not enough to fritter on writing things for you to read), and then I have to discipline myself to get back in the blogging habit. I resolved early on not to be one of those bloggers who regularly chirps "goodness, I haven't been blogging much recently", so when this happens I just start again as though I never went away. This too seems to work.
Among the less pleasant surprises - the way in which the blog is constantly threatening to turn you into a dangerous obsessive. It's not so much that everything must be viewed as potential blog fodder, because preachers are used to this anyway, but once you start counting your stats then the whole thing takes on a new aspect. I know it's not just me that does this - bloggers are very community minded, sharing, commenting (and cribbing) amongst themselves all the time, but this community has a distinct undercurrent of competitiveness. How else to explain the existence of blog rankings? (how excited was I to be rated no. 29 in Wikio's "UK Religion and Belief" list?) Kept within limits, this is just a bit of fun, but just occasionally the blogger needs to remember to put this all in perspective.
On the lighter side, the same blogging community has also been one of the better surprises. Interacting with other bloggers, mostly (but not exclusively) fellow Anglicans, has been a real pleasure and helped my thinking in so many ways, as well as being surprisingly funny in some cases. The most pleasant surprise of all has been Twitter, the online hang-out of choice for most of the aforementioned, and the perfect companion for blogging. Much more dynamic than Facebook, Twitter's 140 character limit tends to sharpen interaction rather than stifle it, and the presence of so many writers and journalists, and other wordy types (not to mention vicars) disproves the idea that it represents dumbing down.
Has AH been a success? Difficult to say, since I'm not entirely sure what I set out to achieve. I think another year will help to answer that. Readership isn't high, typically 40-60 visits on a day when I post, but occasionally a single post will generate a lot of interest, usually the stroppy or controversial ones. But it's quality not quantity at this stage, and I've again been pleasantly surprised by the positive feedback I've had right from the start. For me personally, it has been well worth it, having a space to work through my thoughts and also an outlet for ideas that otherwise wouldn't get a hearing. I'm looking forward to keeping it going for another year, and seeing what develops from it.
And finally, which seems to be the thing to do, the top posts so far on Always Hope:
Most read: this reflection on the healing of Delia Knox
Most commented on: a little grumble about the failings of the synodical system
and my personal favourite, which I posted very early on, when no-one was reading:
Why dogs might get to heaven after all