Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney Richard Umbers makes memes for fun.
It’s not the most obvious match, he knows. But it all started with Twitter.
“I’ve been on Twitter for many, many years and in that time there were a lot of American college students talking about philosophy and grand ideas and they themselves were sharing memes so I would see that come through on my feed,” said Richard, who was working in school and university chaplaincy at the time.
In 2016, memes of Harambe, the gorilla killed at Cincinnati Zoo after a child fell into its enclosure, saturated the internet. Richard decided he wanted to get in on the action and started making his own. Around the same time, he was installed as Auxiliary Bishop in Sydney. Now with little time available, his memes happen during procrastination or what he calls “recreation time”.
“I think if I saw it as a good use of time it would not be a good use of time. It’s precisely because I do it as a way of recreation that it seems to have more impact.”
Within two years of becoming a Bishop, Richard has gained a following of over 15,000 people on Facebook and Twitter. This includes some non-Christians or nominal Christians. People have even told him they’ve come back to their faith because of his memes.
“One of the points with the memes is that you come across a picture you think it’s kind of funny but you always want to understand and there can be a 20 per cent to the thing that you say ‘what is that?’ I know other people are following this and there seems to be some meaning to this, I’m not quite sure what that is and I want to find out more.’ And people get intrigued, they get fascinated and they start to discover a community of people and believers that they didn’t know existed and you’ve got them hooked.”
And he’s discovering that he can go deeper, philosophically and theologically, and still garner an audience.
“Today’s 20 year old knows way more and does a lot more as regard to the faith then when I was 20. And it’s probably the result of the internet, information is so accessible; if you really want to delve into something, get into something, you can. So there may be many people who think ‘oh, load of rubbish.’ But those who get into, get into it!”