Thursday, February 13, 2014

An Open Letter to the UUA

I read the UU World article on the new logo, branding, and outreach effort with great interest.  The article tapped into some things I've been frustrated about and some things I've been excited about.  A couple of points in the article really resonated with me (the italics are mine):
The Rev. Dr. Terasa Cooley, the UUA’s Program and Strategy Officer, said the new initiative developed out of a growing realization that the UUA and its congregations have been sending “inconsistent” messages about Unitarian Universalism into the larger world.
and
“We want congregations to think about the messages their congregations are sending out to the world that doesn’t know anything about them,” she added. “That includes thinking about how their building looks to guests, the structure of their services, their programs, whether they’re inward-oriented or serving the community, and what their online presence is like.
and
And the UUA is developing other resources for congregations, regional groups, and the national association to use. This effort is about much more than a new logo and a new look for the website, Cooley said. “We have to figure out how we live out this faith of ours, not just how to sell it. We need to get clearer about the ways the culture is changing and the ways we serve that culture.” 
Bravo.  Thank you for your vision.  Here's what I need to start.

I'm a minister who has been out in the field for over a decade, and is relatively technologically proficient for someone in the ministry with a liberal arts degree preceding that, but there are ways in which I was unprepared for the way ministry and church would change during my ministry.  And as a minister of a relatively small church, I see ways in which my church is unable to respond.  There are concrete things that the UUA could do that would make things easier.

In my situation, I'm a minister who is the person who creates our church webpage (and created our UUMA chapter webpage and the Ohio River Group webpage).  Nobody else in my church for a long period of time had the know-how (although this is starting to change).  A small, rural congregation, we had no money to pay a professional website developer.  The end result?  A webpage that is serviceable, but not a strong online presence.  It's been my opinion that there are a lot of small churches and even some larger ones with poor websites.  I can see two solutions to this.  One is churches grouping together.  But with our tendency to not collaborate well -- something I hope will change -- this kind of thing is hard to get going.  A simpler solution is for the UUA to provide a basic webpage template for congregations that is in keeping with UUA branding and customizable to some extent for our local congregation information, or for the UUA to create strong pieces -- graphics and videos, etc. -- that can be incorporated into our websites.

When you add to that the need to create church Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Google + pages, and more, this becomes even more impossible for many congregations -- small, rural, and aging ones, in particular -- to do well.  There's been a lot of good work from the UU Media Collaborative and UU Media Works and others online, but good-quality professional images that we can post and tweet are always needed.

When we were doing newspaper advertising, the UUA created professional advertisements, and congregations could buy the packet for customizing and using in our local newspapers. We still use print materials, and it would be easy to create all sorts of them to customize to a local setting and get printed.  I struggled this week with finding "Standing on the Side of Love" brochures that I could bring to a local event.  I had the choice of buying ones from the UUA Bookstore, which would leave anyone picking it up with no clue how to connect locally, or making my own from scratch.  SSL does have images that we can cut and paste, and thankfully tells us the hex code for the color and the font name (but not where to find Scala Sans for free), but whole brochures, business cards, etc., that we could then customize would be so easy to make available to us.  (By the way, could you provide the font name and color values for that new brand?  I also hope it's a font easily available.  I'm not finding what looks like an exact match.)  With no administrative staff in my small church, if I want to have a special SSL handout for our event Friday, it's up to me to make one, with hours that could be spent elsewhere if something was more grab-and-go online.  The end result will also likely be less professional.

Lastly, the biggest and most important issue I've struggled with.  To bring my 158-year-old congregation into the ability to podcast and post videos, we've encountered many barriers, from willing Sunday morning volunteers to people with the technological know-how to purchasing equipment.  We've been painstakingly putting the pieces in place -- ability to digitally record, a video camera -- but another barrier from the Association remains: our hymnal.  I know that I'm hearing that exciting, dynamic worship isn't always sermon-based, but the sermon is practically the only thing we have the copyright to.  The idea that we could at a local level track down the copyright permissions for any hymns we use is an obstacle we will never overcome.  I hear from my local Lutheran colleagues that they pay an annual fee to their denomination which covers use of anything in their hymnal for use in worship and using for videos, podcasts, etc.  What I hear from my UU colleagues is that they either ignore copyright or post only the sermon, or make the videos or audios only available to their members.  Having a hymnal where we know we can use anything in our worship service and still make that worship service accessible technologically is a must for our congregations going forward.  If we want to think about reaching out beyond our four walls, it would be great to be able to do so with music and worship.

In a nutshell, there are four technological obstacles that I see small congregations unable to conquer that our larger Association could help with:
  • Professional webpage templates
  • Professional graphics and videos
  • Professional downloads for customizable print materials
  • Copyrights for electronic transmission of worship
Conquer these, and you'll free us up to do that reaching out to our larger community and to the "nones." 

Thank you again for your vision.  I look forward to having the tools to address it.

24 comments:

sermonsinstones.com said...

Yes. Thank you. Anyone reading this, the UU Church of Palo Alto has more or less the same requests.

Cathy Ortiz-White said...

To be honest, I'm not particularly fond of many of the songs in the old hymn book anyway. So how about getting a band that plays new, original songs? That's what I'd like our church to do. It's time we got some more progressive music to attract more youth anyway.

Judy said...

Right on! I hope this post ends up in the right place at the UUA, which needs to hear this. Thank you, Cynthia!

Roger Fritts said...

excellent ideas!

Rev. Erika said...

Amen! An apt angle/request that I second... and a graceful side-stepping of the logo morass.

Marzipan said...

I'll add: Purchase top-level domain names (or TLDs) for .uu and .uua

Establish a % of Budget devoted to common administrative resources, web, financial, event management, document management, archiving and e-discovery, collaboration, etc. Even a little bit of progress on one of these would be welcome.

Maybe then I wouldn't feel so ambiguous about funding our congregation's dues to the UUA

JAVS said...

Good, thoughtful overview of issues of some smaller UU congregations! We have been lucky in Charleston; the city and the church have attracted a lot of talented, younger individuals, and we've managed a great website and good recordings of recent programs.
I agree that these are things the denomination should be able to help with if the local congregation needs assistance.

Jeff Liebmann said...

Hear, hear...especially the fourth point. The copyright issue uniquely disadvantages us from recording services and transmitting programs either recorded or via livestream. Even if congregations could manage the first three issues, we cannot handle the fourth and need the UUA to help.

AnneS said...

There is a movement w/in the Joseph Priestley District to create CLUSTERS of congregations that would work together to solve difficulties like yours (ours). The cluster are based on physical proximity, and ideally consist of varying sizes of congregations from small fellowships to relatively large congregations. It would be worth your while to get in touch with Cristina Sanchis at the JPD office. I imagine that you;d already know if your district has somethign like this in process

Cynthia Landrum said...

Cathy Ortiz-White -- New music isn't a bad idea, but for a lot of small/rural churches the ability to attract and afford top-notch songwriting musicians is a bit out of their league. But it's not out of the UUA's ability to do what I'm calling for.

Rev. Erika -- Logo? What logo? Surely there's no discussion about that going on! ;)

Jeff -- And as you've pointed out elsewhere, many of our churches could use help with video equipment and editing software, but since equipment would have to be church-by-church, I think this would be a good place for the UUA to start.

Anne S -- Yes, our cluster is talking about some of this, but I still think it would be easier for it to happen at a district/region or UUA level.

Deborah Neisel-Sanders said...

Thanks very much for your thoughtful ideas - they make perfect sense. While we are not able to provide details about an ongoing project, I can say that the new logo is just the tip of the iceberg; a good number of wishes that the logo reveal has generated are already in development or scheduled to be.

Please keep them coming! Contrary to impression, we are listening and paying attention. We'd love to hear from you directly, as well. And if you give a suggestion that we're already working on, then we know we're on the right track!

With deep appreciation for your commitment to our faith,

Deborah Neisel-Sanders
UUA Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries
youth@uua.org

Mark Perloe, M.D. said...

Including our hymns from the gray hymnal in podcasts or livestreams is a sure way to send the message that we look to the past, like to sing, but our music transforms our services sound like funerals.

Cynthia Landrum said...

Deborah Neisel-Sanders -- Thank you! That's good to hear that some are in the works. And I did send this directly to Terasa Cooley, as well. This represents things that I've been thinking about for a while, and this was a good moment to get it all in writing. I'm glad to hear that you all were thinking in this direction, as well.

Mark Perloe -- It doesn't have to be the grey hymnal. It can be the teal hymnal. Better yet, a new hymnal, with a mixture of new music and some traditional, but one where we know we can livestream and podcast EVERYTHING.

Cynthia Landrum said...

I should say Terasa Cooley's response by e-mail echoed what Deborah Neisel-Sanders said -- some of this is in the works, and they appreciate hearing ideas.

Maryah said...

You do an excellent job of articulating the challenges of small churches, but even in big churches our technological know-how can be insufficient, intimidating to our volunteers, and beyond staff bandwidth.

Scott Wells said...

While I'm (to put it mildly) not as pleased as you about the new logo or sanguine about the UUA helping small churches in practical matters, I couldn't help but notice your quandry about the very attractive Scala Sans. Very attractive and very expensive.

You can buy it here: http://www.fontshop.com/fontlist/super_families/ff_scala/

But splash out for the $509 set? I'd think not.

Open Sans, a liberally licensed (free to use) and free of charge typeface, is available for print and web, is attractive and (to my mind) close enough.

http://www.google.com/fonts/specimen/Open+Sans

For your computer: choose the varieties your want here, and press the small down arrow button to download.

http://www.google.com/fonts/#UsePlace:use/Collection:Open+Sans

I'll be writing more about design, type and the new UUA logo at my blog: boyinthebands.com

Cynthia Landrum said...

Maryah -- Duly noted. I could only speak from my own experience. I hope folks at the UUA are hearing that big churches need this stuff, too.

Scott -- Thanks for the info. Scala Sans was the SSL font; I'm not sure what the UUA one is.

Scott Wells said...

I followed up in a blog post on the subject: "Type and the UUA new identity"

Short answer: Futura, I think

Donald O'Bloggin said...

I wouldn't trust a local church to be able to use templates if provided. We'd all be far better off if the UUA just hosted a wordpress server that any church could point their domain at, and select the template of their choice, removing from the church staff any administration work and instead focus on content creation.

Cynthia Landrum said...

Scott -- Posted this also at your blog, but copying it here for anyone following this thread:

Just got my hands on the PDF of the Brand usage, and it says that Helvetica Neue is to be used in all UUA publications now. I don't know if the logo itself is Helvetica Neue, but all accompanying text will be. It says Helvetica is also acceptable, and if neither is available, then Arial.

Helvetica Neue is an interesting choice -- I understand that it's available free with all Mac/Apple computers/tablets/phones, as it's the default for iOS. For us Windows and Android users, it's not so free, sadly. Helvetica is also a font used by numerous logos and, well, just about everywhere. So it puts us in keeping with what's in current usage, but doesn't stand out.

On one hand, I think it's strange for the SSL and UUA logos and fonts and colors to all be so different, but then since I hate that SSL orange, I'm glad for this difference. Plus, the Scala Sans of SSL is more expensive than Helvetica Neue.

Cynthia Landrum said...

Donald -- I basically agree--with Wordpress or other templates that have already been customized to work as a basic congregation site. However it's done, the point should be to free up congregations to create content.

Scott Wells said...

The PDF? Where did you get that?

A replied on my blog, but the logo wordmark is Futura.

Cynthia Landrum said...

@Scott -- there's a benefit to being on the MidAmerica Region board, it seems. :)

And you're right, the logo wordmark can't be Helvetica, as the As are to pointy and the Rs are different. It does indeed look like Futura.

Scott Wells said...

Ah, but if you really need a Helvetica Unitarian (and Free Christian) wordmark, the British may oblige:

http://www.unitarian.org.uk/support/chalices-a.shtml

This is the kind of resource I hope to see from the UUA.

Any news (from anyone)?