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