From Miserable Church Videos, Make Haste to Spare Us, Good Lord


Every morning Sunday through Thursday, I go online to find a music video for our live webcasts. Many people say they like the ones I choose; ya can’t go wrong with the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, Washington National Cathedral or the British TV program “Songs of Praise.” But they tend to do hymns that are very traditional and popular, what I call the “old chestnuts,” and I find myself looking for more variety than that. (When I find it I put it on our Friday night Video Evensong.)

The Hymnal 1982, currently used by The Episcopal Church, is a revision of the classic Hymnal 1940, deemed by many musicians as the best church hymnal ever produced in English. But it contained some tunes that felt schmaltzy, some lyrics that no longer reflected modern understandings, and a revision was made. I’m still getting to know the 1982 version; I like it more than I thought I would at first. After the “new” Prayer Book of 1979, we needed up-to-date service music and the ’82 hymnal provided it.

So in my video searches on YouTube, I go through the hymnal according to the season and the feast. I’m not trained in music, and as a layperson I’ve never had to select it for a parish, but for a long season (50 days) like Easter, I can and do go page by page. But the results are sometimes a bit shocking. Dozens of our hymns are not available on the channel, and what I do find sometimes makes my eyeballs roll.

I would have thought by now that every hymn selected by The Episcopal Church, with its terrific musical reputation, would be available; I would have thought that I’d find many videos of popular selections to choose from. Instead what I find, all too often, is that we put almost no effort as a Church to spread the Gospel through music videos. I’m not just talking about professionally-produced videos; I understand that small churches are not going to have the means to get into that. I mean even big churches with tons of money don’t make any effort.

There is all of one video for “Look there! the Christ our Brother, comes” (#196), a hymn new to the 1982 edition, with two tunes available, one still under copyright. The tune “Petrus” presents quite a challenge, with time changes and key changes any amateur choir would be hard-pressed to learn. It’s very untraditional, perhaps suited to children – if they’re musical prodigies; to me it sounds kind of rinky-dink. So here’s some parish in California attempting it on video with their combined children’s and adult choirs; the result was… execrable. I won’t embarrass them further, but I wouldn’t put that video on our sites. (It had all of 15 views.)

“Thou hallowed chosen morn of praise,” another Easter hymn, to me is a well-loved, very familiar chestnut. But there’s only one video of it on YouTube, some guy banging a $50 electronic keyboard and making a sound so tinny it reminded me of when I was 10 years old and taking piano lessons from poor Mrs. Armstrong. (My piano at home was an old castoff upright with half the ivories coming unglued.) I have no clue why the fellow bothered, except that these days, everyone thinks they can make a video.

– And indeed we can; the technology costs very little. A decent videocam, a tripod, a little software, you’re in business.

A majority of Christian videos on YouTube aren’t really videos at all; they’re audio (of someone else) with a picture. Even when the audio is a famous person’s recording, I want more than one picture of a daisy. Moving pictures would be nice.

North shore palisade on Lake Superior in Minnesota, just so you know I can do soothing visuals. (EPA)

North shore palisade on Lake Superior in Minnesota, just so you know I can do soothing visuals. (EPA)

Or someone will put up three pix to look at for a four-minute song. “Don’t the visuals ever change on this piece of junk?”

Sometimes the National Cathedral will have good live sound of their choir and congregation, together with a few stills of the building. I ask my screen, “How did they get the sound if they don’t have moving pictures?”

A parish in Arizona sets a cam up on the balcony while three or four musicians – piano, clarinet, two singers – make music up front half a football field away. The music is nice, but their videos always begin and end with a terrible clatter, like somebody’s banging pots and pans. And of course you get all the babies crying and people coughing and ambient noise, because they didn’t put the microphone up front with the musicians.

A guy at a big wealthy parish in New York sits in his pew halfway down and shoots whatever his phone can see – usually 50 bald heads. Of course with a hand-held camera the picture’s going to be flopping all over the place; I’ve used his videos a few times, because the sound of choir and organ is good (I know and like that parish). The videos he makes, labors of love each one, and always with the right idea, are minimally acceptable.

I wonder what it would take – a thousand bucks, tops? – to place three fixed cameras and a mid-quality mic, and create a good video. It wouldn’t need much editing, just a few switches from one camera to the next, to convey adequately what it’s like to sit in our pews and worship God in song.

I wonder why so few churches do that; I wonder why it’s no one’s priority.

When I’m able to find high-quality video it really enhances our online experience. I would think that good, short videos of the local church would be posted on every parish website in the land, at least those with enough cash to pay the priest and organist and keep the lights on. These videos don’t have to be music, either; show me two minutes of a welcome message from the clergy, or what our infants’ and toddlers’ program is like with our safe and well-trained staff. Got a youth group? Why aren’t they making videos of everything they do?

Here’s one that was made with professional assistance; most youth groups will be on their own. But with 80,000 views, tell me this didn’t excite Episcopal youth! I know grown men with tears in their eyes as they watched this. (‘Cause I’m one. I’m a total sucker for acolytes.)

VIDEO: Serve Christ Maybe – Diocese of West Texas, 2013; Lauren Rader, Dave Moore

So what have you got, a strawberry festival? Feeding program? Jubilee Christmas? Blessing of the animals, or doctors and nurses, or fire trucks? I know it’s too much to ask that you show me your Rogation Days (!), but how can you let your visuals pass away as if they never happened? They’re valuable!

Everyone says they want their churches to grow; every church says they want more young adults and families. But 99% of our parishes are unwilling to do what it takes to get those young adults through the door. Millennials want an informative online presence, before they show up. They want to know they’ll be comfortable in this church, that their kids are well cared for, that they don’t have to dress up so other people can judge them. If they’re African-American or Latino or Asian or deaf or LGBT, they want to know there are one or two others like them already.

Most of all they want to know that you can connect them with God – the very thing we specialize in.

But if the rector’s camera-shy, or too much a control freak to empower anyone else to go make some visuals, you might as well hang up a sign that says, “This church is really only for us.”

That’s the message we’re sending; here we’ve got so much going for us (as Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians or whatever), but we hide our light under a bushel, all across the nation.

I would like to make gradual but continual upgrades in our technology so we can grow and spread the Gospel. I want a plan so we’re eventually making our own videos. I want us using every electronic gadget we can find, every platform, every network and medium, in support of the local church. Because the chances are if people like what they see on our sites, they might visit your site at 6th & Ferry Streets. That’s what we’re about.

Last week I met with Kathy Copas, our diocesan communications and evangelism officer (former journalist and TV news producer), and John Vernon Oaks, our diocesan stewardship guru. We talked about the techno, and we talked about the money. We talked about how the Church can unleash all the creativity of its members – and we talked about what holds us back.

I’ve got some tasks to take care of before our sites are ready to do professional fundraising, and an hour from now I’m seeing our new lawyer to get our incorporation and non-profit status nailed down. After that Kathy can make us a fundraising website in a short time. John will spread the word about us to some donors he knows; when I ask for help from the Diocese of Indianapolis I get it.

Indy diocesan staff: Bishop Cate's in the red vest, with John Vernon Oaks next to her and Kathy Copas next to him.

Indy diocesan staff: Bishop Cate’s in the red vest, with John Vernon Oaks next to her and Kathy Copas next to him. The others are dear ones, too.

Mostly what it takes is a commitment to Do Church Right in 2014 and beyond.

I’m not an expert in anything but the Daily Office. I am, however, committed to making our sites the best they can possibly be. With 1700 e-mail subscribers, 2000 members in our Facebook group, hundreds of additional daily visitors and a growing presence on Twitter, I know we’re on our way.

This much I also know: I am not conceding the internet to Pat Robertson, Rick Warren or any of those personality-cult, feel-good, give-me-your-money TV preachers who claim they alone speak for Christianity. They don’t. I speak too; we speak too. And pictures are worth a thousand words; moving pictures are worth 500 stills.

Thank you for your support and prayers.++

My Lunch with +Cate: OMG, Now What?!

The Right Reverend Catherine Maples Waynick, 10th Bishop of Indianapolis, is’s official Episcopal Visitor. This means she gives us oversight and advice, and we are spiritually accountable to her in Christ. She has supported our prayer site ever since I first hit Publish almost ten years ago; in fact she was the second person to stop by. She left us a nice note that day and has been pulling for us ever since.

Our bishop; nice lady. A spiritual director and, I must say, well loved by her parishioners. (diocesan website)

Our bishop; nice lady. A spiritual director and, I must say, well loved by her parishioners. (diocesan website)

We are an independent entity and have no formal relationship, legal or ecclesiastical, with the diocese, but we have always recognized her as having spiritual authority over us by virtue of her office. We operate within the geographic boundaries of her diocese since I belong to one of her parishes, St. John’s, Lafayette. But from there it all gets pleasantly weird; I’m independent but I’m not, a commissioned evangelist in The Episcopal Church with a national preaching license, maybe the only one left in the United States, though once there were almost 100 of us. As a layperson – not a deacon or priest – I am not empowered to administer sacraments like baptism or Holy Communion. I am allowed to teach and preach where a rector (pastor of a local church) permits. At least, that’s how it used to be, before God invented the internet.

I’m a sort of glorified “lay reader,” the lowest rung on the ministerial ladder, but in some ways the freest one of all; no one expects much out of me, but they don’t put me in a priest’s pigeonhole, so I can do more or less what I want.

The first thing I learned to do as a ministry trainee years ago was to conduct Morning and Evening Prayer as published in the Book of Common Prayer. Since 2004, I’ve been doing that online, not in a church building like other ministers. I do my thing and she lets me – that’s the legality of it. Still, it felt a bit momentous this morning for me to drive to Indy, a symbolic act of spiritual submission to my superior. I didn’t, like, kneel down and get dubbed or anything; we’re never going to be in a BBC miniseries, but maybe there was a medieval echo there somewhere, some sort of tale from the crypt.

Crypt at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland; a person could get lost down there and never be seen or heard again. (Mike Brown/

Crypt at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland; a person could get lost down there and never be seen or heard from again. (Mike Brown/

I was prepared for this meeting, thanks to some good questions and advice from Dr. Maria L. Evans, a physician and board member as well as our official Missioner – meaning her job is to help me focus on the mission of this ministry and how it advances the kingdom of God. She suggested I share with Bishop Cate what my hopes and dreams are for this endeavor; what I think it should become. So that’s what I did, over lunch at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, located adjacent to the diocesan offices.

LOVE by Robert Indiana. He has made many versions of this famous sculpture, but we saw the original today at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. (

LOVE by Robert Indiana. He has made many versions of this famous sculpture, but we saw the original today at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. (

She asked about our webcasts, which we started in December; I told her the technology is kind of crude, but we’ve got a good group of people who show up every day, that it’s just like any other Daily Office group in a parish church except we’re scattered all over the USA. That we’re getting to know each other, that we listen and we care.

She knows what small parish groups are like in the real world, so she smiled and visualized us on our phones and computers, in our bathrobes or jeans or clerical collars. She understood when I said we’re all guzzling coffee as we pray. Online we can get away with things we’d never do in church.

I told her my basic conviction about my work and our site is that it’s proven its worth to people, as measured by 2.5 million site visits, 1700 e-mail subscribers and almost 2000 Facebook members. We’re not the biggest Christian site in the world, but we’re one of the biggest in The Episcopal Church, and in these ten years we’ve learned a lot about presenting the Gospel of Christ online. We don’t preach; we illustrate. Mostly we just read the Bible and pray, and we do this twice a day, every day of our lives.

That every day, twice-a-day makes a whale of a difference. As an evangelist I’m no Billy Graham, filling arenas; I don’t operate a big glitzy megachurch or fly around in a private jet. In fact, I’m not the focus of this at all – and Episkies agree I shouldn’t be. That’s what makes me different from any other kind of evangelist you’ve ever heard of – and the Episcopal Church different from every other kind of church you’ve ever heard of.

(My personality and preaching do work their way in, but there are no CDs for sale in the lobby – we don’t have a lobby!)

Given these numbers, which are impressive on the one hand and not exactly HuffPo or Twitter on the other, what should we become in the next ten years? That’s what I went to Indy to talk to Cate about.

The big lesson, it seems to me, is that even though I’m no media whiz, no techno guru, we do well enough with both the Gospel and the internet that we have a viable project here; one that can and should outlive me.

We’re ten years old almost; it’s time we became permanent.

So the short answer about what our future should be is this – I’d like us to become a much more sophisticated, “full service” media site, using technology better and better to spread our gentle, radical message about Jesus the Just, Jesus the Loving, Jesus the Transcendent.

The Episcopal Church’s perception of Jesus Christ is unlike any other church’s that I know. – Not totally different, there are multiple connections with all kinds of other Christians, but still: we are distinct. Very different. Soul-satisfying. Progressive, not oppressive. Stimulating, spiritually aware, artistically alive, ethnically diverse. Open to science, committed to scholarship, unafraid of discovery. And totally in love with the New Testament Jesus, who was no respecter of powers-that-be.

We’re what Pope Francis might be if he didn’t have to spend all day dragging the Vatican behind him.

It's impressive and all, but it's a lot to have to carry. (

It’s impressive and all, but it’s a lot to have to carry. (

Ours is an easy Gospel to sell – although we’re not very skilled at communicating it, and we’re horribly shy. We hate what “evangelists” have done to American society and the Christian church. We don’t want to be anything like them. So we hide our light under a bushel, because we don’t know how to let it shine.

We attract members, we don’t recruit them. I’m what’s called a “cradle” Episcopalian, but the majority of our members are rejects from other churches, or no church at all.

The great thing about techno online is that it attracts. Thus even our fairly timid and seriously ignorant efforts at have made us one of The Episcopal Church’s leading sites.

We can do it so much better, though, and that’s what I told Cate.

What would “better” look like? It would be video.

To really do this right, I said, I’d like to build a little online studio; doesn’t take much money, or space, or even expertise to get started. Look at how YouTube built itself from nothing.

In a way, that’s what we’ve done too.

My great innovation, what makes us different from similar sites? From the very beginning I put up pictures to go with the words of prayer and scripture. With our church’s origins in England, we’ve always been extraordinary users of words. Think Shakespeare; he was an Anglican (or in this country an Episkie).

Baptized April 24, 1556 at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-on-Avon.

Baptized April 24, 1564 at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-on-Avon.

The King James Bible is ours too. We are very, very good with the words.

But it’s the pictures that matter today, and moving pictures are better than stills. So our next innovation should be moving pictures that incorporate words and other art forms.

Now me, I don’t know one darn thing about making videos. But I didn’t know about websites either, and look at us now.

Here’s an example of a picture-with-words which will accompany Morning Prayer tomorrow on our site. You can instantly see it is something to pray about, to take to God – and, in whatever way we can, to take responsibility for, which was 98% of Christ’s message. He hated injustice. He called it sin.

Nigerian women have taken to the streets all week to protest the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram terrorists – and the lack of news coverage of this heinous crime in the Western media. This march was in Abuja, the capital, on Wednesday; one sign asks, “Can Anyone Hear Me?” (Deji Yake/European Pressphoto Agency)

Nigerian women have taken to the streets all week to protest the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram terrorists – and the lack of news coverage of this heinous crime in the Western media. This march was in Abuja, the capital, on Wednesday; one sign asks, “Can Anyone Hear Me?” (Deji Yake/European Pressphoto Agency)

Starting in the 1970s, thanks to some brave women and men, Episcopalians became very clear that sexism is a dirty ugly sin.

In Nigeria, as in every other country including our own, people are living through a great big worldwide fight about the freedom and rights and holiness and dignity of women and girls. Much of this is fueled by religion; a lot of Muslims are terrible about women’s rights, but so are a lot of Christians, especially here in so-called enlightened America.

If the USA were as advanced as it pretends to be, these kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls would be front-page/lead story on every website, broadcast and newspaper. But they’re not. So I’m putting them on my front page tomorrow.

This is what I do; it’s what my audience has come to expect from me, it’s half the reason those 2.5 million show up. Episkies have finally figured out, sexism is a sin, God hates it, and we better do something about it.

(You’ll notice my bishop is a gal named Cate. The Diocese of Indianapolis, I’m proud to say, is a worldwide leader in promoting women in church leadership, has been since January 1, 1976, and The Episcopal Church’s “pope person” is a woman named Katharine Jefferts Schori. She used to be a marine biologist.)

This does not make Episcopalians popular among Nigerian Anglicans, but so what. They hate Gay people too, but after 2000 years it cannot be news that the way to salvation leads to a Cross.

Thankfully I don’t have to tell Cate any of this, she already knows, she’s light-years ahead of me. She’s spending her days right now worrying about genocide and famine in South Sudan, where we have strong mission relationships even though we’re women-ordaining, Gay-loving Americans.

So what did Cate do today? She offered me space to build a little video studio at diocesan headquarters, so we can get the Word of God out about these atrocities. Coulda knocked me over with a feather. I know the Holy Spirit works fast, but gee whiz, she’s like lightning.

(Many of us conceive of the Holy Spirit as the feminine side of God. We know he has one; women AND men are made in his image.)

Then we talked about Christian Theological Seminary, which is right next door, and Dr. Allen Boesak, the Desmond Tutu professor at Butler University that’s two doors down, and Kathy Copas, her diocesan communications specialist who loves to help churches pull together resources to share the Gospel.

So there I was, promising Cate it’s possible to build a small studio that doesn’t cost much money and to learn how to use it to stream Good News in new ways to the whole planet. When I don’t know a thing about how!

I had to look up this video when I got home.

I don’t know how we’re going to manage it; I’m 62 years old, not 22, and I’m stone-cold stupid when it comes to technology. What you’re reading right now is typing + pictures!

I’m a little better off than Cate is; she’s never even used an ATM card. She used to know how to set Bookmarks in her computer but then she forgot how.

But she is right up on this. is going to continue to expand our technology. Maybe we’ll move our operations to diocesan headquarters. We’ll probably have to buy more equipment. (This will be hard, because we missed payroll again this month – and it’s only 600 bucks for 30 hours of Vicar time.) You can sit back now for the peroration.

What we have learned, praying twice a day every day these past ten years, is very simple: the Catholic faith is true, and a person can get close to God just by following the Daily Office. I have learned this, but so have thousands of our followers.

I can’t think of anything more counter-cultural in this world than a bunch of ordinary Americans learning to follow Christ in all of the depths of his suffering with humanity and all of his work of redemption. Gay, Straight, Black, White, Latino, Native American, none of those things matter. We’re just a bunch of sinners who have stumbled upon this Way. It is hard at times; it is often joyful too. There is more good than bad in the world, and love really does conquer all – but it takes a titanic struggle or otherwise we’ll blow up the planet in our collective human sin and greed. It’s plain old greed that makes us pollute this place; the same old love of money that Jesus found disgusting.

If we want to understand our world this May 1st, 2014, all we have to do is read our Bible and listen to him. That sounds simplistic, though it’s really complex and takes a lifetime to learn how to do it.

We are not now and never will be perfect at it. We have to be humble because our intellects are as limited as our years are.

But it can be done – there are people in all churches already doing it – and it is the unique gift God gives to Episcopalians that we’re half a step faster than all the competition, and run circles around the fundamentalist usurpers we compete with.

God wants peace. God opposes capital punishment. God upholds the dignity of every human being. Our job is to feed the hungry, whether Republicans like it or not.

And in our shared ministry as insignificant followers of Christ, vast resources lie right here at our fingertips, if we’ll have the courage to reach for them. By resources I mean a lot more than money (though we’ve got that too); talent, intellect, science, art, spirit, love. God is infinite! And God makes it all available to us if we’ll use it – not for our own self-aggrandizement like some cheap prosperity gospel, but for the upbuilding of the whole kingdom of God and every person in it.

So here’s what to expect from us in the coming years: many halting, fumbling attempts to harness technology to amass human love for God’s purposes.

This is why she invented the internet, so we would use it to talk to each other.

For the first time in human history we can reach every person now with genuine Good News; love, peace and joy.

No, our little bitty site won’t usher in the Second Coming. But yes, O Lord, we want that mic and that cam.

By putting loving people on, we will help you to be known as never before. Make us an instrument of your peace.++

God's Love We Deliver