Ember Day Letter to Bishop Cate

To the Congregation:

Preview of coming attractions, FYI.


My dear Bishop,

Here is the autumn Ember Day letter from dailyoffice.org. I hope you enjoyed your time with the House of Bishops in Taipei. We were able to pray with you and for you during that time, and to follow some news of the House thanks to Mary Frances Schjonberg’s coverage on ENS.

Spanish Site, a Daily Office “Network”

Here are some important developments for us. On Advent 1, our official 10th anniversary, we will launch the Daily Office in Spanish by bringing an existing site, Oficio Diario, under our umbrella. It was founded three years ago by the Rev. Michael Dresbach, a priest in the Diocese of El Camino Real and former missionary in Panamá. He was named Alumnus of the Year in 2013 by CDSP and awarded an honorary doctorate; I’m proud that he’s joining us. Oficio Diario is attractively presented and successful, but it has never gotten the traffic it deserves, and Padre Mickey and I are hoping that by combining forces, we can generate some publicity so more users come to both sites. We will create a portal (“landing page”) on our sites so that all users can choose their preferred language and location, English/Spanish and Eastern/Western Hemisphere.

Maybe you’ll get a chance to help us add a little buzz by mentioning it to bishops in Spanish-speaking dioceses. I’m hoping they can remember “dailyoffice.org” as the point of entry. (Show them on your phone!) We would love to have more visitors from Central and South America, the Caribbean and Philippines, as well as our own country.

That same date, Advent 1, I will appoint an Anglican layman in the Diocese of Auckland, New Zealand as editor of the Daily Office East so it has more of a regional focus and impact. His name is Graeme W. Prestidge and he has the support of his Vicar and Bishop. Graeme is currently the administrator of a New Zealand Anglican group on Facebook, and he links to our prayers every day. He has demonstrated commitment to the Lord and shown sufficient computer skills to take on this role. To find him I wrote a letter to our Eastern members and contacted the Rev. Bosco Peters, an Anglican liturgist and professor who operates the #1 Christian blog in New Zealand, asking for a volunteer from the region; Bosco publicized our invitation and Graeme volunteered.

Dailyoffice.org will own and control all three sites, which together we are branding as the Daily Office Network. But my workload will actually diminish because of Graeme, and the East should be a more useful site to people, being managed by someone who actually lives there.

Here’s what’s behind all this. As our American site got more and more hits, I began to worry about what would happen to it once I’m gone. Like Jackson Kemper and Philander Chase, I want the institutions I establish to outlive me. That means they have to be well founded, well managed and well capitalized; it has to be somebody’s job to keep the prayers going and make sure our sites continue to grow.

Money’s Coming In (and Going Out)

In connection with our 10-year anniversary, we are engaged in fundraising; we can’t wait for some foundation to decide we’re worthy. We set a goal of $17,800 and have received about $10,000 of that from 220 new donors after five weeks. We pegged our goal to equal $10 per year per e-mail subscriber, while allowing that some people can’t afford that, some people never give anything, and others are moved to be more generous. We don’t “charge for prayers,” but ironically, parishioners cost money; if the number of babies in the church nursery suddenly doubles, they need twice as many cribs and caregivers. That’s our situation.

Of course we have to be responsible with donors’ money; we’ve engaged the Roberts Law Office of Goodland, Indiana and the CPA firm Huth Thompson of Lafayette, and bought new accounting software. We will be able to meet our obligation to send donors’ contribution receipts come January. I will attach 1st Quarter 2014 results (Jan-Mar) herewith, as well as our 2015 budget. By the end of the year we’ll have good records of our finances.

You have twice offered a one-time donation of $1000 as the diocese’s gift to us. Now would be a good time for it if it’s still available.

New Technology

Meanwhile we are moving ahead on technology. Thanks to a generous donation from our “soul medic” and webcast leader Clint Gilliland, we now own two GoPro 3+ video cameras at about $300 each, which I am learning to operate. (This is the model Kathy Copas recommended to me.) I have made one “slide show” video so far (a common type on YouTube) to learn how to edit, which turns out to be easier than I expected. Even at the novice level, this opens new worlds for us.

Your offering me unused space in your office set in motion a chain reaction. (If you need to withdraw your offer, I’m fine with that. Your offer was enough to get me thinking, so it “worked” without my actually occupying the space.) A deacon in the Diocese of Michigan, Tim Spanauer, donated a copy of his recent book on video production, which emphasizes the planning process. I’ve learned how to set up a wireless network so I can control the camera remotely, without standing behind a tripod or disrupting what happens in church. I bought a new router, so now we have Wi-Fi capability. These are all key steps. Someday soon we will produce our own stand-alone Daily Office videos, as well as our webcasts.

But there are limits to what an amateur like me can accomplish, especially on a shoestring budget. We are at the point of needing professional help, so we can keep up with the increasing sophistication of our audience and congregation. In this coming year we will engage Bill Wolfe of Thirty Five, a marketing agency in Indy and Lafayette. They grow and cultivate online “tribes,” which we call communities. We need a site redesign, that new landing page, and ways to “monetize our content” so we can afford all these new bassinets for the nursery. We don’t need a Lay Vicar thinking he has to run everything when he doesn’t know how. We need expertise, and Bill has it; that’s why his company is a $5000 line item in our new budget.

What All This Means, I Think

There are many directions we can go in the future, but I want to close with a wide shot for some perspective.

Technology changes constantly, and we don’t know what the future will bring, but we can start to draw some conclusions from our limited experience. In ten years dailyoffice.org has grown from one small, basic, static website to three interactive, multimedia, bilingual sites with international reach, plus a few thousand followers on social media. Site visits keep climbing 40% a year with no leveling off – so we can expect growth to continue, and can probably accelerate it if we continue to invest in new production techniques, develop new “products” and new “markets,” and learn how to present these new products in ways that delight consumers and serve the Lord.

All this growth has big implications for how Episcopalians do church; our digital market increases at the same time that our physical parishes are struggling. Is anybody driving this bus? (In the future we may not need anyone to drive us; the bus may drive itself.) By 2050 artificial intelligence, now the domain of academics and the military, will likely be commercialized; what’s to become of the Church then?

My sense is this: no matter how smart our devices get, no matter what existential questions new technologies raise, people will always need access to the Divine, to holy ancient Wisdom, and to the cumulative experience of humanity. The Church’s mission will not change, even as our procedures and methods will be upended. There will never be a substitute for human touch in the Sacraments of God. So we should be prepared to stumble and fall and pick ourselves up again without fear or shame, but with confidence and open hearts. A loving God is in charge of this world. People will always need each other, will always need God, and will always need Good News. We’re likely to need community more than ever before; at the same time we’re likely to see ever wider divergence between cultures and faith.

So our job will be what it’s always been, communication – the very thing technology promises more of, but doesn’t always deliver. ISIS recruits online, but so do we.

We don’t know how, 40 years from now, we’ll “proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ,” but we know that will remain our mandate and vow. These trends put extra-parochial communities like dailyoffice.org right at the center of things. In our diocese we may lose 20, 30, 40 buildings – but we should try to gain 200, 300, 400 new micro-production companies. That’s what my organization is these days, a production company for Christ. We don’t crank out a hit show every day, but man, when we do, we’re astounding. I long for you to see that for yourself someday on a webcast.

We’ve got a good head writer, a talented presenter in Clint, and a congregation of great faith, but mostly we’re just aggregators. We combine other people’s incredible gifts from all over the world to tell the stories of God.

Besides investing continually in the latest gizmos, we need to aggregate talent in-house, by which I mean our organization, our parishes, dioceses and the national church. Whatever setbacks happen in the world and in the Episcopal Church, we have talent like crazy – and better stories to tell than any competition, religious or secular. What’s coming, as I see it, is pure, intense competition for souls; why should people go to church when they could be GoPro-ing with the whales off Dana Point, California, or battling to destroy all their enemies on X-Box?

As long as we don’t give up our “content” as Christians, but continually develop it with heart, soul, art and gadgets, I see us winning. We’re so far ahead of other churches it’s not funny. It may feel to us like we’re way behind the techno curve, but in fact we’re early adopters. This is only the start of the Computer Revolution.

So I’m optimistic, even as my mind gets boggled every day by the challenges. Episcopalians need to stand firm in the faith, as St. Paul said; we need visionary leaders who can gather creative people, train them and let them loose. We won’t win every time, but we don’t have to; we have to provide alternatives to the apathy, alienation and violence headed our way. Our opponents like to shoot up movie theaters, behead people or enslave women and girls; while our God continually gives us life.

As Episcopalians we can face this. Our little Daily Office community is proving it. And what we’re learning to do can be replicated and elaborated upon almost infinitely, if the Church will trust the Holy Spirit.

Here’s the thing to watch for from us on Advent 1: not just our new sites and new look, but whether we make our financial goal. If we fail, that represents a Word that doesn’t get said, a story that doesn’t get told – while we keep on telling others as best we can.

But if we succeed, we will be one new model of what this Church can become. We’ll always need priests and communities and gathering places, but they don’t have to be limited to the ones we have now, they can be anywhere and everywhere. That’s just where we want to be!

Thank you, Reverend Mother, for your prayers and support. Please send more!

Yours in Christ,

Josh

October 13, 2014

Attach: 2015 Budget
1Q 2014 Activity Statement

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s