The Vicar’s Brain Is Made of Chinese Noodles

And he can’t get them untied!

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There are a lot of excellent things happening with the Daily Office. That’s the place to start this post.

But I’m also feeling a bit overwhelmed by chaos, too, and boy, do I hate that. Like anyone, I tend to get immobilized when too much is happening at once.

The solution, of course, is order. First restore some peace and quiet, then take one issue at a time. If you’ve got a house full of screaming kids, separate them, send them to their rooms.

Unfortunately all the chaos is happening in my brain. So I’ll try to sort things out here. Start at the beginning; great things are happening.

This morning during our webcast, Clint called on Sister Hilary-Grace for the Lord’s Prayer – and out came a gorgeous original chant she wrote awhile back for her religious order, the Community of the Gospel. Twenty jaws dropped as we listened to her sing.

She’s pretty new to our webcast congregation, just a week or two, and in that time we have gotten an inkling that she has a lovely singing voice – but we didn’t know the half of it. What a joy it was to hear her this morning! When I posted the recording immediately afterward, I listed her chant as the number one reason to watch.

We’ve also been getting more and more new people the last few weeks – and oh, what a delight that is. Ever since I started posting a daily link to How We Webcast, more people have been giving us a try – and many of them are coming back on a regular basis. This is happening during the summer, when church attendance usually falls! If this keeps up, by autumn we’ll be having 30 or 40 people on a regular basis.

That makes me wonder if we should start up a second daily webcast at 7am for the East Coast; our current 9am ET/6am PT draws mostly people from the West. It wouldn’t cause much extra work or cost us any money, and there are a lot more Episcopalians on the Eastern Seaboard. We’re not serving them as well as we could; people want Morning Prayer early, before they go to work.

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Our Facebook group passed 3000 members over the 4th of July. (I always like it when the first digit changes.) That’s more than the Episcopal Dioceses of New York, Virginia, Chicago or Los Angeles. Our 3000 don’t all see our posts every day thanks to FB’s pesky algorithms, but we get daily Shares which extend our reach, more comments and Likes than we used to (which boost us in the rankings), and I’ve started changing up the introductions so we’re not always following a boring formula.

We’re growing on Twitter too; we post three times a day now, the standard links placed by WordPress and, after the webcast, a pithy quote plus a photo. We’ve got a long way to go to catch up to where we should be on Twitter, but I’m encouraged that we’re getting more followers, dialogues and favorites than before.

Then there was this.

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Today on Facebook, a friend tagged me with a link to an article on the Episcopal Church Foundation’s Vital Practices blog, “Getting to Know the Daily Office.” Turns out we are mentioned, along with a priest’s introduction to the Office and another site that does something similar to us without our live congregation.

Read it here.

Last month The Living Church magazine did a similar piece mentioning us and other Office sites.

That Facebook link caused this comment from one of our regular Evening Prayer members:

“Josh Thomas and his team have, to put it simply, enriched the life of my family profoundly.

What a wonderful thing to say. I replied, “You can imagine what the Daily Office has done for me. God’s kindness and generosity are beyond anything a person can express.

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Our twice-daily posts, of course, are our bread and butter, and I’ve been really proud of some of them lately. We got a lot of response on the 4th of July, when secular holidays on a weekend are a terrible time for web traffic; people enjoyed all the artwork as well as the lessons and prayers. And every time we have an original theme we get good feedback. This morning we had a photo and lengthy (for us) story about Nicholas Winton, an Englishman who saved 669 children from the Holocaust. Every time I can tell Gospel stories from real life, people pay attention.

My next thing is adding more videos at night, especially longer ones that aren’t suitable in the daytime.

In each of these examples, I find that changing my thinking and getting away from formulas yields more growth. We have 2300 followers on WordPress now, as well as our daily traffic.

Should I start a daily podcast? What about more webcasts on other Christian topics? I’d like to get into internet radio at some point. There is a lot more we can do!

Meanwhile there’s the fusilli.

Chaos_to_structure

We have a retreat coming up in six weeks, and I don’t feel on top of it. Many people are helping and I’m confident of the content, but I’ve run into problems I don’t know how to solve in our relationship with the Diocese of Indianapolis.

I’ve lost control of the content of our auxiliary sites, which means I can’t change the content whenever I want. I have to go through two or three other people. They take forever to fix things, and I’m getting stressed out over it.

I’m used to being able to change content quickly, as soon as events warrant or I get a new idea. I can still do that on our East and West sites, but our Support and Retreat pages are effectively owned by others. I can’t function this way. I’m an entrepreneur, I want to run my own shop; I don’t want to have to get permission from the corporate office, or wait on them (sometimes months) to implement the changes I deem necessary.

They’re doing us a big favor accounting-wise. But I had to wait six months to get all our donations ($3700, or 14% of our annual budget) that had been routed through them. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I e-mail or call; I think the problem has been solved, but it doesn’t stay solved. There is always someone else to consult, and it’s a small organization. The Bishop doesn’t have any extra staff, it’s not like there’s a bureaucracy to wrangle with; three-fourths of the battle is getting schedules aligned. It’s not their fault – but I experience them as a tremendous roadblock.

The latest thing is this: besides PayPal donations, I want to be able to start taking micro-donations by text message. But the diocese is wanting to get some kind of super-mechanism going that will benefit all diocesan ministries – which would mean waiting another six months or a year to get it all coordinated. Meanwhile we’re missing out on all the $5 hits we could be getting!

They’re good people providing us real services, but they exhaust me and I don’t know how to approach them. Organizations demand diplomacy; I’m no good at that. I don’t want to blow up at them, but I’m getting very frustrated; even the simplest changes seem to involve mass quantities of decision-making.

We were supposed to have a new landing page by Easter. It’s now seven weeks after Pentecost with no landing page in sight. At this rate it will be years before we take the next step, which we should have had five years ago – our own social network, so that we’re completely interactive.

I don’t code. I buy templates off the shelf, like WordPress. If I need code it might someday arrive on a slow boat from Istanbul. Meanwhile every 12 hours I’m posting new stuff!

So now I have to write a letter to Indy and see if, once more, I can get something straightened out.

I don’t know the answer. But these people are driving me nuts and I don’t have time to wait. A few years from now I’ll be dead, and Tony will still be coding my landing page. Enough already!

Lord, help me figure out how to get these people off the dime. And while you’re at it, please give me patience yesterday.

July 8, 2015

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5 thoughts on “The Vicar’s Brain Is Made of Chinese Noodles

  1. Wow! That’s a very full plate there! I’m glad there’s good news and developments amidst the frustrations.
    As a Eastern time zone person, a 7am ET webcast would be much more accessible to me. If your bandwidth allows, this could be a tremendous gift to many. You might even get shift workers from central & western zones tuning in.
    I’m glad to see increasing use / strategy of social media. Encouraging to see increased engagement! I wonder if you might consider adding Instagram or Pinterest? It’d be conducive to your visuals & potentially reaching a different audience.
    Many thanks for your ministry!

    • Thanks, Lara, for your feedback about webcasts and time zones. I’m sure you’re right.

      On Instagram & Pinterest: I have looked at both, and I know what others say about their appealing youthful demographics, but I don’t really understand how what they do would fit with what we do. If you have a grasp of that, please tell me more.

      Our purpose is to enable prayer. How does an instant picture, or one pinned to a bulletin board, do that? The word of God is text-dependent. I don’t quite see the point of accumulating Likes from screen addicts with 5-second attention spans – but then again, I didn’t get Facebook either, but now I know it’s added a lot to what we do, not least because I steal ideas, pictures and occasional videos from there all the time.

      To me, FB Likes are more or less useless, except as they get our links in front of more people and draw more clicks. Our conversion rate is really small, but the ones we do get are valuable.

      So if you can educate me, that will be a real help. Until then I’m still stuck on our word-dependence. To me this whole project comes down to one thing: saying the Daily Office, twice a day every day, is How To Get Closer To God™. There aren’t any shortcuts. Obviously it isn’t for everyone – only those people who have some clue already that God is worth knowing, and who can be coaxed into not being afraid of entering a deeper relationship. Even going to Mass once a week, necessary as that is, is only scratching the surface. The discipline of prayer is what makes the difference.

      That’s why expanding the webcasts is a much higher priority to me. The people who try them for a week are amazed at the difference; we’ve got West Coast people getting out of bed to be with us, the community is so outstanding. They hate to miss; they inform me beforehand if they know they won’t be able to make it. I didn’t ask them to, they do this on their own.

      That’s the kind of relationship we all want to have with God, and God wants to have with us; dailyoffice.org makes it easy, and it’s even cheap to run. (Of course, all relationships have to start somewhere, and a casual Liker on FB may turn into a devoted Pray-er in the future.) All I have to do is to devote some hours to this every day, and magic results; you should have heard Sr. Hilary-Grace yesterday. Those who did came back today, or sent their sincere apologies. That’s what I want people to know about, but even after 11 years I’m still learning.

      Thanks,

      Josh

  2. ((((( Josh ))))) Here’s a big virtual hug coming your way.

    Yes, I know something of what you speak, regarding patience. (but not coding!) I want what I want when I want it! Or even before that! That is, sometimes.

    I understand how text-dependent dailyoffice.org is. I get it. And, my text-dependent heart rejoices with you! However, I also have a visual side. As soon as Lara mentioned Instagram, I had an image flash through my brain. A verse of scripture written in fancy script, or a lovely photo with a verse superimposed on it. (I know you know what I mean.) It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just more visual. You might want to take a verse from one of the daily readings and find some pretty, artistic, or sensitive visual image, incorporating the verse in, say, a .jpg file. Start an Instagram account, and post one a day, just to see what happens.

    I don’t have an Instagram account. My youngest daughter does, and I occasionally see things she posts, connected to her Facebook account. (Chief reason I don’t? Because I have a cheap cell phone, with no network capabiility. Just texting and talking.)

    I think adding another Morning Prayer time would be good, except I wonder about you and your running around even more like a chicken with your head cut off! As a small parish pastor myself, I am colleagially concerned for you and about you. I urge you not to overextend yourself! (ANd, yes. That’s the chaplain–and mom–in me coming out, too.)

    ANd finally, Sr. H-G does have a lovely voice. I do agree.
    God’s blessings be on us both!
    Elizabeth
    @chaplaineliza

  3. Hi Josh: I am using this as a venue to tell you that I can’t access dailyoffice.org any more! I get into an infinite loop of trying to access MP and going back to the lovely picture. I tried on the first day you went to the new format, and then used my BCP for awhile; today the same problem. Not sure whether it is me or my computer–I use a MacBook Word Pro that is up to date on the software. I hope there is an easy solution–if not, God bless!

    Jennifer

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