Retreat Fees Announced: $400 Per Person, Double Occupancy, before June 30

We’ve set the final costs for our upcoming Daily Office Spiritual Retreat at Waycross in southern Indiana August 20-23, 2015, and they’re lower than expected!

Fees are $500 per person, double occupancy (single occupancy $600), with an early-bird discount of $100 for registrations and deposits received by June 30.

That means $400 for the most popular option, double occupancy, if you act soon.

Some scholarships are available; write to the Vicar at joshtom (at) mediacombb (dot) com.

Deposits ($250) are due with reservation, with final payment due August 1. Cancellations will be accepted and refunds made, minus a $50 cancellation fee, before June 30.

Watch for the registration form soon to appear on this site, including full particulars. Deposits can be paid through PayPal or by check to the Diocese of Indianapolis, marked Daily Office Retreat.

Take a look!++

Extracurricular Vicar

Banners suitable for St. Luke's Cathedral, Orlando.

Banners suitable for St. Luke’s Cathedral, Orlando.

[UPDATE: I looked at various registration forms and decided that I’d better check with our diocesan web developer first.]

For a couple of weeks now I’ve been juggling some off-site issues affecting the Church, and today I’m wanting to rebalance. Both concern public screwups by Episcopal clergy: at General Theological Seminary, which is nearing collapse if not already there, and at St. Luke’s Cathedral in Orlando, where the dean refused to baptize a baby with two Gay dads.

We featured the latter yesterday at Morning Prayer, and a few hours later the news got reported by The Huffington Post and The Orlando Sentinel. I helped facilitate the HuffPo article – in a minor way, probably, but their religion editor the Rev. Paul Raushenbush contacted me and I did what I could.

(Aside: he’s a descendant of Walter Rauschenbusch, the “social gospel” theologian and author whose feast day is July 2.)

I’ve also been in touch with him about a letter I wrote with 19 co-signers, asking the Attorney General of New York State to investigate whether laws have been broken at GTS. I organized that initiative on Facebook. It’s been reported in three or four church publications in the USA and Britain.

These activities have taken my time, and they’re not directly related to The Daily Office. I should have been organizing our retreat this summer at Waycross and putting together the registration form I promised to post last Monday. I hope to get to that later today.

I don’t really feel bad about any of this; if anything I feel proud of what I’ve done, whether it’s ultimately effective or not. But I feel this tension between my job and my vocation.

For some reason God seems to have given me an ability and a willingness to speak up and take action about problems other people notice but don’t know what to do with. I’ve done it all my life. What seems obvious to me does not seem obvious to anyone else – but when I propose a way forward, they respond with real help and support.

I seem to be one of those fools who rush in “where angels fear to tread” – except it’s never the angels who are afraid, it’s the humans. From marching with a few hundred others in the Stonewall 5 demonstration in New York when I was 23 – back when these were protest marches, not “Pride Parades” – to saving the School of Social Work from the wrecking ball at my alma mater, to being the first openly-Gay person to use his full, real name in the newspaper in Cincinnati, to freeing Nigeria’s only Gay activist from threats on his life by the government and Anglican Church thugs, to starting the world’s second oldest AIDS organization and many more examples, I just find myself at the center of the action sometimes.

When I was an undergraduate, the president of the University of Cincinnati wanted to abolish the College of Community Services and move the School of Social Work  from there to the College of Education. It would have meant that Social Work lost its accreditation; it could be an independent School or part of a similar professional college, but not education. Students and faculty wrung their hands, no one knew how to stop the president, the board of trustees were getting ready to vote on it - when I piped up and said,

When I was an undergraduate, the president of the University of Cincinnati wanted to abolish the College of Community Services and move the School of Social Work from there to the College of Education. It would have meant that Social Work lost its accreditation; it could be an independent School or part of a similar professional college, but not education. Students and faculty wrung their hands, no one knew how to stop the president, the board of trustees were getting ready to vote on it, our degrees would soon be worthless – so I piped up and said, “I know how to stop this.” We organized (“Yes for CCS!”), made up flyers, contacted the media, held a protest march, I ran for the Student Senate; 33 years later the urban university still has an accredited School of Social Work. I continue to marvel at all the impotent hang-wringing; “social work” refers to community organizing, not cranking out caseworkers and psychotherapists.

If I’m correct that this is part of my vocation from God, you can see why I get caught up in such things and don’t feel sorry about it later.

I'm from this era. Not the giant public party era, brought to you by some brand of vodka. (Leonard Fink)

I’m from this era. Not the giant public party era, brought to you by some brand of vodka.

We’re going to get that baby baptized, I promise; the homophobic bishop is meeting with the parents right now as I write this, trying to tap-dance his way out of the public relations disaster he and the cathedral dean created. The baby’s parents have done everything Episcopalians ask and expect of them prior to baptism, and there is no justification for delaying this child’s salvation, no matter how warped the theology of that dean.

This is the baby waiting for salvation and for justice, snoozing next to one of his dads. The kid's name is Jack; let's pray for them.

This is the baby waiting for salvation and for justice, snoozing next to one of his dads. The kid’s name is Jack; let’s pray for them.

(The dean’s theology of baptism probably isn’t what’s warped, it’s his theology of human sexuality; but since he mixed the two up in one horrible decision, my phrase applies. Phrases are what I’m good at, if you haven’t noticed; phrases are how I’ve won almost every public battle I’ve ever been in.)

So now I’m going to post two more services, and try to design that registration form with a free trial from Constant Contact. I’m also awaiting a call from our Adobe Connect salesman.

Meanwhile here’s a video by the labyrinth designer John E. Ridder of Indianapolis, whom I’m trying to line up for our retreat. I walked on one of his portable mazes last Saturday during a quiet day at my parish, run by Amy Paget, who will be staffing our retreat.

Pray that God gives me enough hours in the day.++

The Daily Office Retreat Is a “Go”

This week we polled our members to determine interest in getting together for our first retreat, and now we have results: enough interest to move forward, experts to guide us in planning our program, a wonderful location in scenic Brown County, Indiana and tentative dates, Thursday through Sunday, August 20-23, 2015.

We even have a pledge for some scholarship money, because we want our retreat to be affordable.

The idea grew out of discussions we had with our Daily Office missioner, Dr. Maria L. Evans, a seminarian in the Diocese of Missouri. After 10 years and almost 3,000,000 hits, we’re happy to claim some 5000 faithful, fascinating people as our own in Christ. We want to meet them in person! This will be our first chance, in what we hope will become an annual event.

It will be held at Waycross, the camp and conference center of the Diocese of Indianapolis, located about halfway between Indy and Louisville, Kentucky.

The main building at Waycross features 37 hotel rooms, several meeting spaces, lounges, artwork, dining hall and a souvenir shop.

The main building at Waycross features 37 hotel rooms, several meeting spaces, lounges, artwork, dining hall and a souvenir shop.

Brown County, Indiana is one of the top travel destinations in the Midwest, thanks to its beautiful landscape, which in the early 20th century attracted the Impressionist painter T.C. Steele, who built a cabin and painted many scenes. Other artists followed and an Indiana School of painting developed, known as the Hoosier Group.

Brown County is still rustic and rural; slow down around the hairpin curves, because you may find yourself hard upon a Mennonite buggy. Nashville, the county seat, is the only organized town, with a population of 900. There are 19 art galleries and studios; bluegrass legend Bill Monroe’s annual Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival runs for 8 days in June and is located just a few miles away, not far from St. David’s Episcopal Church.

BillMonroeBeanBlossom

Midwest Living magazine offers this 60-second video tour:

While Waycross and Brown County are attractions in themselves, the real reason for attending is the chance to meet other people with a deep commitment to God in prayer. Though I hesitate to call them “good Christians,” because we’re all sinners and at best are only doing what Christians ought to do, I believe very strongly that the daily habit of prayer makes a big difference in our lives. These are people who know, better than I do, that when we pray the Daily Office, twice a day for 30 days, we’re bound to get closer to God – not because of any merit of our own, but because God is generous in allowing us to get to know him. The Holy Spirit uses the time we give to bring us closer to herself; and the more we know her, the more we trust her and are able to follow where she leads.

What we want to accomplish on our retreat is to develop our prayer lives beyond our current practices. Thus we want to offer instruction and practice using other methods besides the Daily Office, including meditation, centering prayer and the work of our hands. Though we’ll have some spiritual experts to guide us, the main teachers we’ll find are each other. That is what we’ve found this past year with our core group of webcasters – but it surely is equally true of the 5000 other people who follow our sites. We’re not holier than anyone else, but having taken on this discipline and applied it daily, we maybe find it a little easier to conform our lives to God’s will.

Constant prayer reduces our resistance to God. We mortals always resist, we can’t help it; partly out of selfishness and ignorance, but also out of fear. What happens to those who have a spiritual discipline is that God greatly reduces our fear.

For instance, I used to be afraid that giving myself wholly to God would mean that “I” would cease to exist as a separate being. I was afraid that God was like a spiritual vampire waiting to consume me. But it isn’t so; God is the opposite of a zombie, and I’ve become more like myself, not less.

Now multiply my paltry insight times 25 people and you might have a weekend worth coming to!

do.org.usethis

It’s six months away, but already I’m getting excited. We’re going to Waycross. We’re going to meet each other!++

Our Advent “Ember Day” Letter to the Bishop: Late but Newsy

Right Reverend Ma’am:

This is the Advent Ember Day letter from dailyoffice.org, late as usual. I’m happy to report that we have achieved nearly all our goals for 2014.

• We celebrated our 10th anniversary and 2,800,000th visitor.

• We completed our first year of live webcasts, a total of 313 daily services. Our live congregation has grown very close to each other; it makes all the difference to be able to see and hear each other. We incorporate new webcast members easily, too.

Average attendance remains small, only 15 per day, perhaps because it is held too late in the morning for the East Coast. That is something to examine in the future, because we have unlimited attendance capacity.

We also make the webcast recordings immediately available once the service is over, and though we do not get the most useful statistics from Adobe Connect, we know that our most popular services attract 2-3 times the number of live participants, or 30-45 per day. When our regular webcasters have to miss a service, they go back and watch it later – but so do others. That part of our congregation is invisible to us, but we reach out to them and bless them every single day.

We may be the only religious congregation anywhere doing daily webcasts like these.

We bought a parish register this fall, because our webcasts feel like real church services. I’ve quickly fallen in love with that book, which of course hasn’t changed formats since I was a teenaged acolyte in Lafayette.

• As of Advent 1 our Spanish language Office site, Oficio Diario, is operating smoothly under our banner and Padre Mickey Dresbach’s tutelage. However, we’ve had to let go of our local “vicar” in New Zealand. He did a great job for a month, and then decided it was too stressful, citing some church-related rejection he went through in 1969 when he was a kid. I guess such things happen sometimes, and all we can do is try to support the person.

Our strategy was provably right, though; that blog doubled its e-mail subscribers to 500+ in just one month – which may seem small, but that’s 350,000 services arriving in Inboxes per year.

• With your help, we launched a fundraising drive which has exceeded our modest goal of $18,000. Thank you!

• We produced our first introductory video, “How to Get Closer to God,” which is located here if you haven’t seen it:

It’s also posted on our About page. It’s not quite perfect, but we’re happy with it. I’m very proud of our members’ enthusiastic participation; 16 people had a hand in it, recording a few words of greeting and prayer, and I got my first experience in writing and production. Now if I could find a better editor than yours truly, we’d be in business.

I also completed a “Video Christmas Card” with art, music and no text, and now we have a Daily Office Channel on YouTube. This video started out as a learning project so I could familiarize myself with the editing software. I’ve decided there’s no longer any reason to lick stamps!

• We attended diocesan convention; I got to meet people I only knew online, as well as a very sharp Daughter of the King and many members of the Youth Steering Committee – one of whom described Waycross as “my favorite place on earth.”

• We have our first advertising materials, with the same graphic on a 9-foot vinyl banner and running at the top of all three websites. Kathy Copas has hooked me up with a logo designer, who expects to have the final version ready for inspection soon. I am delighted with all Kathy’s help.

• And through it all we have maintained a pastoral focus and an unwavering commitment to social justice.

Heading into 2015

This year I intend to concentrate on three areas of growth: producing more videos; beginning “remote” webcasts from the chapel at St. John’s, Lafayette; and our long-awaited site redesign.

I’ve written two video scripts, on evangelism methods and technology as an evangelical tool, and I’ve recorded some footage that I haven’t put together yet. Getting “Daily Office 101” completed turned out to be massively fun, but also a big drain on my time. So I gave myself the rest of December off and will take up those projects in the new year.

I also have plans to shoot video of a house church in Little Lake, Michigan, where one of our webcasters, the Rev. Gwen Hetler, is on the clergy team. Holy Innocents’ is a long-established smalltown church which a few years ago was asked by the late Bishop Jim Kelsey to move its building to the new diocesan camp and conference center nearby. After Bishop Kelsey was killed, the diocese went through turmoil and ended up selling the camp, with Little Lake’s church still sitting there. They lost their building but they didn’t close, and I think there’s a great faith-story in it.

Fr. Bradley in Lafayette has given me permission to webcast from the St. John’s chapel, if we can get their internet router problem solved. I think the longterm future of our webcasts probably depends on relocating to a visually richer setting – the opposite path from Little Lake’s. Once the novelty of new technology wears off, we’ll want to show something besides a few talking heads and a thousand-word liturgy printed in a PDF.

Webcasting is not a lot different from the FaceTime call you and I’ll be having in a few days; the webcast has more “callers” from more places, a few pictures and a recorded video at the end, but the rest is very similar to Skype. Spiritually our webcast is much more enriching than saying the Office by oneself, but it doesn’t begin to be as good as going to church, where we don’t just sit, read and recite, we also look around at the beautiful holy things; if there’s music it isn’t recorded, it’s live. As Episcopalians we believe God is revealed to us in our senses; our webcasts need to become more visual. Bradley and I will be getting together for lunch soon.

Site redesign: We are approaching the end of the useful life of our blogs as currently configured: free (or nearly so) and presented using a simple template. Blogs are built for words, not for images; “blog” is short for “weblog,” a written diary of thoughts, opinions and experiences. The Daily Office is always going to offer (and rely on) the written word, since that’s what the liturgy consists of, but we’ve nearly maxed out what WordPress can do at this level of inexpensive technology. But getting to the next level has always depended on having enough money to upgrade the visual presentation. Now, for the first time, we have the ability to do that because of our fundraising. Praise the Lord!

Kathy is going to put me in touch with some site designers she trusts. I’m not just talking about getting a new website; that’s a common enough activity, and as she points out, parishes can and do spend thousands of dollars on a new presentation and often end up with something that isn’t much better than they had before. What the Daily Office needs is both simple and revolutionary, at least within the Church. We need to move in the same direction as some other media companies are starting to do: widescreen dramatic visuals that illustrate our words.

We don’t need flash; we don’t need “ease of navigation,” although we’re going to have that too. The first thing I want – and it will be simple to do, even if some complicated coding is involved – is to wow people with the beauty of the Lord from the moment they land on our site.

From there they’ll have only a few choices to navigate. But I want them with us the minute they walk through our door.

We exist to provide a prayer service; an experience of the Holy One. That is a simple remit. If we can learn to do that well, we’ve done our job and will grow inevitably because of it.

Every single day we must be visually stunning – but do it quietly, because God is not a shouter.

Our “landing page” will consist of a single, gorgeous photograph, painting or sculpture. We’ll put our name in the upper left and offer a few little buttons: Western Hemisphere, Spanish, Asia-Pacific. Nothing else.

You wanna pray, or just find God? It starts the minute you land. One day a Botticelli, one day a NASA photo from space, one day Canterbury or the annual Vigil for the Homeless at Christ Church Cathedral, Monument Circle.

“Bring Back Our Girls.”
“Here Lies Vera.”
“Black Lives Matter.”
Children evacuated from Peshawar.
The new St. André’s School in Mithon.
Libby Lane, the new Bishop of Stockport.
Or the faith, joy and courage of refugees in the Diocese of Bor.

I want the person who lands on our homepage to say, “Yup, this is the right place.” Then they’ll choose a button and begin to pray.

Once we’ve got that landing page we’ll add our social media site with all its possibilities for interaction, ideas, mission plans and just fun.

I believe, based on certain shivers surrounding my body a couple of days ago, that this is where God wants the Daily Office to go. So 2015 is the year and this is where we will go.

Personal Check-In

My best personal news this past year away from our sites happened at the St. John’s/LUM Food Pantry in Lafayette; I discovered the joys of mission work, and I’m already hooked for life.

They started opening up on Saturdays this summer, to offer weekend hours and to take advantage of unsold merchandise at the farmers’ market just down the street. I got to volunteer almost every week and had a blast. The people are a lot of fun – the staff, yes, but especially the customers. I loved them and they loved me back.

Now I know why our Missioner, Dr. Maria L. Evans of the Diocese of Missouri, is forever gallivanting off to foreign parts – Niobrara, Haiti, the Diocese of Lui, or just driving her pickup to the local supermarket and challenging the whole town to Fill Up The Ford with food donations.

We often speak these days about Christ’s “preferential option for the poor.” That’s theological talk for something really basic: Jesus just enjoys them, even as he understands exactly how they came to be where they are.

Whether they’re happy, sad, hurting, angry, sick, confused or afraid, they don’t try to be someone they’re not. They let me see them as they really are, with all their needs, joys, strengths and weaknesses. They wear their humanity on their sleeves, and all I have to do is recognize them, be present and real back with them. They’re more tolerant of other people, and more willing to take in information they didn’t have before. They like to make friends; every Saturday when I arrive at the church I don’t go inside until I’ve said hello to everyone waiting outside for us to get this show on the road. We recognize each other now, we joke around, I talk to the kids and the old folks, I make sure everybody gets some face time; then I go inside and help us get organized.

The payoff isn’t just when they leave with groceries and say profuse and heartfelt thanks; it’s that they recognize my humanity too. So we have a great time, and the next week I can’t wait to see them again. Sure, we count the number of families and individuals served, and think about the people who will eat whom we do not see; they’re who we’re in business for. But the real impact on me is the customers’ faces and the echo of their voices as I drive home. If I manage to say one thing that honors their dignity, that becomes the currency we exchange; the old disabled veteran, the bright immigrant child who can translate English into Hindi for his mother, the middle-aged man who worked all his life until the company closed, the younger guy with mental illness trying to keep it together amidst all the stimulation. Give them just one moment where we’re equals, and they’ll be your friend for life.

I wouldn’t miss it; I’m already a food pantry lifer.

So the next time you ask me what I do for fun, it’s that; I hang out with poor people, we have a great time together. I may be the one handing out the food, but they’re the ones handing out the love.

Why did I get those shivers a day or two ago? I think it’s because what all this is leading to is mission. That is a joyful thing, despite the overwhelming sorrows of this life. We’re in this together and for the most part, “the kids are all right.”

Yours,

Josh

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

A Script for Our First Video

Man Make a Difference Black

(Josh) This is Josh Thomas of dailyoffice.org. Every day for the last 10 years, we have offered Morning and Evening Prayer to a worldwide audience totaling 2.7 million people in 200 countries – to make it easy for them to say the Daily Office in the Book of Common Prayer. (graphic) 10 Years – 7,000 posts – twice a day on two websites – posted live, organized by a human being, not a machine, with (running examples) fine art, news photos, videos of the world’s great hymns, and Christian education for the disciples of Jesus.

(Maria) We do this as a community, because where two or three are gathered together, Christ is in our midst.

(Clint) In the past year we have added live daily webcasts of Morning Prayer Monday through Friday, and a meditative Video Evensong every Friday night. The Daily Office is the single best way we know for people to get closer to God.

EvensongWebcastHorses

(Josh) Every day we send out 4000 e-mails – by request – of our daily services. Over two thousand people follow us on Facebook (graphic) and hundreds more on Twitter (graphic).

Twitter grab edited

(+Cate) We bring this to you from the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis…

(Clint) And from Houston, Texas.

(Katrina) From Orange County, California.

(Scotty) From Seattle, Washington.

(Yvonne) From New York City.

(Tom) From Jackson, Mississippi.

(Gwen) From the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

(Craig) From Ashland, Kentucky)

(Tom Allison) From Toronto, Ontario.

(Debbie) From Boise, Idaho.

(Steve) From Las Cruces, New Mexico.

(Alison) From Fremont, California/Portland, Oregon.

(Mickey, in Spanish) From the Diocese of El Camino Real, California.

(Francesca) From Austin, Texas, y’all.

(Jerry) From Regina, Saskatchewan.

(Martha) From Jamaica, Queens.

(Graeme) From Auckland, New Zealand.

(Gwen) It’s our way of living up to our Baptismal Covenant, in which we promised “to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers; and to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” These are the first promises we made as Christians.

Baptism.StJohn's.8.3.14

(Josh) Proclaiming the Good News by word and example is what we do here at dailyoffice.org. Most Christians hope they proclaim Jesus by example, but he’s easy to miss if we do not also proclaim him in words. At dailyoffice.org, we do this for you and with you, outside the walls of the church, where Christ needs to be heard. When you join with us, we help you live up to the covenant you made. By using the internet together, we can reach the entire world, in ways never before possible in human history. God invented the internet so we can talk to each other!

(Debbie) Now we are expanding our services by offering the Daily Office in Spanish…

(Graeme) … and new regional leadership in Asia and the Pacific…

(Clint) … by producing our own videos – and by meeting more people in person.

(Maria) Think of this: we get as many visitors per year as the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. And we do it for less than $20,000 a year, a tiny fraction of their budget.

(Josh) We raise our own money from members who find our service spiritually valuable. This coming year we’ll upgrade our technology – expand our webcasts – buy new cameras, a computer and programs – incorporate our Spanish language site, with a stipend for the priest – attend diocesan convention – visit parishes and describe our work, teaching others to use social media so they too can “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” to a larger audience.

(Letha) We invite you to try it out for yourself. We have members from every Christian tradition – Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Orthodox, Anglicans and Episcopalians – bishops, priests, deacons, reverends, monastics and laypeople. It even works for Baptist gals like me!

(Craig) – Gay people too?

(Letha) You better believe it, honey!

(Lani) Those 2.7 million visitors have found that praying twice a day, every day for 30 days, invariably brings them closer to God. We provide the framework – because every person who seeks God should know about this wonderful tool. Over time the Daily Office becomes a spiritual discipline, which helps us orient our lives to God. Morning and Evening Prayer help us sanctify the passage of time in our daily lives. In this hectic world, we all need to pause for a few minutes and point our hearts back to God. Dailyoffice.org enriches your prayer life. Best of all, it’s non-sectarian; anyone can use it – and truth be known, more people should.

(Yvonne) We ask you to pray for us, and with us – and link to us on your websites, blogs and social media. Help us spread the Word!

(Martha) To Liberia and West Africa.

(Francesca) To solitary monastics and Third Order Franciscans.

(Katrina) To the Daughters of the King.

(Tom Welch) The human soul longs most deeply for spiritual union with God. The Daily Office provides the Way to get there. All we have to do is “call home” on a regular basis. Turning to God twice a day becomes as important as what we actually say.

(Martha) We help you know what to say, in Psalms, Bible lessons and prayers, as a starting place for your own most intimate concerns and longings.

Reaching for God

(Josh) Won’t you join us? Try the Daily Office every day for 30 days. See for yourself what being closer to God feels like. And if you already know the benefits as one of our followers, help us show the Way to more and more people who hunger and thirst for the living God. Thank you.

(All; edit in each one saying one phrase, ending with Gwen) And now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all time and now and for ever. Amen.++

Weighing a Change in Webcast Providers

Three times in 24 hours, I got asked about using Adobe Connect for our Daily Office webcasts instead of the company we currently use, called GoToMeeting. I didn’t know Adobe provided such a product, so I investigated.

In price they’re about the same, which confirms our earlier finding when we comparison-shopped; Adobe’s a little more month-to-month and a little less with a 12-month contract. (Both are about $50 a month.) So how do the services differ? What more could we get for our money?

GTM limits us to six streaming webcams, as you can see in this now-familiar screen-grab from a few days ago.

Our Webcams,png

Adobe offers “unlimited” streams, depending on how many participants are allowed per plan (25). When we have 15 participants, we’d have 15 images. So there’s one improvement.

And we’re told (I have yet to see this) that with Adobe we could watch videos together instead of individually. On GTM the audio and video don’t sync from one machine to the next and we get these awful echoes and distortions. They’re so bad we have to make people watch individually, after our webcast ends. That’s no fun, it isn’t a shared experience that way.

On one of our earliest webcasts I had put together what I thought was a seamless multimedia experience, including audio, video, stills and the spoken/written word, where every element of the prayer service connected thematically to all the others. Those are rare and they always excite me; I ended up ecstatic that day, only to find out later that what I experienced as the video played was not what everyone else saw and heard. For a time I was devastated by that. My great achievement was for naught!

(“Course reading,” where we read books of the Bible in a comprehensive, sequential way, seldom yields thematic unity, though the lectionary authors tried very hard to achieve that whenever they could, and succeeded more often than a more mechanistic scheme would have done. Certain books of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles logically go together, and the Episcopal Church has an excellent Daily Office lectionary.) As the curator of each day’s service, I always want to put together the prescribed words with the best illustrations and music I can find. Maybe 10% of our services achieve this ideal, but that day ended up a terrible disappointment; I’d even bragged about it to Bishop Cate before I found out the audio was a terrible mess.

I have favorite works of art I match with various holy days. I run this one, "Madonna of the Roses" by William Adolphe Bouguereau (1903), every year at Christmastime.

I have favorite works of art I match with various holy days. I run this one, “Madonna of the Roses” by William Adolphe Bouguereau (1903), every year at Christmastime. Not only is it beautiful, it has a spiritual maturity we don’t find in other Nativity scenes. This child seems fully conscious of who he is, even though he’s just a naked baby – yet he doesn’t have his chubby baby fingers raised up in a blessing no infant ever gave. It’s his gaze that accomplishes this.

Rectors of physical churches do the same kind of curation, selecting music that advances the worship themes of the day. Generally, though, they have only 52 Sundays a year to program, where the lections are always The Bible’s Greatest Hits, while I have 365 days a year to compile – 730 services Morning and Evening, with vast long stretches of repetitive “B side” text. Thank God Howard Galley made the “begats” optional!

I don’t know that better video reception is worth making the vendor change by itself, but if Adobe’s telling the truth in its sales pitch, that and the full range of webcam faces make two distinct advantages.

Here potentially is a third one: rather than having all six (or 25) webcams displaying at once, each with their same-sized little boxes like that screen-grab, Adobe offers the “host” (technical producer – me) the chance to zoom in on a single speaker who has the floor at any given time. If Pam is reading the Second Lesson, do we need to see the whole array of faces or just look at her? The same with the final blessing; let’s say Gwen is pronouncing it and making the sign of the Cross over us. That should be our visual focus, not (as sometimes happens) Susie’s cat jumping up to show her behind on camera, while Adam reaches for the Kleenex and blows his nose.

Those human elements often add to our fun – webcasts are invariably less formal than being in church – but at times I suppose they could be distractions. If the ability to enlarge a single speaker helps us focus on the worship of God, I’m for it. We all are, that’s why we gathered.

Adobe doesn’t make newcomers download software before joining a meeting; Flash player and other Adobe products are already integrated into the service. I don’t know for sure, but I think there may be some newbies who get waylaid by the GTM software – even though it’s a good product, every customer still has to learn how to work it. I don’t know that I’m a master of it yet, and we’ve been at this seven months now.

I do not like that so many participants feel they’ve had to improvise ways to follow the text with an additional device, beyond what we’re showing onscreen. A person should be able to tune in and not have to do anything but sit, watch and listen. But because the webcast originates on my computer, I don’t know how you all experience it. I’d thought during my road trip to Texas I’d see it as you do, but Clint just hooked me up to his laptop and I was back to running the show like always.

Children have always wondered what’s inside the TV box, and adults are still fascinated by what’s behind the scenes; well, I’m inside that TV box, and I want to know what’s happening in your office or living room!

Finally, there’s another aspect of our current practice on GTM that makes me a little uncomfortable; it happens every day during the individual intercessions, supplications and thanksgivings. We can’t anticipate who’s going to speak next, so we often talk over each other accidentally. Then we back up and say, “No, you first,” and it just ends up a little ragged. Does someone’s prayer get pushed aside this way? Can’t let that happen, but maybe it does. Afterward the Officiant has to guess when everyone’s done with their spoken prayers; Clint almost always guesses right but sometimes no, we’re not done yet. But if the producer had that technological ability to focus on one person instead of the whole group, we could take turns, while also listening better to each individual prayer. All we’d need to do is this: As the Officiant introduces that section where prayers are invited, each worshiper could just type “me” in the chat box, and I as producer could activate each person’s webcam in turn. Each member would know, when her face came up, it’s time to talk. When she’s done she could nod, then it’s on to the next person. When I come to the end of the “me’s,” including everyone who got an idea for prayer as they listened to others, Clint wouldn’t have to guess when to conclude the extemporaneous section.

We don’t want to be rigid about it (“all right, everyone queue up”), we want to make sure everyone’s heard. So the zooming factor could be Adobe advantage #4.

These are my thoughts. I will ask Clint specifically to look this over and investigate when he gets a chance, and as always I invite your feedback too. GoToMeeting will charge our account again in a couple of days, but I hope a month from now we’ll have a clear plan for the future. Please leave comments below if you have any ideas.++

On "Star Trek," the USS Enterprise wasn't even a scale model, just a picture on a piece of cloth.

On “Star Trek,” the USS Enterprise wasn’t even a scale model, just a picture on a piece of cloth.

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

Blech

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 dailyoffice.org 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.++