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.
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.”