Trumpocalpyse Now

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Protest at Trump Tower in New York Saturday. (Christopher Lee/The New York Times)

It is the Friday night after Election Day as I write this, and I’ve just finished hosting our Video Evensong webcast. It has been a difficult week for millions of Americans, including me and most of our webcasters – as accustomed as we are to praying our way through bad news all around the world. This election was, metaphorically speaking, like this time, Hurricane Katrina blew through all our living rooms and trashed the place. Almost all of us felt personally devastated; and those who might not have voted the way we did, or had the same reaction to the results, knew very well how much their liberal friends were hurting. We’re a great group that way. Since we get together 11 times a week, we know each other well, and everyone is full of both faith and empathy. So we had some discussions among ourselves a time or two after the webcasts. I’m proud of how we all handled ourselves. No one was burdened, the hurt was mostly left unsaid, but did come out as needed – and we saw that while we agree on most things, we don’t agree about everything, and we have no trouble living with that fact.

So I’m happy with my band(width) mates.

But I’m not happy, not at all; Tuesday was one of the darkest days of my life. Our fellow Americans elected the worst imaginable president. We have been let down by our fellow citizens, including members of our own coalition. (“Hillary’s not Barack, so I’m staying home.”) When have we ever seen post-election violence before?

We haven’t, not in our lifetimes. According to historian Douglas Brinkley, the last time was 1860 after the election of Abraham Lincoln on the eve of the Civil War.

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Portland, Oregon had a small riot late Friday, after most protesters had dispersed. Police blamed anarchists; one person was shot. (Cole Howard/Reuters)

In my mind the voters have destroyed America. I have no belief in the place anymore; the very idea of America has left me. The country we used to have would never have elected this sleazeball. But that country no longer exists. That is a very, very big deal!

California, here I come – at least the thought passes through my mind. (Now would be a good time for me to leave Indiana once and for all.) But I live in relative poverty and could never afford to live on the West Coast. On top of that I hate earthquakes.

The election of you-know-who fell on me like a ton of bricks; I was peaceably strolling by last Tuesday, minding my own business, when the Big One hit and that apartment building fell on me. I’m still in shock.

I keep returning to the thought that we’ve failed our grandchildren – and I don’t even have any. I visualize my grandparents in heaven grabbing me by the lapels and asking me, “How did you let this happen?”

Hey, don’t blame me; I went Democrat when I was 13. That was the year of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and I campaigned for the entire Democratic ticket. Barry Goldwater rejected the Civil Rights Act and I rejected the politics of where I’m from.

Now, 52 years later, every one of them spent in political activism, I quit.

I will do whatever I can to help the poor and oppressed, but I don’t believe in the United States anymore. No more politics for me.

Eight years ago I was Barack Obama’s county coordinator, and we carried Indiana! Now, I just don’t have the time. Y’all do what you want. Spread your nuclear arms all over the world, I’m done. Pollute the air and water, make big money!

Demonize Jews and Muslims? No. I despise every last human on the face of the earth who voted for that.

The racism. The misogyny. The personality disorder!

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Los Angeles a few days ago. After the election in 2000, when the Supreme Court made George W. Bush president, I said “Not my Supreme Court.” Many people today say “Not my President.” I’m past all that; not my country. We’ve just declared political war on tens of millions of our fellow citizens, and I won’t be part of that. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

And the fundamentalists who ate it up like Post Toasties. I have to laugh at their faux Christianity. They’re such frauds, Jesus told us all about it. On some level, I finally find them comical. Better than demonic, I guess; they know not what they do.

Now this language may surprise you, so don’t take me the wrong way and I’ll try to be clear. Here’s what the election said to me as a religious person. I believe the United States is now under God’s judgment. We’ve avoided it for 250-odd years despite genocide and slavery, but this week da shit done hit da fan.

For me personally, I think the message is that I must not idolize the government I happen to live under, despite the nobility of its stated ideals. Jesus didn’t idolize the Roman Empire and we mustn’t deify our version of it either.

In the lectionary we’ve been reading a lot of prophecy lately, as opposed to history; that’s one way to tell that Advent’s coming. And with the OT prophets we also get the Divine Vision of John, that which shall be revealed. He writes vividly of the Fall of Babylon, and as we read those passages last week I couldn’t help thinking of the USA. The city’s biggest sin was greed, and that reminds me of us.

Trump isn’t going to restore jobs in coal country, Detroit or Gary or my hometown. The rich will get richer and the rest are just screwed.

That’s the way it’s always been, Christians know, but for a little while America seemed to promise otherwise.

I’m not hurting particularly for Gay people yet, but I want to mourn with African-Americans. And the disabled and Mexicans and refugees and teenage beauty queens who didn’t deserve to have a future president of Babylon walk into their changing room, because he owned the place and thought he owned them.

What is my mother going to say? That’s what I wonder. My grandparents were always nice to me; my mother’s going to be so ticked off.

She might even have voted for Hillary this time, and then complained about it constantly for four years. She wouldn’t have been able to stand the mention of That Man’s name in her presence. Diehard Republican, my Mom. She put Bruce Willis to shame.

She wouldn’t have recognized this idiot as a member of her party. She’d have been totally irate that she paid taxes while he didn’t. She was a capitalist; I am not.

I bet she started raking coals in hell when Trump insulted that Gold Star family because they’re Muslim. She’d spare the Muslims and throw Trump in once she got her fire going real good.

This all becomes so personal; here I am talking about my ancestors, and above I was talking about my friends.

God’s judgment is firm; I feel comfortable claiming this, that God does not permit without consequences the demonization of vast social groups by politicians, governments, churches or countries.

I think we’re under the judgment; and I think we’ve just witnessed the beginning of the Fall of Babylon. Does this sound extreme to you, alarmist?

If I’m right, other countries will take our place; China’s the most logical one. Way to go, Rust Belt!

This certainly is a time for robust Federalism on the West Coast. I’d think an American decline, if it happens, would hurt Silicon Valley and educated, innovative people everywhere. Discrimination costs money; inclusion makes money. We can’t have a scientist who would cure cancer shut out of school because she’s Black or Muslim or an immigrant. If that’s how we’re going to operate, other countries will pick up the slack, and so will their companies.

The idea of America depends on its living up to its ideals. If we don’t have those, we don’t have the overwhelming advantage they’ve given us.

I’m still weighing whether I have to give up newspapers now, to avoid the normalization of Trump as if he’s just the latest in a long line of presidents. I have no interest beyond the headlines in anything he says or does, much less the climate change denier he’s putting in charge of the Environmental Pollution Agency, or who’s the next secretary of Bombing the Middle East.

If somehow Trump turns out better than I expect, I will celebrate that – but there’s virtually no chance of it, considering that two days after he was elected to be world strongman, he went on Twitter to  denounce the demonstrations against him as the work of “professional protesters.” They’re mostly high school and college kids, but the first words out of his fingers were a lie!

He’s not going to change once he gets sworn in; his narcissism and disorganization will consume him. I spent years on the front lines in mental health; the last person you want in the White House is a personality disorder. Psychotic Nixon would make Trump look good. Next election, let’s restrict the franchise to psych nurses.

Trump has no core at the center of his personality; that’s why he’s so grandiose, to fill up the emptiness inside. The man has no friends; the day after he’s sworn in he’s going to say to himself, “Is that all there is to being president?”

Don’t blame me, I voted for Hillary, even though I don’t like or trust the witch. (I haven’t indulged my tempting Sanders fantasy; the fact is we’ll never know how he’d have matched up against this fool. Thank you, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and assorted media scum.)

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San Diego, and dozens of other cities, marching against bigots and climate change deniers in the White House. (Sandy Huffaker/Reuters)

As for my congregation, I close with this: we’re right to make fun of churches with American flags in the sanctuary. We’re right not to worship America’s PR machine. There’s only one God and we must have no other before him, or even near him.

As I get older I’m really letting go of a lot of things, including some of my own shameful delusions; now it turns out I have to give up politics too as any kind of answer. Justice is rare in this world; injustice is more common.

Keep fighting injustice, never give in to it, but our fellow citizens have let us down, which is where the betrayal naturally comes from; the Founders warned us and countless others since. Now it’s happened, we are betrayed, and God has allowed this to happen (along with millions of non-voters).

Our special status as a nation is gone, at least to me. Instead, our help is in the Name of the Lord.

I’ll give Mother Mary the last word. Her song isn’t sweetness and light, it’s a curse and a cry of liberation.

My soul doth magnify the Lord, *
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.
For he hath regarded *
the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold from henceforth *
all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me, *
and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him *
throughout all generations.
He hath showed strength with his arm; *
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat, *
and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel, *
as he promised to our forefathers,
Abraham and his seed for ever. Amen.++

A smaller crowd means a shorter service. Now let’s plan on a bigger crowd.

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We just finished this morning’s Daily Office webcast, and Gwen remarked on its brevity. Attendance was only 14, including one visitor. Lower attendance than usual is what made it shorter, even though it was 2 minutes longer than it’s supposed to be.

But every day we get new people trying us out. The site itself is growing by leaps and bounds, especially because of Facebook and Twitter, and now I’m wondering what we’d do with twice as many people. We need to start expecting them.

Clint led a smooth service today, and even called on me to help read the psalm. I don’t usually read because I’m producing, and we want everyone else to participate as much as possible.

He and I have always worried a bit about how long the service runs. People are busy in the morning, whether they’re with us live or watching later; it’s very common that someone who’s joined us live has to leave before the end of the service, which is perfectly okay. We’re glad every time someone joins us for any portion of the service.

There are several ways to look at the question of service length. The first is that it takes however long it takes. So no apologies.

But the longer it runs, the less likely that someone will join us at all.

Of our 5000 followers, only 0.5% have ever attended a live webcast on any given day. We’re very glad, therefore, that we can record the service and make it available for streaming immediately. H/t Adobe Connect.

We know that a 9 a.m. start time is too late for the East, while a 5 a.m. service is too early for the West. This is a big continent, and no single time will work for everyone. If we had the staff to run four webcasts, starting each one at 7 or 8 a.m. per time zone, that would be ideal. But we don’t have the staff for that, and with only 25 people joining our “big” national webcast, trying to run four services per morning is impractical.

Having said that, I remain a bit frustrated that we run long every day. And my annoyance is compounded by my sad lack of diplomacy and tact, because I don’t feel I can say anything to speed us up without someone getting their feelings hurt.

If we had a 30 minute slot on radio or TV, the management would pull the plug on us at 28 or 29 so the next show could come on. I admit I’ve had fantasies of doing that at times. But this isn’t radio, so we do run on.

Then my frustration builds up until I feel like a diva about to have a tantrum.

Miss Ross, about to give a peon the what-for.

Miss Ross giving a peon the stare-down.

Any number of glitches can slow us down. When we first started webcasting, we spent weeks replaying that old cell phone commercial, Can you hear me now?

Time and technology finally solved that for the most part. Some newcomers actually arrive now knowing more or less how to turn on and mute their microphones. (Thank you, newbies!)

Others just show up, and no matter how hard we try, we may or may not be able to teach them how to participate. We lose a lot of people because they don’t know what a System Preference is. They get frustrated or embarrassed and leave. It breaks our hearts.

We ought to run sound checks on everyone every day before the service, but the regulars are so busy gabbing (including me) we never get to do that. So we end up with Marlene, who’s WAY TOO LOUD, and Pedro who’s …

senior-straining-to-hear

Gabbing, of course, is half the fun. This isn’t radio, it’s church. Seeing each other is part of why we come.

Starting tomorrow I’m implementing two new policies: at 5 minutes before the hour, we do sound checks. The Officiant will announce it and start calling on people in alphabetical order to speak one phrase of the Lord’s Prayer. After each one s/he’ll say, “Too loud, too soft, just right.”

We won’t catch latecomers this way, but it will greatly improve our quality. It will also be a reminder that we’re here for God first, each other second, and the public third – let’s not leave out the public, who are sitting there watching the playback and thinking, “Why don’t they make Pedro speak up?”

But the real issue is something else. (I’ve been working my way up to this, see.)

I never planned, when I first started, that we would spend any time on extemporaneous intercessions. I think it was actually Clint’s idea, and now I’m glad he did it, because it adds a lot to the service, knowing what’s on each person’s mind. Some people come specifically because they’re worried and need to speak their prayer before God and other people. We are glad for every prayer like that. Clint was right.

But when we first started saying individual prayers, I assumed each one would be very brief, like they are in church when the congregation is invited to add their own prayers. In church, people whisper, one on top of the other, and God hears every one. But we can’t do it that way, we’re all mic’d up, so we take turns. Otherwise it’s cacophony. We’ve learned to take turns.

Still, the more people, the more prayers and the longer the service. How do we balance this, when we start having 50 people someday?

Some of our members are very good about keeping their prayer short and sweet. It’s a skill, and they’re thoughtful about it. (You know who you are.)

Some people just let it spill out. That’s fine, we’re not judging the economy of your prayer. It may take you a few words of explanation so we know what you’re really praying about; go ahead, tell us so we can pray along.

But please, no orations from anyone. If someone is sick, just say their name and get it over with so we can move on. Please put the rest of it in the Chat box, once the Suspension period is done:

*Tonya has a new doctor, and she always hates it when she has to see someone new.*

By the way, Clint, that Suspension period (for prayers only, no chatter) is really excellent.

Reminder: do not violate anyone’s privacy. It’s easier to do than you think, even if you don’t say their last name. If you have friends in real time who know that you’re close to Kurt, they’ll know exactly who you mean with this (parody!) prayer: “Oh, Lord, Kurt’s come down with the clap again, so I pray that his penicillin shot will work…”

Say what?

Say what?

I’m also making a structural change in our liturgy starting immediately. Our video hymn will come before the final blessing, which will be pronounced by a priest or deacon if one is present, or by the Officiant.

This is a theological matter as well as a liturgical one. Since it’s my job to watch over both, the change starts now.

Our webcast recording will end with the liturgical blessing, and nothing further will be said. We should send people away with the blessing, and not more mindless yabble from us.

We’ll still bless each other as we depart, but that will take place among friends.++

Scholarships Help Make Retreat Affordable

The Daily Office has received three donations so far to defray the cost of attending our retreat this August in southern Indiana. Thank you, thoughtful contributors!

Donations are tax-deductible for U.S. citizens and will be kept anonymous. (We can use more, too.)

We are re-examining costs, $700 currently, to make sure we keep the retreat affordable. One possible target for cuts is the two side trips we currently have planned, which add $100 to the cost for bus transportation. I would hate to lose them – a trip to nearby Columbus, Indiana, which is world-famous for its modern architecture, including many churches, and a longer trip to Terre Haute to meet Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor and tour her CANDLES Museum, focusing on Josef Mengele’s infamous medical experiments on identical twins; Eva and her sister Miriam were two of his victims. Eva has the most remarkable insights on forgiveness that I’ve ever heard; but maybe we can show the documentary about her, “Forgiving Dr. Mengele,” instead.

ForgivingDrMengeleMrs. Kor is not a religious person; she came to a point where she had to forgive Mengele just so she could survive and not be imprisoned by the past. But hearing and watching her story, including the controversy her forgiveness generated, helped free me from the worst thing that ever happened to me, domestic violence at the hands of my father and enabler/mother, so I figured that a spiritual retreat that focuses in part on forgiveness could be really valuable to some people.

I forgave my parents on December 21, 2010, when I was 59, thanks to Eva Mozes Kor. I still have a sign on my wall reminding me about it, which has come in handy when more recent provocations have arisen.

As for the architecture, we can make that optional. The town is open on Sundays, of course, while the CANDLES Museum is not. I can head over to Columbus with anyone who wants to go when we’re done Sunday afternoon.

“Transformations” by Howard Meehan, on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University, Columbus, Indiana. (rickyberkey.org)

Why include the side trips at all? I wanted to let participants know that Indiana has more going for it than people expect, and since this is my home state, I wanted you to experience two unique offerings. But I don’t believe retreats should be expensive and I encourage anyone who would like to attend but thinks they can’t afford it to speak to me privately; my e-mail address is on every page of The Daily Office.

Our honorary deacon Clint Gilliland set the pattern for us when we started webcasting a year ago and found people really need to use a headset to participate. They only cost ten or twenty bucks, but what church would stop everyone at the door and say, “You can’t come in without these earphones”? So we decided that we would give headsets to anyone who can’t afford one; they’re paid for from our general fund. Jesus didn’t charge people when he fed the 5000 and neither do we. If you need a little help, speak to the Vicar – and don’t be offended if he speaks to you, not knowing your financial situation.

We don’t have our retreat leaders signed up yet, but tonight I contacted an experienced retreat leader in my parish, Amy J. Paget, and I’ve spoken to others about it; Deacon Lani is tentatively on board. I also want an experienced male leader but haven’t found one yet.

Once everything is settled we will open registrations – which is good because Waycross is wanting a deposit.

I close with this tip of the biretta to Steve Helmreich, who took me to Indiana Beach once and knows that…

Beach CrowI still have the coffee mug I bought that day; sometimes I sip from it while we’re reading Morning Prayer.++

Our Community Network Build Has Now Begun!

Lovely as this is, it is not a church.

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris (Wikimedia)

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris (Wikimedia)

It is a dazzling building erected for the glory of God and the edification of persons.

This is a church.

Members of the Diocese of Chicago playing with members of the Diocese of Southeast México, 2013.

Members of the Diocese of Chicago playing with members of the Diocese of Southeast México, 2013.

You can “have church” anywhere. You can “be church” only with other people.

This, so far, is The Daily Office version of church:

Some of my favorite people: a screen grab after one of our webcasts last year. We get together online five mornings a week, plus Friday nights.

Some of my favorite people: a screen grab after one of our webcasts last year. We get together online five mornings a week, plus Friday nights.

Community is everything. Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered together, I am in the midst of them.”

I am not the vicar of a website, or three websites, or a Facebook group. I am the Vicar of 5000 followers, most of whom do not know each other, but do know that they are part of an intentional community, and value their connection.

To remedy the fact that few of us have met, we’re holding a retreat this August in southern Indiana. But for years I have worked to bring us together in more ways – and now at last it appears my dearest dream is about to come true.

I’m so excited I could run around in circles like the Verger!

Luke resting at my knee a few days after I got him; he runs around in circles every day when he knows we're going outside. I call him the Verger because he likes to tug on his leash and show me where to go.

Luke resting at my knee a few days after I got him; he runs around in circles every day when he knows we’re going outside. I call him the Verger because he likes to tug on his leash and show me where to go.

To promote community – people knowing each other, sharing their lives, and working together for holy purposes – I have long wanted to develop a social network. John M. came up with the idea for us years ago, and I have struggled ever since to make it happen – made phone calls to developers and coders and marketers, written e-mails, asked for grants, raised money – all to no avail, until now.

But as of Friday, the work has begun!

Here is the person who’s finally making it happen – in one fortuitous conversation, by hooking me up with a web professional she knows.

Former journalist and television news producer Kathy Copas of the Diocese of Indianapolis.

Former journalist and television news producer Kathy Copas, Communications and Evangelism Officer of the Diocese of Indianapolis.

We met in a private chat on Friday with Tony Schlisser of Pages & PCs in Louisville, Kentucky. Tony is IndyDio’s main computer whiz, responsible for 50 or more individual websites under the diocesan umbrella, including our donation page. Lately he’s been helping me develop a new, unified “landing page” for our three Daily Office sites (Americas, Asia-Pacific and Oficio Diario in Spanish). We are the Daily Office Network now, with a logo and everything. You’ve seen our logo; I should put it on this blog too, but I only now thought of it. Our logo’s gotten rave reviews.

daily office logo

In the course of developing this landing page, where all our sites will converge under the dailyoffice.org roof, I happened to mention on Friday what all this is leading toward, our own social network. Somehow this was the first Tony had heard of it – though I thought surely I had mentioned it before; I’ve been talking about it so long I think everyone I know has heard of it. But he hadn’t. And then…

PrestoTheMagician

He solved it in five seconds!

(Cue the rat terrier turning triple axels.)

Tony knew what Kathy and I didn’t, that WordPress, our bloghost, also offers a social networking application called BuddyPress. Thus one problem that’s stymied me repeatedly – what platform to use – he solved instantly.

What’s significant is that our current blogs must integrate seamlessly with the social network, so that you can go from one to the other with a simple click without ever leaving our site.

We’re not looking to do a churchy version of Facebook here, but to use the strengths of social networking to “be” the church.

The most fun part of our Morning Prayer webcasts happens after we pray; we move into our virtual Parish Hall, where we can see everyone’s face much better, and we chatter like magpies.

CommonMagpie

We have the beginnings of a timeline now for our long-awaited site makeover and expansion. We hope to have our new landing page debut on Easter Day. It will feature much bigger, widescreen art on the title page, with 3 buttons so you can choose which site you use for prayer; maybe we’ll use that photo above from Sainte-Chapelle so you can see it in all its glory. Every day I want you to see a photo or painting that gets you in the mood to enter into God’s presence. Every day when you come I want you to say, “Yes, this is the right place.”

Shortly after Easter Padre Mickey’s Oficio Diario site will be moving to WordPress; all three sites will have new URLs (probably subdomains of dailyoffice.org), including automatic forwarding so nobody has to change their bookmarks right away. And then, later in the summer we’ll open our new social network, which I haven’t named yet.

Dana Carvey on "SNL."

Dana Carvey on “SNL.”

I have gotten to know hundreds of you in the ten years since I founded our first site. You are great people, incredibly engaged with Jesus Christ and working hard to bring Good News to a hurting world. It’s time you met each other.

As I said, I don’t expect our social network to replace Facebook; after all, we have 2600 members there and dozens more arriving every week. But I hope, once you look us over, you’ll also join our network and make new friends for socializing, sharing, writing, linking, laughing, weeping, praying and working. It should also be a great place to let other people know what’s going on in your parish, diocese and neighborhood that may interest them.

My greatest hope is that we will use it for mission purposes. Publicize your concert, your trip to Haiti or South Sudan, your prison ministry, your health services. Spread the Good Word!

It will be essential that our core group of 5000 decide to join and make it work. So you can expect that we’ll be promoting it heavily. Here’s why.

HereLiesVera

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, just one year after we launched our Daily Office site, thousands of people died, including Vera Briones Smith. Hundreds of churches were damaged or destroyed. Whole cities were ruined. I tried to compose a prayer that could begin to express our collective grief and loss and confusion.

And because our site is oriented in part toward praying about the events of the day – not just your personal piety, like other sites – we had a huge jump in traffic. People needed to pray, because we felt so helpless.

In the days afterward, thousands of Christians and other citizens from all walks of life rushed to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to help survivors rebuild their lives. Our site raised money for Episcopal Relief and Development.

And while the teevee focused so much on New Orleans, our members knew that Mississippi was devastated just as bad if not worse – because we showed pictures of churches, where the only thing left was the bell that used to hang in the steeple but then was sitting in the front yard. Ocean Springs, Pass Christian – we learned the names of these places – Pensacola, Bayou La Batre, Bay St. Louis, Metairie and more.

As recovery began, we showed that too – worship the following Sunday, with everyone gathered around the rubble and the bell.

We stayed on it for weeks, while our competition kept acting as if nothing happened. When the Bishop of Mississippi wrote a prayer, I took down mine and put up his.

Today, if we’re able to create a viable social network for Episcopalians and Friends, we’ll be much more able to respond to the next disaster.

That’s the kind of mission work I’m talking about – along with the everyday emergencies of war and peace, homelessness, hunger, ignorance, hatred, materialism, scapegoating, imprisonment, environmental degradation, racism, injustice and everything else that God abhors about human beings.

How God’s able to love us through all of this I’ll never understand. But then God is God, and I am not. Thank God!

Famine is spreading in South Sudan tonight. Episcopalians are going hungry along with 150,000 of their fellow citizens. I want us to get food to those people, along with celebrating every birth and birthday, graduation and new job, accomplishment and disappointment, illness and healing, life and death. That’s what a Christian social network can uniquely do, so that’s why I want one.

Our friend Deacon Letha used Facebook this weekend to publicize a concert at her church, Midway Baptist in Midway, Kentucky, a fundraiser for one of their frequent mission trips to Haiti. They raised $2100 while the town was covered in two feet of snow!!!

[UPDATE: Letha says that a Haitian couple, now living in Louisville, Ky., saw a notice about this concert on social media and drove 75 miles to little Midway so they could attend! A bit of virality started up, which is what social networks are so good at. That’s how the Church first got started, you know; Jesus went viral.]

It was a "Love/Haiti" thing last night at Midway Baptist Church in Kentucky. (Letha Tomes Drury on Facebook)

It was a “Love/Haiti” thing last night at Midway Baptist Church in Kentucky. (Letha Tomes Drury on Facebook)

The thing is, it’s easy for this kind of event to get lost in the vastness of Facebook, with all its celeb news, politics, hookups, advertising, gaming and cat videos. What a person gets out of Facebook depends entirely on who their friends are – and for everyone, those friends are a diverse group. I’m tired of fighting an insatiably greedy, privacy-crushing mega-corporation over the contents of my news feed. I don’t care that you just won at Crazy Birds, bought a tractor at FarmTown or found a clue at MurderMystery. I don’t want to see racy pictures of you and the person you’re dating. I’m not going to shop at my nearest Chick Fil-A, Pizza Rot or Walmart. And if I never see another racist, misogynistic, homophobic, anti-Obamacare, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant rant I will like that just fine!

Yes to pictures of the “grandcubs,” the books you’re reading, the songs you recommend, the food you cooked, the flowers you grew, your concert for Haiti – and double-yes to Tim’s 40-second video of one-year-old Jackson’s first steps.

Taking Jackson for a ride.

Taking Jackson for a ride.

I just figure that Christians have a need to hang out with each other sometimes, even if our conversation is less than pious. And the chance to do a little good isn’t something I want to pass up.

Get this – the Diocese of Indianapolis will host our network for free. Unlimited bandwidth and storage, Tony says; just tell him what I want and he’ll try to find a way.

Kathy Copas is worth her weight in frankincense!

So watch for all these changes, and if you can spare a prayer please give us one.

Thank you, Lord, for making me a home in the Diocese of Indianapolis.

TECWelcomesYouRainbow.400
Think of this: if our new social site works for Episkies, it will work for progressive Christians of all colors.++

Annual Meeting Approves Tithe for Mission Work, New Logo

Annual Mtg View Here

Click here:
https://dailyoffice.adobeconnect.com/p21rylu6bra/

(UPDATE: Some graphics displayed during our webcast may not be visible in the recording.)

Gwen moved and Clint seconded that we devote $2000, or 10% of our annual budget, to Episcopal churches in these places:

• Cheyenne River Episcopal Mission, South Dakota
• Episcopal Diocese of Bor, South Sudan – famine relief
• Episcopal Diocese of Lui, South Sudan
• Rosebud Episcopal Mission, South Dakota – emergency heating assistance
• St. Andre’s School, Mithon, Haiti – student lunches

It isn’t much but it gets us started in mission work – and we couldn’t do it without the generous support of our members. Thank you.

We chose these recipients because they offer us the chance to engage in mutual ministry; we expect to benefit as much as they do. “Church” is a community, and communities are built of relationships. We’ve already heard from the priests at Rosebud and Mithon, and communications channels are well-established with all five.

Our other big news is internal to us, our new logo. We operate several associated websites – prayer sites in the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Spanish language, as well as our Facebook group, Twitter followers, the Progressive Church News and even this blog – and now they’ll all be labeled the same:

daily office logo

Hope you like it. And stay tuned, we’ve got more plans up our sleeves.++

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.++

Webcasting in Church

PriestTexting.chocolateandcroissantsblog

An Orthodox priest texting in Paris. (chocolateandcroissants blog)

Suppose we got our own church.

Suppose we based our webcasts in a real church building, with an altar and stained glass, a place made holy by the prayers already said there.

When I was in Indianapolis a few months ago Bishop Cate Waynick showed me some unused space in the diocesan office suite and invited me to set up a miniature video studio. I was delighted with her suggestion, but couldn’t think of any practical way to make it happen; I live 100 miles away.

She got the idea because we were discussing what dailyoffice.org webcasts are like – including how to improve them. (We’re changing webcast service providers soon, from GoToMeeting to AdobeConnect, as part of this.) Here is what I visualize as ideal.

Gather a live congregation in an existing church AND all of our scattered members across the continent, with cameras in each location and a screen in the church; together we say and sing the Office.

Would that enhance the daily worship experience? Would more people want to try it because we were there?

It would be unlike streaming video, where you watch a live congregation somewhere else but do not interact with them. With livecasting, you can see them and they can see you. We are together but apart. No one is a passive consumer, unless they want to be.

In fact, multiple live congregations could be linked: Live from Houston, Boise, Rochester and St. Swithin’s-in-the-Swamp! (Otherwise known as my hometown.)

People like to feel part of something larger than themselves; you may have noticed that.

I’m a little shocked by how little effort and money it takes (see below); the technology does the work.

Imagine this: I get permission from a church in my hometown (I have one in mind) to convene a small group at their altar Monday through Friday. They allow me to set up a couple of cameras, one for the lectern and one for the congregation in the front pew, as well as a 30-inch screen so they can see the printed liturgy and everyone else. We use the church’s existing WiFi or buy them a router.

Fifteen minutes before the service we log on to the webcast, which we pay for; this is the same as our current practice. One by one people show up from their locations, and we can all see each other on our screens; other people can call in but not see. I serve as technical director but not worship leader; that’s Clint in Texas, Katrina in California or Scotty in Oregon. At the top of the hour I hit the Record button. Clint begins the service with a quick welcome, summary of the technology and what to expect, then he reads the Opening Sentence. Wherever we are, we can see the Order for Morning Prayer and artwork from our website, so nobody needs books.

He calls on Alison in Seattle to sing the Invitatory, then Steve in Las Cruces and Yvonne in New York to read the psalm responsively. Next he calls on Debbie in Boise to read the First Lesson and Martha in my hometown to read or sing the canticle, and so on through the service. (Martha’s a church pianist; she might want to play while the rest of us sing.)

Besides scrolling, I work the “control room” – switching camera feeds from one place to the next. We start with a shot of the altar, then I switch to Clint for the intro. As he assigns each portion of the service, I select that person’s camera shot, so it’s larger on all screens than any of the other shots, which are condensed into a “filmstrip” array of live thumbnail pictures across the top. Everyone is always on camera but only the speaker is enlarged. We can see that we are “together,” though we come from different places. Yet our focus remains on worship; what changes is who leads that portion of it.

This is an obsolete but still useful view of what AdobeConnect looks like. All 25 cameras (not just 6 as we currently have) fit on one screen along with content areas (for us, the liturgy), chatbox and control panel. The new version of the service allows me to highlight Clint as he's speaking and turn everyone else into a strip of thumbnails, which saves broadband and keeps the service affordable.

This is an obsolete but still useful view of what AdobeConnect looks like. All 25 cameras (not just 6 as we currently have) fit on one screen along with content areas (for us, the liturgy), chatbox and control panel. The new version of the service allows me to highlight Clint as he’s speaking and turn everyone else into a strip of thumbnails, which saves broadband and keeps the service affordable.

Our current webcasters have developed a procedure for offering spontaneous intercessions and thanksgivings at a designated point in the service, in an orderly way. (Unlike the Prayers of the People in church, where it’s fine if two people speak softly at once, we’re all mic’ed up, so we have to take turns to avoid talking over each other.) After the final blessing we watch a video together; usually a hymn but sometimes an educational piece. We can’t watch video together on GTM, it comes out garbled, but we can watch together on Adobe’s superior technology.

Gwen says the final blessing, Clint says goodbye, I end the recording – but we still have the audio and webcam feeds afterward, and we can gab and have coffee hour from the comfort of home, office, airport or Starbucks. Does this not sound like a cool thing?

What would it take to run it? We already have the main component in webcast technology. The host church would need two cameras, a screen and WiFi. Off-location members only need a device, a headset and an internet connection.

2 GoPro cameras @$200 = $400; for the latest Go-Pro models, double that.
HP 30-inch monitor = $230
Backup batteries & mounts = $70
Total = $700 – $1100

I think, without +Cate or my knowing exactly what we were talking about, we were saying, “It’s too cheap not to.”

And “We don’t know what we’re doing, but we should find out what this technology is capable of.” With Clint’s help (he’s an IT man from way back), I’m always looking for ways to upgrade.

Here are the two main benefits I see. One is the classic spiritual boon of saying the Office itself; used every day, It’s How To Get Closer To God™.

(William Burks/Episcopal Memes)

(William Burks/Episcopal Memes)

Anything we can do that makes it easier to say the Office, especially creating a congregation without any effort, where none existed before, spreads the grace that daily prayer offers. It can be said individually, and thousands do, but praying it together is a lot better. Our current webcasters have grown close in a short time, though we’ve never met.

Second, sophisticated webcasting sends a message to Millennials and youth that the Church will meet them where they are, which is online.

Let the video we watch together on any given Thursday be one campers made last week at Waycross – or the one Trinity, Kirksville (Mo.) made on Social Media Sunday, or that ScholarPriests posted two weeks ago.

I think it’s vital for the future of the Episcopal Church that we get good at techno-evangelism. That especially means empowering youth with tools in their hands.

Of course, there are many ways these ideas could come up short.

• The biggest limitation on our webcasts isn’t technological, it’s timing one service across four time zones. I am still amazed that people on the West Coast get up at 5:30 a.m. to listen to Clint and me chatter, when TEC is mostly an East Coast church. If we had the personnel I’d hold four services per morning, but we don’t have the personnel. (Any volunteers?)

• Maybe the church where I live won’t agree. Maybe I have to move to Lafayette or Indy to take advantage of the opportunity.

• Maybe I’m not the right person to do this. But I don’t see anyone else stepping up, certainly not our competitors.

• I’m an ambitious person and often get grandiose. Then again, 2.6 million hits and 4000 followers are good numbers, so I realize I can’t evaluate myself accurately.

• Maybe Kathy Copas, the diocesan communicator/evangelist, is right, that the smartest use of that office space in Indy is building a Creativity Center for use by the whole diocese for video and other projects – though she quickly added, “People don’t like to come to this office.” To which I wonder, “Why should they have to?”

The one thing I’m sure of is that I can pry $1000 out of Episcopalians. +Cate has offered to give twice, and I’d like to take her up on it.

So I ask you for two things besides your prayers; feedback about this outline of a plan, and your comments on what it would take for a church to host a daily, web-based service in a side chapel.

It’s guaranteed to raise a panic among some Episcopalians, who are not used to and do not want screens and electronics in their churches. I wouldn’t want them on Sundays in the main church either, and never when the Eucharist is celebrated – we should be looking at the altar, the bread and wine, not some TV screen.

But could this work in a side chapel, or some other space not generally in use during the week? GoPro cameras are tiny, palm-sized and easy to put away. A monitor needs to be portable enough to go in a closet when not in use.

Today's HiDef cameras are too little to be "disruptive in church."

Today’s HiDef cameras are too little to be disruptive in church.

Do you think this is workable, or could be made to work? Would it enhance the webcast experience? Would a more formal setting bring an unanticipated drawback? (Probably; those entering the sacred space of an Episcopal chapel would keep silent beforehand, out of long-ingrained habit, while people who gather online love to chat. But in the local church I’m thinking of, they’re Disciples and Presbyterians, and have no such habit of silence.)

• Here’s a deal-breaker: would the church expect us to rent the space? We can’t afford it.

Or could this be the coolest way to say Morning Prayer since Tom Cranmer first dipped his ostrich feather in an inkwell?

ThomasCranmerEtching

This is the bottom line. If I were a parish priest, I would offer Morning Prayer in the chapel Monday through Friday, gather a little congregation over time, then put it online in a webcast. That’s how we’d expect such a thing to go – as an outgrowth of something normal and expected that we were already doing.

But I’m not a priest, so I’ve come at this from the opposite direction, and now I’m thinking of trying to end up in the same place, a real web chapel.

God didn’t call me to be a priest; he did call me to put the Office online. Maybe I’ve become so greedy for clicks I’m completely unrealistic. But I told the bishop, “We know the basics of how to do this already. Now the issue is doing it right.”++

GirlsLookingAtPhone

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.