The Theological context of Church Communications – a video of a presentation

Here in Rhode Island, those of us working in communications ministry are trying to gather quarterly to talk about our work, share tips and see how we can do things better.

At the first of our gatherings I was given the task of presenting on “the theology of church communications”. This is the video of that presentation.

It’s not… horrible.

Actually, it’s rather entertaining to watch me fling the microphone cable around as I flail about with my arms talking about something about which I’m deeply passionate. So it’s worth watching for that alone. (And I need a haircut, but that’s besides the point. I’m more of a radio guy.)

Ways to think about cars — and implications for congregations…

Benedict Evans asks us to consider the full implications of the coming revolution in automobiles: the self-driving car. If you think Uber is a disruptive force in transportation, just think about the implications of these sorts of vehicles on something as mundane as parking your car in the city:

[I]f your car doesn’t need to wait for you where you got out, then city-centre car parks disappear and retail gets remade (such of it as survives the shift to ecommerce, of course). No more worrying about parking. If you don’t need to worry about parking yet can be driven there directly and affordably, how much travel shifts from public transport to cars? How many people visit a busy central area they might previously have avoided for that reason (the West End of London, for example)? But then, where does that car go afterwards  – does it drop you off for dinner and drive off to a cheap carpark, or does it spend the next few hours driving other people around for a fee? The more autonomous cars there are, the more appealing on-demand becomes. Quite where the second-order effects end up is hard to predict – for example, where does it leave public transport if routes start emptying out, and what does that mean for people on very low incomes? What does it do to cycling?

via Ways to think about cars — Benedict Evans.

How many urban congregations struggle with having adequate parking for members? (Most every one of the congregations I’ve led has had that issue.) What would be different in the life of the congregation if people were able to easily come and go as they wanted?

On the right use of tech in ministry

Saw this over on Pastor Adam Copeland’s blog:

Luther, centuries before, wrote about the tools of the day as articles through which we should show love to our neighbors.

In this light, my iPhone becomes a tool for faithful living. It’s unusual for me to go more than a few hours without using my phone. I use it for directions, and daily to search for information about our world. I my phone to text message friends. I use it to tweet and check-in with my network on Facebook. I use it to LOL and type condolences.

Together with my MacBook, my iPhone is the main tool with which I live, work, and serve God. 95% of my written communication happens with the help of my iPhone and MacBook, and I communicate for a living. It’s my vocation.

In so many ways, we can use smartphones to serve God and neighbor. To text love. To advocate with hashtags. To tweet the gospel. To chronicle justice. To snap joy. To spread good news.

via Pastor, Bless My iPhone | A Wee Blether.

There’s more on his blog site and you should read it all. But the key point he’s making is one that I haven’t seen many others making; personal technology is revolutionizing the way clergy do ministry. That’s something likely both good and bad, but to this date it seems like it’s also an unexamined truth.

I’m glad some folks are thinking about it. We probably all need to be more intentional about working through the implications for the way we share the Gospel today.

Building a truly modern personal biblical library

The way a preacher builds a personal working library has changed. Here’s a free tool to introduce you to electronic bible study.

Many years ago, my brother the pastor and professor, talked me into spending more money than I wanted to on a computer bible system. It was one of the first ones that was published and he had found it a real help in his sermon preparation. He and I serve in different faith transitions, his being more traditionally evangelical than my Anglicanism. But I am always willing to learn from others and started trying to use the software in my own ministry.

I didn’t have much luck. The software back then was designed to support close study of the Bible in a verse by verse sort of way. Anglicans tend to read the Bible in literary chunks (like psalms, stories, letters, etc.) rather than by verse. And that’s certainly the way our use of the weekly and daily lectionary undergirds our use of the Bible in our preaching. So while I could use the software to gather a great deal of information about a single verse (including translation issues, text variants, etc.), the package just wasn’t very helpful for what I was trying to do as a preacher.

But things have changed. First of all, the software, published by Logos, has been through a number of revisions, has moved to a truly cross-platform structure and is much easier to use. And even more exciting to me is that it now has a wealth of Anglican sources including commonly used commentaries, theological resources and liturgical resources. This package has been endorsed by people at Lambeth palace (the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office), the Anglican Communion office, and American Church’s Presiding Bishop’s office. And the new tools and resources make it incredibly helpful for the average jobbing Sunday lectionary based preacher to quickly pull together a wealth of information to use for sermon preparation. You can even download powerpoint templates and professionally designed slides for presentations (and sermons).

It’s not inexpensive. Actually, it’s pretty expensive, at least if you try to buy the whole thing at once. But you don’t have to buy it all at once. (I haven’t.) Buy one of the starter packages and then over the years, upgrade and purchase separately the resources you think you’ll need for the way you want to use the system. A student or biblical scholar’s needs are different than a parish priest’s, or a deacon, or a chaplain, or a Christian Ed. director, or a musician, or a Sunday School teacher, or…

New Office

I find that it’s best to think of this thing as a library platform, like Kindle or iBook, that makes modern, professional and popular theological and biblical resources available in electronic format. By the time I had graduated from seminary I had spent thousands of dollars on books and had built a decent, medium sized, theological library. (That turns out to be a real bear to move from office to office by the way.) Logos, and its competitors, are a more modern way to gather and use a personal theological library.

And, if you want to try the system out, you can do that for free with a surprisingly powerful package that FaithLife, the new corporate name for the Logos people, are giving away to the first million people who download it. The Faithlife Study Bible comes with a free modern translation of the Bible, but for $10 more or so, you can add the NRSV, the most commonly used text in the Episcopal Church. And then you’ll have a full study bible, bible dictionary, and single volume bible encyclopedia on your laptop, smartphone or tablet. Perfect for parish bible studies, or for using to read the bible in a year…

You can find the free package here along with more information about what is available and how to use it.

Managing the email torrent (for clergy especially)

One of the common sources of exasperation for clergy (at least in my conversations with my peers) is that they feel overwhelmed by the amount of email they receive during the day. Truth be told our email load isn’t anything like what people in large corporations get, but unlike theirs which is filled with massive numbers of cya ‘cc’s, clergy email often comes from parishioners, is not an fyi, and has to be acted upon.

It’s hard to manage the deluge of requests, each one legitimate and worthy of thoughtful response, and still be able to find space to pray, read and study; to say nothing of all the other appointments and administrative things that go with the job.

Peter Bregman has some suggestions about how to carve out space in your day:

“Instead of checking email continuously and from multiple devices, schedule specific email time during the day while you are at your computer. All other time is email vacation time.

We are most efficient when we answer email in bulk at our computers. We move faster, can access files when we need them, and link more quickly and easily to other programs like our calendars. Also, when we sit down for the express purpose of doing emails, we have our email heads on. We are more focused, more driven, wasting no time in transition from one activity to another.

I bulk process my email three times a day in 30-minute increments, once in the morning, once mid-day, and once before shutting down my computer for the day. I use a timer and when it beeps, I close my email program.

Outside my designated email times I don’t access my email — from any device — until my next scheduled email session. I no longer use my phone for email unless I’m away from my computer all day.”

More here.

The key point here is that email was originally meant to be mail, not instant messaging. If you don’t answer for a couple of hours, or even a day, that’s okay. If it’s more urgent, or going to be more time consuming than a short note, pick up the phone.

I’ve starting hiding my email application on my computer desktop. I glance every now and then to see how big the backlog is getting, but by hiding it and turning off other notifications, I don’t have this overarching need to respond immediately. And amazingly enough, people still thank me for getting back to them as quickly as I do. A few hours is good enough. A day is okay. If it’s really an emergency, people will follow up if they don’t hear back.

Do read the rest of the article. Any of you have any particular strategy for your email that’s working well for you?

UPDATE: Here’s a study of what happens to people when they intentionally ignore their email during the work day.

Online degrees from bricks and mortar places. Seminaries?

I just came across an announcement on Twitter that an online education company (2tor – “tutor”) has announced partnerships with institutions like Georgetown University and USC to provide for credit graduate degrees through online work. Can this work for seminaries?

I just came across an announcement on Twitter that an online education company (2tor – “tutor”) has announced partnerships with institutions like Georgetown University and USC to provide for credit graduate degrees through online work.

“2tor has partnered with University of Southern California (USC), Georgetown University, and University of North Carolina (UNC) to offer online degrees. Only a select few Master’s degrees are offered; social work and education at USC; nursing at Georgetown; and government and business at UNC. Instead of having to relocate across the country, you can earn a Master’s degree from one of the schools pretty much anywhere in the world.

The company helps colleges create online courses, provides an online environment where students can access their courses, invests in schools to make their programs work, and supplies schools with infrastructure that handles student sign-up, course registration, and graduation processing. Instead of typical online classes, where lectures are videotaped or assignments are placed on a message board, 2tor uses webcams to connect students with their professors and other students. 2tor even offers mobile apps so students can stay on top of their classes.

2tor competes primarily with EmbanetCompass, which creates similar partnerships with academic institutions and helps colleges provide online degree programs. EmbanetCompass has partnered with 20 universities, including Northwestern, Howard, Wake Forest, and USC.”

More here.

That’s pretty amazing. Assuming that 2tor is legit and not a place that has a business model created around scamming students out of their financial aid packages, this may be the way forward for seminaries.

Speaking as a member of our Commission on Ministry here in Arizona, and a member of our Board of Examining Chaplains, and as a person who’s been tasked with creating non-traditional preparation plans for ordinands, having something like this available at a reasonable cost, would be huge. There are very few second career vocations that can pick up and move their families to a three year residential seminary. The old business model of asking such students to cash out their home equity to pay for seminary isn’t working now because all the home equity has evaporated. It’s putting the students and the seminarians into an incredible bind.

But what if the seminaries reduced their costs for face-to-face teaching by closing many of their dorms, etc, and outsourced the administration of their online course work to something like 2tor (or one of its competitors)? I’m hoping there would be savings for the student, who just has to pay straight tuition as a result and doesn’t have to move his or her family out of state. It would also be a significant savings for the institution which wouldn’t have to create the online program from scratch, wouldn’t have to spend any significant resources supporting the IT side, and would be able to up and running pretty quickly I imagine.

Speaking as someone from Arizona, we do have money (contributed yearly by all our parishes) to support our seminarians. If they could stay in state, work part-time, and do their preparation online… a whole lot of people would be happy. I can imagine being able to train clergy without asking them to incur significant educational debt; which given clergy salaries can be a major problem.

Plus, it would open up a whole new class of students (and a new income stream) for the seminaries willing to embrace this. Perhaps places like Seabury might become virtual institutions, allowing them to use existing real estate to support their mission in a much more flexible manner.

Seems to me like this could be the best of both worlds. You keep the institution (which is important for the health of the Episcopal Church as a whole) and we find a way to keep our access to educated clergy (a key feature of what people tell me they appreciate about the Episcopal Church).

Anyone know anything about the business model behind 2tor?

What happened to Episcopal Café?


Those of you who read the Lead or Daily Episcopalian on the Episcopal Café site have probably noticed that we haven’t updated the site since Saturday evening. It’s a server error. The Café was migrated to another server at the site where we get our donated space. But something seems to have gone wrong in the latter stages of the migration and the editors are not able to access the back-end of the website at the moment.

We’ve put in a plea for help. Hopefully we’ll be back up and running in short order.

In the meantime, members of the Lead’s newsteam are posting notes and articles (that would normally be posted to the Lead) over on our Facebook page. (

Sorry for the disruption. But I suppose it’s inevitable. The Café has little or no budget, and we rely on donated server space to keep the place running. I’ll post news here as soon as we’re back online.


Okay, after an engineer went and kicked the server, looks like we’re all able to access the administrative pages again. Let the news flow!

Photon heralds extend entanglement

Quantum Entanglement should be an incredibly useful tool for communications. Though it won’t ever become an ansible, or even the basis for subspace radio, the ability to communicate through entangled pairs of quantum particles would, in theory, create a situation where no third party could intercept the message. Which means that we’d finally have unbreakable secure communications. In theory at least. There are a number of practical problems.

One of the problems is that it’s very difficult to extend entanglement to a useful range. Generally anything over a meter is pretty much impossible and typical length scales are a million times shorter than that. But there’s some hope that the range can be extended much much further by using a series of “repeaters”, not unlike the way telecommunications or ethernet systems manage to extend their range to world spanning distances.

From Ars Technica:

“Researchers in Geneva, Switzerland have now built a possible model for a quantum repeater, using entangled photons to excite rare-earth atoms embedded in two crystals. The atoms themselves have correlated quantum states, and when they emit new photons, those are also entangled, guaranteeing that the original “message” is passed along. Devices built along these lines could act as solid-state nodes within quantum networks, allowing for larger quantum computing systems.

As with many other successful entanglement experiments, the core of the Swiss apparatus is a type of crystal that absorbs one photon and then emits two that have opposite polarization states. The specific state of each of these photons is undetermined until measured. But because they are entangled—correlated—measuring the polarization of one photon instantly reveals the state of the second, no matter how far they are separated in space. 

(No information can be transmitted this way since the people on either end would need to discuss how the measurement should be taken, and that discussion takes place at light-speed.)

[…]The absorption-remission process and a photon passing through without interaction both may trigger a detector, but the wrong photon means the message isn’t actually received. To ensure that only the right photons are counted in the repeater, Imam Usmani and colleagues prepared the initial signal so that each “proper” photon is partnered with a second photon of a different wavelength known as a herald. “

More here.

Neat idea. There are any number of simple useful applications for such a tool. Credit card and financial transactions lead the list and are probably what are going to bring the big money to solving this problem.

Plus you gotta love any headline that lets you glom together the idea of photon heralds with quantum entanglement. Grin.

(Remember that none of this sort of behavior is allowed in a deterministic system. There’s no right and wrong answer in the way that a reductionist world view would allow here. And that’s useful to keep in mind when one is doing theology, especially if one has been reading a great deal of scholastic theology.)

Speaking of going mobile… Wayfarer is here

So Monday I posted a note calling on Episcopalians to start thinking how we ought to be moving ourselves toward providing content on mobile platforms, since all the projections look like mobile internet use is going to soon eclipse traditional access.

And just like that, the Communications people at the Episcopal Church offices in New York release a new application on the iTunes store called “Wayfarer”! (I swear, I had no prior knowledge of this – hopefully this happened because the people at “815” were reading the same trends I was reading.)

From an email announcement I received:

The Episcopal Church Office of Communication has launched its first iPad app, Wayfarer.

Available as a free, quarterly iPad app downloadable at iTunes, all the content can also be viewed in an Internet browser here or

“Wayfarer features compelling stories told through video, photographs and words,” noted Lynette Wilson, Wayfarer producer.

Wilson, who is also an editor/reporter for Episcopal News Service, addressed the appropriateness of the name. “We chose to name the app Wayfarer because we intend to tell a wide spectrum of stories about people, possibilities and action across a broad landscape,” she said.

“This is an exciting moment – it represents our entry into mobile content, appealing both to Episcopal and broader audiences,” noted Anne Rudig, Director of Episcopal Church Office of Communication. “As the title suggests, each issue of Wayfarer has been shot in a different far-flung location.”

Full story here.

Good on ’em. Hopefully we’ll have a phone version soon for the iPhone, Android (in whatever flavor this can be installed on) and whatever else people are using.

But this is hopefully just the start!

And go download the app if you can, give it a good rating and share the news.

Preparing the *Church* for a mobile-first world

There are very few Episcopal churches right now that have their own phone application. We don’t. I’m not sure that’s the right place to spend money for what it’s worth. But I do think we need to be intentional about thinking through how people will use their mobile devices on a Sunday morning.

In a post entitled “Preparing for a mobile-first world” Ryan Kim draws his reader’s attention to the following statistics:

“Mobile is a not just another device, but involves a new way of thinking that takes into account the power and immediacy of smartphones and tablets. Forrester nicely distills a lot of the trends and what it means for companies going forward. First, take a look at some of the facts, figures and projections laid out by Forrester:

  • 1 billion consumers will own smartphones by 2016 with U.S. users owning 257 million smartphones and 126 million tablets. By 2016, 350 million employees will use smartphones, with 200 million of them bringing their own.
  • Mobile spending will reach $1.3 trillion by 2016 or 35 percent of the technology economy with the app market generating $56 billion by 2015.
  • Apple, Google and Microsoft are expected to control 91 percent of the U.S. smartphone market and 98 percent of the U.S. tablet market by 2016.
  • Businesses are expected to double their spending on mobile projects by 2015.
  • Forrester says companies need to realize that mobile apps serve as a new front end for engagement systems. Apps are increasingly context aware, fed by the cloud, sensors, history and social data. That requires companies to reconsider how they deploy apps for customers, partners and employees around this enhanced form of engagement. Mobile apps from companies can’t just log data, they need to harness all the power of mobile and social to help people get specific jobs done in a particular context, connect with people and access information at the exact time they are making decisions.”

    From here.

    It’s that first bullet point that should make people in the church world take notice. Just as congregations are starting to understand how critical their websites are to communicating their identity to the world, websites are being by-passed by new tools. Sure a website can be read on a smart-phone, but who does? The page served up is optimized for a a 1024 pixel wide display, often uses flash (shudder) because that’s what the designer knows, and has tiny little buttons (for phone use) to get more information.

    Very few congregations have started to optimize their sites for mobile. Actually very few episcopal bloggers have either. (I did about a year ago, and it’s part of what drove me to abandon type-pad for wordpress. We installed a mobile friendly version of our site at our cathedral too – which was relatively easy because of some earlier design decisions we made)

    Optimizing for mobile is probably more than just adding a server-side script that serves up a mobile friendly template though. Because people (myself included) tend to use mobile apps that are purposed designed for the phone to access information. I’m much more likely to use my iPhone twitter application to read the news than I am to load the twitter mobile site. I’m more likely to use an iPhone newsreader app to follow websites than I am to open them one by one. And that’s because the user interface is just that much easier.

    There are very few Episcopal churches right now that have their own phone application. We don’t. I’m not sure that’s the right place to spend money for what it’s worth. But I do think we need to be intentional about thinking through how people will use their mobile devices on a Sunday morning.

    Facebook checkins? (Okay – do you have a Facebook place page?) Google+ (Do you have Google places page?) 4 Square? What about someway to let people download material to their phone once they’ve checked in? What material makes sense? What about photos? Should we be encouraging people to geo-tag?

    Would it make a difference to have a mobile device aware proxy server on our guest wi-fi network? So that when you join the network for instance, you’re automatically served up a page that has info about the congregation, parking, schedules, contact info, etc – sort of like what often happens in hotels or airports?

    Is there some way we can make use of the unique sensors in phones to enhance Sunday mornings? (I have no idea how, but it seems a waste not to wonder about such a thing…)

    Let’s figure that smart-phone adoption rate continues a-pace. Just like we saw the adoption of email and websites and recognized that the Church needed to adapt, we probably need to do the same regarding mobile too.

    Shoot me any cool ideas you have. I think this needs to be done soon.