— Thoughts on a Denominational Strategy for Digital Ministry

March 18, 2013 at 8:11 am | Posted in Online Ministry | 1 Comment

In a phone call yesterday with Donald Skinner, a contributing editor of UU World and editor of the InterConnections newsletter, I repeated an observation I’ve had since I began practicing digital ministry in 2009: The unwillingness of many contemporary UUs  to try social ministry online because  of invisible digital evils.  Our “ancestors” gave their lives for their beliefs.  Seems highly unlikely that a UU today would die from a piece of spam or from reading comments from fellow parishioners with whom they disagree or for whom the comments are embarrassing.

Don called to discuss REACH: A UU Digital Ministry Program. I’m very grateful for his interest. I find myself post phone call  thinking about what “UU Identity” is, or whether it’s even possible. One of my contentions about a UU Digital Ministry is that it has the immediate potential to solidify a UU identity or presence online. Put another way, digital ministry can raise awareness of our theologies, beliefs and social causes on an order of magnitude equal to the social media power that elected President Obama the first time and locked him in the second time.

He has laid the foundation for a new liberal age in this country. There’s never been a better time for UUism to be the moral voice online and offline — to be an authentic, respected, impactful voice. We can have a UU Spring that’s real and not a byproduct of drinking cool-aide. But we aren’t there yet, and there are major obstacles standing in the way.

Which brings me to the point of a phrase often repeated from pulpits: “Our UU ancestors….”  I don’t think I’ve ever heard that phrase from the lips of congregants. I don’t think it’s the narrative of their religious lives — even the very few in our pews who are 3rd to 5th generation UUs.  It’s the narrative, perhaps, for professional clergy, but my observations tell me it doesn’t really strike a cord. We also like to think that there is an unspoken narrative to all those who express UU beliefs but don’t align themselves to organized religion.

I’m sharing these thoughts because of a recent column in The New York Times, “The Stories That Bind Us.” In essence, its point is that if individuals know the history of their ancestors/family, their families won’t fall appart. Additionally, the families will more likely be emotionally healthy and also be more prone to lead happy lives.

If  sermons and books help us know “our” histories, why is it we have such trouble hanging together and being understood collectively? Polls on organized religion show that most people don’t have a clue we exist.

I don’t have answers. I don’t even know if I’m asking productive questions! What I do know is that we have a chance now to have a UU Spring, made possible very quickly by effective digital ministry.

I have yet to formally write the vision or strategy I see for us to achieve a UU Spring. I tried to verbalize it in the call with Don. It goes something like this:

Through our individual and collective voices – ministers and lay people – we can rise up in a UU Spring as quickly as so many counter cultures all over the globe have done in the digital world to bend the moral arc of justice faster in the tangible world.

Tactically how do we do this: We need a UUA affiliated, yet autonomous organization to create and operate an international UU digital ministry that makes it drop-dead easy for any congregation, and any UU, to be religiously present online and also voluntarily participate in the parent digital organization, whose second purpose is to solidify the UU moral voice online and by extension help to do the same offline. The organization, with a staff of 5-7 individuals who are heavily digital professionals, would have a board of ministers and lay leaders. The organization could be a legitimate internship for seminary students.

I will be articulating the vision and tactical plan more in the coming month or so. I have wanted to do this for more than a year, but work abroad has diverted my attention. Also,a year of thinking has helped crystalize my thoughts. I can now offer an operational plan supported by financial models to back the vision. The financial models don’t rely on donations for longevity.

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  1. As a new minister and a blogger I love the idea of a stronger, simpler, more networked UU presence online. I’m looking forward to your vision! I hope it includes space for inspiration and respite as well as moral challenge.

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