Next month I’m co-leading a workshop on all of this ‘web stuff’ for the UU Ministers of Canada. I’m working with Rev. Meg Roberts of BC and ministry student Liz James of Saskatchewan. Yesterday we were having a Skype call planning our event.
Hmm, a three-way computer conference call. It barely deserves mention in this kind of blog anymore so commonplace has it become, eh?
Anyway, we decided to accept an offer to lead worship for our colleagues before our 3 hour session and chatted briefly about what it might be like. At one point one of us asked, “Will there be enough hymnals?” There was a pause, and then, “We have computers, a projector and a screen, and we are talking about technology. Do we NEED actual books?”
In a workshop on how technology might change the way we do ministry, the least we can do is play with how our gadgets can enhance a worship experience. So our brief service will be paperless, and I rather expect there will be some use of video as well.
Don’t get me wrong. I love our hymnbook. My personal copy was the second one sold at GA the year it came out. That said, there is one theory, especially in evangelical circles, that projected lyrics mean people have their heads up and can see one another as they sing. It makes for a more communal experience. The UU Minister’s Association used that to good effect at our continental Convocation a few years back. Announcements, shared readings, hymns and even meditation images were all projected for the 500 participants.
But I love my hymnbook, and I love books generally. I do have an electronic reader, but nothing beats turning paper pages for me. That said, I have a feeling that ministry is going to have to adapt a bit in the coming years. We Unitarian Universalists have been “People of the Book(s)” for a very long time. I can’t imagine there are very many book genres that haven’t been part of a worship service at one time. A minister arrives in a new town and the one of the first questions asked is, “Where’s the best bookstore?”
But I fear that if we limit ourselves exclusively to books, we will fail to reach a lot of potential UU’s who stimulate their brains with different media. And for some people there is a faint whiff of elitism attached to sermons with too many footnotes. Certainly some topics will best be addressed bookishly, and some sermons will be devoted to specific books and their ideas. For example, I am planning a service Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists.
I guess my point is that we choose only way of worship at our peril. The world doesn’t work that way anymore. That thought hit home yesterday when I listened to Jian Ghomeshi’s opening remarks on CBC’s mid-morning program Q. It started as an afternoon show and now anchors the key mid- morning slot across the country.
What’s Q? it started as the hip culture show meant to appeal to Gen XY, but they took risks. As the host noted the show wanted to offer:
cultural affairs, arts, debate and hopefully some entertainment to the country…We stretched the definition of culture wide to include everything from punk music to literature to sports to international politics…We’ve done it in large part through larger conversations and debates, long form interviews we were told would not work in this new ADD world. We strove to let ideas take flight… combating a hyper-active sound byte culture...
In other words the show does everything that many ‘net watchers think is entirely wrong for this new digital age. But it’s working!
Jian was marking the show’s fifth anniversary. I like Q, though having been a devoted Morningside fan, that like was slow to develop. Morningside was the long running predecessor of Q hosted by national treasure the late Peter Gzowski.
Why mention this? In his remarks, Jian noted, “Q now reaches more people with this show than CBC ever has in this time slot.” Really??? YOU BEAT OUT ST. PETER???
And then I thought about it. Peter was an old newspaper man who did radio. Period. Every couple of years he also published a book of show excerpts called some variant of The Morningside Papers. But as Q has grown, they have expanded their web presence. They have an excellent webpage and blog that invites live commentary during the show. They are broadcast on satellite and the internet and are even carried by some American public radio stations. Podcasts of shows are available (free) through the website archive or on iTunes. You can even “watch what you hear” on the website or on some upper cable channel. And Jian Tweets constantly and the Facebook page is always up to date. Phew!
The point is you can listen to Q, watch Q, and read Q. You can get to it through radio or computer or even TV wherever and whenever you want. And it’s working. Of course the quality of the program is also consistently good. All the access in the world won’t get audience if the audience isn’t interested.
For me Q offers a lesson from which churches can learn. Perhaps we don’t have the resources to do all they do, but that doesn’t have to stop us from asking how we can enhance what we do by repackaging it for various platforms. Many congregations already offer video or audio recordings of sermons, although we might start thinking of offering five minute ‘sermonettes’ – condensed versions of some presentations that suit a shorter form. Here’s an example of one Liz James did on the Sacred Lego (the music was added by the posting site). We can occasionally use video clips in services instead of traditional readings and so on. All it takes is some imagination and a willingness to extend comfort zones.