Include Communications as Part of your 2016 Planning? Huron Church News December 2015

The end of 2015 is at hand. Budgets and plans for the coming year are being drawn up and leadership roles are being considered. This is an excellent time for a comprehensive survey of your parish’s communication plans and tools.

A good place to start is to review the current contracts you have with communication companies. What do you still need? And what should be re-evaluated?

Your current Internet, telephone, or web hosting plan may not have been updated for years and you may find much better deals are now available. A quick call to your service provider can yield better service, higher speeds, or cost savings in the hundred of dollars. Take a few minutes to make sure your plans are up-to-date and compare providers to get the best deal.

Next, look at what platforms you use to communicate the message of Christ to the wider world. Does the parish have a Facebook page or Twitter account? Have these been dormant or underused for some time? Who is responsible for maintaining the online presence of the parish? Is this a team effort or the responsibility of just one person?

The person (or persons) responsible for your external communications is an important selection and should be considered with equal importance as other parish roles.

This person is the voice of the parish, but as with many other positions, requires the support of the entire vestry. To maintain an active social media presence, the rest of the parish must commit to participate. Your selection of platforms to maintain may depend on this commitment.

Now is the time to cull or re-commit to the accounts that underused. While reducing your communications channels can seem like a step backward, it is better to focus on a few things well than to spread yourself too thin. Having a good, robust website and active Facebook page is better than having many platforms that are infrequently updated or underused.

Finally, ensure that the parish has control over all accounts and products. A well-intentioned volunteer who has been maintaining an account or website may leave and the parish would lose access to these accounts. The parish should protect itself from this all-too-common occurrence by ensuring that accounts are registered and paid for by the parish and not a single member, including the rector.

Adding an annual review of your communication strategy is a good practice to ensure you head into the new year with a message that is focused on the Great Commission and tools that are efficient and effective at spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Looking to reach fans of The Simpsons, Huron Church News November 2015

Reaching beyond your immediate circle and social networks online can seem daunting. Stretching the already limited outreach budget to put it into something like an online advertising campaign can be risky, with no promise of a return on your investment.

But with some well-placed, well-timed ads, traffic can be driven to Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, websites and, yes, even to your front door without breaking the bank.

Facebook ads can be targeted by postal code, location, ages, genders, interests, or other demographic dimensions. You can use these segments to advertise directly to potential youth group members or users who share an interest in the subject of your next event.

Running a Simpsons-themed Bible study? Target fans of The Simpsons.

Want to maximize your Easter or Christmas attendance and reach new families? Target your event advertisement to local Christians and Anglicans.

As a bonus, ad traffic can lead to organic traffic. Each ad-driven “like” on your parish’s Facebook page increases the possible reach of each post or event to a larger network of people. The points of entry into your parish community increase exponentially.

Google Ad Words is another avenue to reach people outside of your network with well-timed advertising campaigns. Easter and Christmas campaigns, for example, can create a point of entry for those looking to try a new church or come back to church on a major feast day. You can target these ads similarly to Facebook ads.

Highly targeted ads can mean you spend money to deliver the message you want only to the people you want, whether it is Google or Facebook. It can cost as little as a few dollars a week to advertise special events to a specific audience, or you can create a more general ad to reach people in your area searching for more general terms such as “Church Service” or “Church, insert your city here”.

A small investment in a well thought-out advertising strategy for your online presence can have profound and dramatic effects on your parish’s reach and growth potential in spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Copyright goes beyond music, Huron Church News October 2015

When creating a poster or Facebook event for an upcoming parish event, such as Back to Church Sunday or a fall barbecue, the first instinct may be to look for an image on a search engine like Google to promote your event. They are, after all, readily available and easily downloaded.

They are also protected by copyright.

Beyond music, copyright is an issue rarely discussed in many churches. Works protected by copyright do not stop at music, books or journal articles, but also include images, photos, PowerPoint templates, text from blogs and websites, Photoshop files, published sermons, and works of art.

How can we use materials fairly while respecting those who used their time and talents to produce them? Are there portions of the work you would be allowed to use?

Small parts of copyrighted works may be copied for the purposes of research or private study. Educational institutions, archives, libraries, and museums also hold specific exemptions.

Ordinary congregational worship activities, however, do not provide a context for “fair use” of copyright material.

Therefore, when looking for images for a website, blog post, sermon series or poster, simply Googling an image and downloading it is a violation of copyright law and could put the congregation in a difficult position.

Many artists are willing to allow free use of their images, but they do also require acknowledgment of their work. This creates traffic back to their portfolio and can increase their sales and help provide for their livelihood.

Even when an image is free, it is best to check with the artist or read the parameters that govern the use of the image found on the web.

Using a photographer’s pictures or a designer’s Photoshop files in a sermon series or PowerPoint presentation may be allowed, but non-financial requirements may still exist, such as acknowledgment in the publication or at the end of the presentation.

So how do you find materials that are safe to use and are within your parish’s budget?

When it comes to images specifically, there is a wealth of free resources online. Excellent starting points for churches looking for inexpensive or royalty-free images include http://www.creationswap.com, http://search.creativecommons.org, and http://www.sxc.hu. Whatever site you use, take the time to read its FAQ or licencing page to be sure you are in compliance.

If you have an image that you want to use but don’t know where it came from, http://www.tineye.com is a website that can help find the original source of the image. Once you know that, you can ask permission of the owner.

A little work online can protect the congregation and also lead to new relationships with artists who deserve compensation for use of their quality work. Taking a little time to identify the rightful owner of images and copyrighted material goes a long way to protecting the church and advancing the Gospel.

Christ Has No Body

Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Guest Column, St Paul Social Services

Transformational Relationships

I have always had a materialistic approach to ministry. To quote his Holiness, Pope Francis, “You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. This is how prayer works.” To be the hands and feet of Christ in the world has been and continues to be foundational to my sense of call and ministry as a baptized Christian and a priest.

As the Body of Christ, the church, we are to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick and imprisoned and to bury the dead. The Works of Mercy, as they are known, are central to our identity. We are to help heal a broken world and to help enact the Kingdom of God in the here and now, even if it is only a little bit each day.

As the church seeks to transform the lives of those that come to it for help, it begs the question, “How is the church being transformed providing such help?” While serving at the Fellowship Center I have had the opportunity to develop relationships with many of the guests. But the most profound impact of my service at the Fellowship Center came when a guest invited me to prayer. As we stood shoulder to shoulder in the sanctuary praying for the world and its concerns, for peace, and an end to hunger, there came that moment when I would normally begin to interject prayers for my friend. But then, the most remarkable thing occurred. He began to pray for me instead. It was at that moment I realized he didn’t want me to pray for him, but wanted me to pray with him.

Since that day, each time when we see each other he brings me prayer cards, books to read and pictures of various saints. I pressed him that he needed not to do this, I was happy to volunteer and help. He answered me, “You spend your time taking care of others, but who takes care of you? If you don’t mind, I think I would like to do that job.”

Much as the disciples came to know Jesus in the breaking of the bread on the road to Emmaus, my friend and I have come to know Jesus, not just through service but also in each other. Through sharing a meal and prayer together, we have been mutually transformed by the experience. The transformation occurred not through a power dynamic of me serving him, but rather through a relationship of mutual comfort and support.

Transformation of our guests and of our volunteers does not occur when there is a counter separating us from those in need. Transformation occurs when we greet each other on the way to Emmaus, when we walk with each other along the journey, when we break bread together and we come to know Christ in each other during these moments.

Coming to the Fellowship Center no longer is a time to volunteer. Rather it has become a time be fed while feeding others.

You can find the whole issue here

Who would Jesus vote for?

Conservative MP Wai Young claims the Conservative are acting ‘in the same vein’ as Jesus Christ with anti-terror bill, C-51.

This is a bold claim and not the first time the Conservative Party has laid claim to the Christian Faith and appealed to Christian voters. Which got me thinking, who would Jesus vote for?

voteThis is not an easy question to answer. Would Jesus vote for security? Would Jesus vote for better health care funding? Would Jesus vote for more social programs to care for the poor and the marginalized?

If we examine the underlying ideology (and not get mired in specific policies) that informs the various parties we should be able to make a valiant attempt to answering if Jesus would vote for a certain party.

First, let start with the governing party, the Conservative Party of Canada. The Conservatives are based on an ideology of low taxes, small government and personal choice. Stephen Harper has repeatedly said, parents know best their child care needs, so putting money back into parents pockets so they may choose the daycare options for them is a priority (and part of the underlying ideology that informs their policies).

The UCCB payments are all part of a greater neo-liberal ideological framework. While many will say it is a shameless vote buying mechanism, it also reflects the neo-liberal position of the Conservative Party; that personal choice takes priority over the collective use of resources.

The question we need to answer then is Jesus in favour of personal choice.

St Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 that we are all members of one body, the body of Christ, the church. This body metaphor is key to understanding the responsibilities we take on in baptism, namely to care for each other and that we are intrinsically linked.

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?

It is simply difficult to imagine a member of a body making a personal choice. The body works as a collective, united and whole. Personal choice comes to an end after one comes to God through Jesus Christ. At our baptism we enter into a covenant with God. God promises us salvation and eternal life in turn we are to teach all that Jesus taught, baptize new believers in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit: we are to feed the poor, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and in all things we are to be as Christ, offering ourselves to God and to the world.

The underlying Ideology of the Conservative Party of Canada and the underlying ideology of the Christian faith are obviously in direct opposition. Clearly Jesus would NOT vote Conservative.

Secondly lets look at the NDP. The NDP position of social welfare clearly lines up with the teaching of Christ, but does the underlying ideologies line up as well?

The NDP most closely reflects classic socialism, which lends itself to the body metaphor of St Paul as listed above quite well. Yet the question of universal daycare, or universal health care bring into question whether Jesus would vote for the NDP.

God’s justice has never been about universalities. Each are judged accordingly. That being said, the care for neighbour brings into mind the works of mercy taught by Christ.

So while the underlying ideology is not clearly in line with Christianity, it does offer some intriguing possibilities. And while universality is not a Christian ideology, universality does not necessarily work in opposition to Christian ideology. Would Jesus vote NDP? Possibly.

The third party is also very interesting. For instance the sliding scale for Canada Child Benefit from the Liberal platform reflects the fairness found in the teachings of Jesus Christ, and doesn’t promote universality.

The fairness distribution also allows for those that have more to help those that have less, clearly in line with St Paul’s teachings in 1 Corinthians and with the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 4:33-35).

Yet the third party also embraces some of the idea of universalism (which is its underlying ideology as it promotes universal rights and freedoms through the charter), while scripture speaks of each having different needs, Acts 4:33-35:

With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

So would Jesus vote Liberal? Again, I think possibly.

We have looked at the three main parties, but it would be a disservice if we didn’t also look at the two other parties with seats in Parliament. The Green Party and The Bloc Quebecois.

First, the Green Party. The Greens’ focus on the environment and being good stewards of the earth is clearly reflected throughout scriptures and within the teachings of Jesus Christ. The economic platform is also guided by fairness, and not just fairness towards other humans, but to the planet.

The underlying ideology of the Green party places humanity and the planet as part of the same body; intrinsically linked. The question, as it pertains to Christianity is, “are we of this world?”

In our understanding of baptism, the answer is yes … and no. Marked, as Christ’s own, we become citizens of both the heavenly city and the earthly city. We exist in the here and now, but also at the end of time with God in eternity. So the body metaphor stretched to include the earth, of which we are commanded to be good stewards of, does not fully reflect the underlying principles and ideology of Christianity. Yet we cannot dismiss much of Christian Stewardship underlying the ideology of the Green Party.

So would Jesus vote Green? Again, I believe possibly.

And finally the Bloc Quebecois, a regionally based party existing solely for the purpose of advancing the cause of separation, or in Christian theo-political terms, advancing a schism.

St Paul is clear in 1 Corinthians that schism, division in the church, in the body, is a sin. The underlying ideology of separation goes directly against both the idea of dividing the body and the warnings against schisms.

In short, would Jesus vote for the Bloc Quebecois? NO

Holy bible and crossNow you may be asking yourself, why answering the question who Jesus would vote for or wouldn’t vote for? Simple. I am a Christian. As a Christian, my faith informs who I will vote for, who I will choose to represent me and my beliefs and values. I cannot separate my faith from my vote. It is who I am.

Knowing this, and knowing who most closely represents the Christian faith I espouse in their policies and underlying ideology is important for when I make my choice on October 19th. I, like many other Christians always serving my Lord and Saviour first and foremost, will cast a ballot. I pray that we all cast a ballot that reflects the kingdom of God and not kingdoms of this world.

Activating our Weak Ties, Huron Church News June 2015

Within our social circles, we have a mix of relationships from very close friends to distant acquaintances.

Our closest relationships likely make up a close-knit group of friends and family who know us best. Acquaintances, on the other hand, are made up of a diverse group of people who can come from different contexts, such as work, school, neighbourhood, conferences, and old school friends.

In social graph theory, these two groups are referred to as “strong ties” and “weak ties”.

The people we spend the most time with are our strong ties. These connections are very familiar with our likes, dislikes, hobbies, clubs we belong to, and the church we attend. In fact, our strong ties likely share some of these things with us.

Weak ties, on the other hand, are people we spend less time with. They may be friends from work, neighbours, distant relatives, or friends from high school. We don’t see them as close friends, but weak ties are very powerful when it comes to social networking, online and off. These ties act as bridges between social groups and have been shown to be extremely influential when job hunting because they have access to a different pool of connections and information than we and our strong ties do.

The same benefit can be extended to the church — our weak ties hold the potential power to reach outside of our immediate social groups and reach newcomers, welcome new ideas, and evangelize.

Social media is the perfect way to stay connected with weak ties — that friend from high school or colleague from a previous employer. It’s also a great way to spread your church’s message across these powerful social bridges.

Every interaction with our church’s Facebook page or Twitter account is an opportunity to engage weak ties. A simple “like” that shows up in your newsfeed or activity tracker means that your friends, even the distant ones, see what your church or diocese is up to. If they “like” it too, it can spread exponentially.

This is why Facebook events for church picnics, barbecues and other events are so important. While you may never think to invite someone from the office to your parish barbecue, simply RSVPing through Facebook allows your weak ties to see that activity on your Facebook wall and may prompt a question or conversation.

As we prepare for summer and begin to think about the fall and Back to Church Sunday events throughout our diocese, give some time and energy to interacting with your church’s social media accounts. By doing so, we all can participate in reaching beyond our immediate membership to spread news, promote events and invite newcomers.

The newest member of your church is just waiting to learn about the exciting things happening in your parish. And that is all one click away.

Take some time this summer to engage with your church’s social media accounts. By doing so, come Back to Church Sunday, you may find yourself sitting beside your weak ties.

Genesis 18:1-15

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said,‘My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’ And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.’ Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ The Lord said to Abraham,‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’ But Sarah denied, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. He said, ‘Oh yes, you did laugh.’

HospitalityHospitality. Abraham makes room for his three guests who come to his tent, whether travelling from afar of simply appearing as they walk up to Abraham’s tent. We are not sure if the three guest were angels, God himself, perhaps in the form of the Trinity. Although this is all just sheer speculation and anachronistically reading Christian theology back into a Jewish texts.

What is of note in this passage is the act of hospitality. Abraham does not hesitate to offer his home and his best food for guest he knows not. Abraham does not know if these strangers who have appeared by his tent are important. He does not know if they are from another tribe, or perhaps includes princes or kings. Abraham simply offers hospitality to those that have come to him. He welcomes them into his home.

This is a powerful message. The early church would take this passage as significant in how we are to welcome strangers. And it will inform generations of hospitality providers in the church. Yet, that is getting very ahead of ourselves I think. In the course of the narrative that is unfolding on the pages in front of us and what we have read, Abraham is beginning to demonstrate the faith for which he will become famous.

It must have been an incredible act of faith to practice this kind of radical hospitality. No names, no introductions. Simply, here is my home, here is my food, you are welcome to share. And in the sharing Abraham and Sarah receive a message. That they will be rewarded for their faith and hospitality. They will have a son for nothing is impossible with God.

What would it look like if in Christian nations, blessed with such abundance, we were to share with the rest of the world and offer this kind of radical hospitality, and to develop and hold the same faith as Abraham: that in offering hospitality to strangers we too would be blessed by God?

Perhaps the thought makes you laugh as Sarah…

Right Tool for the Right Communications, Huron Church News May 2015

When evaluating web and social media solutions, the best place to start is with the question, “What is your desired outcome”? It can be tempting to jump on the bandwagon of the next big thing or stick to what we already know, but it is important to first identify your goals and pick a platform or technology that will get you there. Otherwise, you may find yourself fitting a square peg into a round hole and your outreach attempts may be less effective than they could be.

For example, Facebook is one of the most popular platforms across generations today. Most churches recognize that Facebook is a useful tool for evangelism, content discovery, and communication. But even Facebook offers different ways for organizations to communicate.

The Facebook group is designed specifically for internal communication, while the fan page is designed with external communication — evangelism — in mind.

Both of the tools can be a great resource to any parish, but they have different features and applications.

A group is useful for internal communication and can be a great tool for a parish council or committee in a church to collaborate and share information outside of regular meetings. A group can provide a shared history of discussions and notes for new members, and can allow people to connect who may otherwise have difficulty meeting outside of Sunday mornings. But Facebook groups do not reach outward as only members can get updates and they can require active monitoring to keep up on a given discussion.

Fan pages, on the other hand, behave much like personal accounts. People need only “like” the page to join and they will see updates in their Facebook news feed. Friends of friends are also able to see these posts when someone comments or interacts with a post. Instead of reaching only the members of a small group, fan page posts can reach exponentially more people than a group.

Fan pages also offer two very distinct evangelistic properties for any church wanting to reach out with the Gospel message: analytics and advertisement.

Once a fan page reaches 30 likes, analytics are available to the fan page owner. Churches can see who is interacting with their posts and what content has the best and most favourable reach and can make decisions about how to tailor their message for maximum effect.

I can’t stress the importance of analytics enough. Knowing the demographics of your audience allows you to tailor your message to either have a greater impact on your current readership or shift focus to engage with a different target audience.

Advertisements are also available through fan pages. By creating an ad to promote a post or event, you can target a particular city or postal code with upcoming events or Christmas or Easter worship schedules. Or you can get even more specific with demographic targeting, such as letting young families know about your upcoming Messy Church event.

A small budget of $6 to $10 can have a profound effect on reaching seekers, especially in the holy seasons of Christmas and Easter, and help grow your congregation.

Facebook is only one example of all the platforms available, and fan pages vs. groups is but one decision to make. But starting with the answer to “What is your desired outcome?” will lead your community to finding the most effective tools to achieve their goals.

HCN May 2015