Making the most with what you have

This brief blog post exists to frame the one that will follow in a day or two. It will be a tutorial to use newly-released features in some free software to make print items — I’m thinking orders of service and newsletters — more attractive and professional-looking.

I’ll do this because there’s so little cost (time or materials) difference between something that looks ratty and something we can be proud of, and this tool can make one step closer to pride.

But ratty too often wins. I can’t do anything about over-long announcements or pointless minister’s columns written out of necessity on deadline. Or grammatical errors that appear seemingly out of nowhere. (Actually, I could have, because I have done all of these.) But when a task needs to be done, sometimes the only good thing you can say about it is that “it’s done now.”

As churches have to make do with less money, fewer people and less cachet in the community, this tension between “must do” and “it’s not great” will become more pronounced and painful. Surely, some customs may vanish, perhaps the print newsletter. Others may be helped by outsourcing and automation. (Churches are not immune to this, and volunteer time has value.) And some will be improved by better tools and training to use them.

But the goal is not so much the better appearance, say, for print pieces; but greater pride for those who produce and read them.

A new, favorite minister’s binder

So, ministers: how many of you, particularly in the free traditions, have your own “book” — often a three-ring binder — where you keep sermon and service texts, and perhaps a calendar and other flat items? (I keep Geneva bands in mine.)

I’ve written about this subject before and have bought several of these books myself but they tend to be utilitarian and covered in vinyl, and the best-looking of these are perversely the ones that fall apart the fastest.

Cloth-covered board and glazed paper covers are sometimes available. There’s one book I’ve had for years, with a textured surface looking more like leather, but made of paper; it’s falling apart, and no longer for public use.

A few weeks ago I found this binder from the Martha Stewart collection. I got it on Amazon for $6 and the red color seem suitably ecclesiastic. (There is also a teal version.)

The description wasn’t clear but it’s the same kind of pebbled paper that my old standby has and seems sturdy, if a bit stiff. I think it’s going to be a favorite.

Sunday-only calendar for 2017

Back in 2008, I knocked together a Sunday-only calendar as a planning tool for church worship leaders. It has been evergreen at by old blog, Boy in the Bands. And so when I got a request to update it, I couldn’t do other than bring it up to date.

And so I’m crossposting it here. Enjoy.

You can also edit the OSD file in LibreOffice and (so it seems) newer versions of Microsoft Office. I included December 2016 and January 2018.

Low-cost way to launch into church archives

So, can you count the ways you use a smart phone? Here’s another for you: as the working end of an inexpensive DIY image “scanner” for religious texts. This setup, depicted with a workflow, at the Open Siddur Project, might be just the thing for recording church archives or other documents that shouldn’t be lain on a flatbed scanner.

Text Imaging” (Open Siddur Project)

Unfamiliar tools for shared church work

I really was thinking about unfamiliar tools for shared church work; that is, tools where people can work collaboratively without having to all be in the same place. This is normal and increasingly common in business, but well all know that church is slow to change and underfunded. Or slow to change because it is underfunded.

About the time I had this thought, the news cane out the Metro will be shutting down at midnight tonight and all through Wednesday until Thursday morning. I’m just grateful my workplace has some systems — developed before blizzards — to cope, and most of my officemates will work from home. Of course, we will use Google Docs and Dropbox, and I bet many my readers do too.

But can you imagine the possible uses of something like Github, a software development tool used to manage the versions of documents. For churches, perhaps reports and resources, and to keep repositories of documents and graphics files? And webpages (Github Pages) easily stood up to share and promote those products. The humanities has a small presence of Github, but the Open Siddur Project (on Github) is objectively religious and liturgical, and makes me wonder about other possibilities. My sleepy Github account is here.

The other tool I want to point out now is Overleaf, an easy-to-use frontend for the very-powerful LaTeX typesetting software that’s widely used in academia, especially mathematics. Indeed, Overleaf’s market seems to be universitites, and if I were writing a thesis now, I’d be all over it. And if I were to get some people together to make a book or serious journal, I’d start there.

Are there unlikely tools you use that might be used in collaborative church work?

Church shopping: wire plate holders

Cleaning up on a Sunday afternoon. I found one of a number of coated wire plate holders that I bought years ago at an icon shop, now gone. And while they are not a religious good per se, they are terribly useful in doing church. bitb_wire-stand_20151108

The GH marks on the hinge identifies it as a Gibson Holders product, and they are still in business.

They’re good for displaying icons, framed pictures, books and the like. Think: special services, funeral. And they’re inexpensive. And they fold up nicely for easy storage.

Put a few of these on your shopping list.

A WordPress theme for Unitarian Universalist congregations

I saw a notice today that a WordPress theme — the engine that powers this site and surely millions of others — particularly for Unitarian Universalist congregations. You can see the release notes and download the theme at uuatheme.org.

I downloaded it and intend to test it. In addition to ease of installation and customization, I’ll look at its license and consider whether the use of the support documentation apart from the theme.

Even before reviewing it, I’m of two minds. A shared resource can be helpful, but one customized for a small user base might never earn an economy of scale. Perhaps a non-denominational church site tempate would be more useful — but first, an examination of the work..

Printing out pages for a sermon or service book

After much trial and error, I have come up with this method of printing a service or sermon text to be put in a small binder for use in worsip, using free and open source software. And I thought it was worth sharing with you.

First you will need to download the LibreOffice office suite; a version 5.0 has just been released but I use 4.2.8.2, so I’m just hoping there’s not much of an apparent difference.

Also, ideally the Linux Libertine Graphite type face. (That typeface is free to use and share, and has features  that I will describe later.)

You will also need a half sized binder (like this one) and page protectors.

The trick is composing half-sized pages and then letting the office suite compose those pages on to full size pieces of paper.

Screenshot from 2015-08-14 09:55:12Here’s a sample of the service typed out.

When you go to print, click the Properties box on the General tab, and then set the paper to print Landscape. This is what it looks like with my printer.Properties of Brother-HL-L2360D-series_168

Here’s the trick: check “Use only paper size from paper preferences.”

Print_164

Then change the layout to print two pages side by side. Extra points to those who can figure out how to print a booklet or brochure, in which case a saddle stapler is a help.

Print_166

Then print, fold, slip into the protectors and then into the binder.

Download the file I used in this lesson here, or click here for a Google Doc that does essentially the same thing (with the Gentium font) for you to copy and modify as you will.

I would appreciate feedback if you use either source.

Resources from the Management Center

I was talking to a friend tonight about management — church management in particular — and once again turned back to a favorite resource, the Management Center.

I can recommend their courses, but if you live too far from where they offer them (or it filled up) then be sure to get the companion book,

Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager’s Guide to Getting Results, a snip at less than $20. And their on-line resources have a lot to teach.

Just a brief post to point out a great help

A page full of handbooks!

So, I was talking with a couple of people: what would we do if the Unitarian Universalist Association ceased to exist? Not a death wish, but contingency planning. And a way of identifying what’s a must-have and not just a might-want.

Someone mulled, “what does the NACCC do?” That’s the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches, made up of churches that did not join the United Church of Christ on polity grounds. I’ve been long interested in them, as some of the Universalist churches that didn’t join the UUA “went NA”. Also, First Parish, Plymouth, and Universalist National Memorial Church, both members of the UUA have honorary membership. And the Council of Christian Churches in the UUA has — I believe — “fraternal relations.” In short, they’re close to us. Sorta.

And famous (or infamous) for having a lean administration. The kind that the UUA might back into, or be replaced-by.

So I was just browsing their site and noticed they have a single easy-to-find page with helpful handbooks ready to download.

That just made my day. Something to emulate.

Source: Handbooks (NACCC)