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?
So, in order to try out the new UUA WordPress theme, I installed it onto one of the domains I’m not currently using. I’m sticking to defaults mainly, because that (to my mind) is one of the benefits of a template.
I’ll critique the experience of installing and configuring it later, and UU minister and blogger Cynthia Landrum (Rev. Cyn) has already reviewed the features.
But so far, I’m not sold and suspect the value of the theme will be the lessons shared in the theme’s documentation; that really sets it apart.
I rely on two indicators for weather: my sinuses and Forecast.io.
When I’m already congested, a strong weather front will give me a blinding headache. (Like today.) But that’s not helpful for you, or Daisy, our bichon frise, who hates having a potty walk in the rain.
I recommend Forecast.io for amazingly accurate hyper-local, minute-by-minute weather forecasts, which sometimes (alas, not quite, today) gives the dog enough time outside to do what she must.
I usually write about Universalist polity, but some chat a few weeks ago about “Beyond Congregations” reminded me about the English “Unitarian van mission” of more than a century ago, and interest that stirred up here in the United States.
I’ve found references as far back as 1908, with its evident zenith in the 1910s. According to Georges Salim Kukhi, himself a London Unitarian preacher in 1919, there was more than one van, indeed, four that roved Britain. The vans have not only a pulpit, but sleeping quarters and room for print material. They were fitted with technically-advanced acetylene lamps!
Preachers, sometimes lay preachers, would address the crowds from the van; sometimes they’d be harangued. But it seems there was also a desire for information:
The Unitarian Van Mission in England allows its out of doors audiences to ask questions and finds frequent anxiety for information concerning the talking serpent in the Garden of Eden the veracity of Balaam’s ass the truth of the whale and Jonah incident and other Old Testament marvels.
I’ve not been able to find evidence of a Unitarian van in the United States, though there was a stated desire and a bit of embarrassment that that the gung-ho Americans didn’t do it first! (In fact, there was something called a van mission in Kansas in 1896. That’s something to research.)
But there is this charming report about an initial, and similar measure, in Massachusetts around 1903 that relied on camping in outpost towns, with audiovisual equipment (a stereopticon).
Now, with the preaching done for the day, I’m trying out three technology fixes:
to find the best (that is, most appropriate and quickest to learn) tool for modifying images for a website, social media and the like.
to see which of the static web development tool would work best for something like a church website, particularly reviewing Jekyll, Middleman and Pelican. Even better if I can use the super-cheap Amazon S3 service with it.
to try out the lightweight Midori browser, so we’ll see how that goes.
Internet Archive has a tool that searches news broadcasts back to 2009, but since it’s fairly new, you may not have heard about it. Lots of uses, but I’m thinking particularly of those preachers who heard of, or were told of, a news segment but then don’t have access to it.
I thought a demonstration was in order, but so many of the searches were old or sad (funerals, vigils) that when I came across this 2014 Fox News segment with a Unitarian Universalist named John “Mac” McNichol, who is a living kidney donor, I knew I had to share it.
I’ve signed up for so many accounts to manage my business relations with companies lately that I wonder what services a church — say, program-sized or larger — might offer online. I’m not suggesting that this suite of services already exists, or that everyone would find it desirable, but the such online services might expand utility to members (perhaps) with little or no added cost in staffing or facilities.
This list is far from exhaustive; just a few possibilities that occur to me over the course of about a half hour, in no particular order.
make financial pledges and special gifts
set up auto pay from credit card or checking account
download charitable donation letter
call for donations for affiliated charities
take online trainings
register for space-limited events
download coloring pages for children
manage prayer circles
sign up (and get reminders) for church volunteer roles
get emergency alerts from authorities
offer feedback for quality improvement
apply for (and resign) membership
share alerts for road closures or public transportation re-routings
provide workflows to access public services
prepare and record special ceremonies (weddings, funerals)
In my experience, attempts to introduce technology lessons for lawyers means an opportunity for clergy, too. Small-firm lawyers and clergy very often have this much in common: a need for technology, perhaps more than is currently thought, and few opportunities to learn about it, even though they have a deep educational background. I mentioned this resource for typography, later generalized. (Bookmark that second link; you can thank me later.)
So I intend to follow Coding for Lawyers the same way. Using Markdown (lesson2) for sermons — I do — is something I’d recommend for those who just need to “get it on paper” with a minimum of fuss.