Tuesday, November 18, 2014

BLOGFORCE Challenge: The Origin Story (Part 1)

This week's BLOGFORCE Challenge from the Acts 8 Moment asks us to tell the story of coming to the Episcopal Church in the form of a superhero origin story. While I do intend to participate fully in the assigned task, my first response was to take this as a kick in the pants to finish a project about the St. Francis day service at my church that I've been woefully behind on.

Forthwith: Armistead's origin story --

"I began my days as a street cat, but fell into dissolution and begging for wet food once I moved inside. I sought refuge in the church, and came home confused but grateful, committed to sharing my faith with the stray cats outside the screen door."

Sunday, November 2, 2014

BLOGFORCE Challenge: If I had a million dollars

During a clergy transition period immediately following the 2008 financial crisis, my church's budget was bleeding red ink. Through leadership from all corners of the parish as well as the grace of God, we were able to both cut some costs, and, more importantly, develop a spirituality around financial stewardship. We're now on our third year of balancing our budget without aid from the diocese. While we still have to keep a tight rein on expenses, the once pervasive anxiety about money has eased. We have returned to being able to offer modest budget allocations to ministries of the church that we had previously zeroed out. But we've found over the last couple years that this money is often going unspent, because the people running our Sunday School and adult education became so skilled in running on a budget of zero that having a few hundred bucks at their disposal just didn't make a difference. Ok, that's actually kind of great.

Then last week, at the annual convention of the Diocese of Indianapolis, the convention received the report of the Diocesan Reimagining Task Force, on which I served for the last 18 months. The Diocese of Indianapolis is one of the Episcopal Church's more solvent institutions, but we have created huge categories of expenses that we have culturally decided to treat as fixed, so we constantly operate with a sense of scarcity. Our attempt to start a conversation about unfixing some of those expenses in service of a new vision was received icily.

So when faced with the Acts 8 Moment's question of what I'd do with a million dollars "to help 'proclaim resurrection in the Episcopal Church'", at first I thought I'd just agree with Holli Powell, who writes that "what the Episcopal Church needs has nothing to do with money." Even where we've got it, it seems we lack the imagination or confidence or inspiration from the spirit to do anything with it that's different from what we've always done with it.

But I'm going to engage with a little beyond that. Say I'm a bajillionaire who has decided to fund a grant program for exciting new Episcopal projects. And let's say I twist what Acts 8 is asking for here that I'm looking for projects that "proclaim resurrection." Here's what I might fund:
  • $50,000: Holli Powell and I have a weekly podcast about prayer, The Collect Call (subscribe on iTunes; listen on Soundcloud). I think it's a pretty good show and some other people do, too. Holli and I get to talk about faith with each other, getting practice in a skill that Episcopalians notoriously lack, and we bring on special guests and interact a lot on Twitter to expand the conversation. Here's what it costs: 
    • Adobe Creative Suite subscription - $600 a year. (This expense is optional, because there's an excellent free editing softward called Audacity. But I use Adobe for other stuff, too).
    • Soundcloud Pro - $120 a year - gives me unlimited hours on Soundcloud, an excellent platform for sharing and embedding sound.
    • I experimented with some Facebook advertising for our All Saints Day episode. For $5 I got 33 clickthroughs from 26 people, or about $0.17/click. That's a deal. I'd like some budget to do some more of this to help get the word out.

    • Intangibles: each episode takes about 90 minutes to prepare and record, and 1-2 hours to edit. Since this is a weekly podcast that's a big commitment. It's a good thing Holli and I like each other.
    • Holli and I both bought Blue Snowball mics (around $50/each) for improved sound quality.
    • So this tells me you can have a pretty good podcast for about $1,000/year with committed volunteers and some modest setup costs. But there are only a handful of Episcopodcasts out there that aren't churches posting their sermons (of these, Easter People is my favorite). I'm going to make a bold assertion: there should be more. So from this hypothetical million dollars, I want to see a pitch from all corners of the church, and I want to dedicate $50,000 to doing this (that's different from saying I want to fund 50 podcasts; some could conceivably have higher cost structures due to concepts that would require rights to copyrighted material, or some could be recorded in live settings that are less controlled than what Holli and I do).
  • Podcasting is a medium that is open to amateurs, but it requires a little bit of knowhow. I'm setting aside $25k for some kind of training program. I don't know what this looks like yet because I'm not an educator. But if someone comes up with the $75k I've racked up so far, let's have that conversation.
  • Ok, and then I'm going to add a companion conference that will adjoin the annual Episcopal Communicators conference to allow this suddenly sizeable network of Episcopodcasters to get together for for a day and a half once a year. I don't know what conferences cost, but the Diocese of Indianapolis throws a three-day/two-night affair for around 20 grand so let's just say 20 grand.
  • And finally I'm going to send 815 $5,000 to reimagine the Episcopal Web Radio page.

My bill so far is $100,000 to invest in lifting up lay and clergy voices of faith in a medium simultaneously intimate and scalable that can help people clearly articulate why Jesus matters to them. I'm going to count on my other BLOGFORCE participants to come up with a way to spend the rest of this hypothetical largesse. Except here's the thing: it's not hypothetical. We are a richly resourced church, but we have locked ourselves into a very specific way of spending our money. Our conversations as a church about money get so toxic in part because we are all fighting to not have to change. But if we focused a little less on preservation and a little more on spreading the good news of the risen Christ in the language of the world around us, some interesting things might start to happen.