One of the grumbles I hear in UU circles is about our congregations’ invisible buildings. We have tucked our churches into residential neighborhoods, hidden them behind trees, and set them back from the street by wide expanses of lawn.
Reticence about self-promotion seems to be part of our UU DNA. Rather than actively seeking those who would flourish as members of our congregations, we prefer that they find us––and we don’t make it easy for them to do so. Then we wonder why we’re not growing in numbers.*
I’ve been thinking about our hidden buildings as a metaphor for a lack of digital visibility in many of our congregations. In this digital age, congregations need vibrant, informative, easily accessible web pages, and an active Facebook presence as well. Twitter is quickly becoming another necessity. Visitors no longer discover a new faith community by driving by a building. They find it online, and if we’re digitally invisible, how can we hope to grow?
Last Saturday on Facebook, the Rev. Phillip Lund mentioned that he’s teaching a January Intensive at Meadville-Lombard about digital/spiritual literacy. That got me thinking about the digital skills of UU clergy.
In my work editing The Interdependent Web, I interact with the subset of UU clergy who blog. Many of them are also very active on Facebook and Twitter. Because almost all of the UU clergy I know are these bloggers, my sense of how tech-literate UU clergy really are is skewed. I think it’s worth figuring out just what percentage of UU clergy are developing their digital skills. I also think 100% digital literacy is a worthy and necessary goal.
So here’s my radical proposal: let’s make digital literacy required for all UU ministers––not just those seeking preliminary or final fellowship.**
A recent post on the MediaShift blog quoted media scholar Henry Jenkins: “Traditionally we wouldn’t consider someone literate if they could read but not write. And today we shouldn’t consider someone literate if they can consume but not produce media.”
It’s no longer enough for clergy to know how to check their email and surf the web. If we want our congregations to be digitally visible, our clergy need to be both spiritually literate and digitally literate.
So what are the requirements for digital literacy?
Here’s the bare minimum, as I see it: every UU minister needs to have a blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and a willingness to stay digitally current.***
I suspect that we’re letting a lot of clergy off the hook at the moment. We’re allowing ourselves to think of Facebook and Twitter (and other social media) as toys, as entertainment, and not as essential tools for a new way of being in community. We hide behind concerns about privacy, about too much screen time, rather than jumping in and helping solve these problems from the inside out. We make excuses for our illiteracy, claiming we’re “just not computer people,” rather than acknowledging our fears and our reluctance to do the hard work of learning something new.****
Unitarian Universalism has so much to offer, particularly to those without a spiritual home. We are not what everyone needs, but we are uniquely positioned to be ”a religion for our time.”
But we can’t be a religion for the digital age if those who have embraced digital media have no idea that we exist. If we’re hidden behind outdated websites. If we’re silent on Facebook and Twitter. And if our clergy speak only from pulpits and printed newsletters.
*Obviously, this is a broad generalization, with many exceptions.
**I know that this is a practical impossibility. :)
***I’m looking forward to hearing what others of you think should be “required.”
****As I wrote this paragraph, I found myself thinking about a recent study that claims Alaskans are crankiest in the fall.