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It’s been awhile since I wrote about a UU congregational website (see my March 10 post “UUI’s Website is Seismic!“), so I figured that today was as good a day as any to check out another one. Actually, I’m more than a little chagrined to be writing about our friends in East Cupcake, what after my rather snarky post of January 24 (see “Bad News for East Cupcake UUs“), where I berated them for being anti-clerical and anti-Christian. But I’m a big enough blogger to admit when I’m wrong, and I have to confess that the folks at ECUU have really surprised me. Who would have suspected that this humble little fellowship in the middle of nowhere (not far from Lake Wobegon, I believe) had the foresight way back in 2004 to use WordPress.com as the host for their website? After all, this article on “5 Reasons to Choose WordPress to Run Your Church Website” didn’t come out until January 2007. What’s more, even though our friends at ECUU haven’t bothered to update their site since their post on April 1, 2004, they’ve shown plenty of wherewithal, chutzpah, and guts (or neglect) by continuing to occupy the same virtual claim they staked seven years ago—for no apparent reason. What. So. Ever.
There’s plenty to love about this site, actually. Por ejemplo, they kinda do two of the five things mentioned in the article “Church Site Essentials…Basic Elements of a Church Website.” They mention that they have some sort of thing (Program? Talk?) on Sunday morning, but they’re a little vague about when it takes places. They also give the impression that they meet somewhere, although where, exactly, Alan and Dawn live is a mystery. And while they don’t have a visitor’s page, don’t bother to explain their faith, and give absolutely no details about how to contact them, they do offer some interesting insights into their history and values. You can check them out here: http://eastcupcake.wordpress.com/.
Once again, I’ve let posting to this blog slide a little (a lot?) over the last few (several?) months, and I’m feeling a bit guilty over it. Fortunately, the guilt is assuaged a bit by the start of a new year and the chance to recommit myself to the whole blogging thing. And there’s even a little extra incentive this year. The fine folks at WordPress have challenged bloggers using their platform to either post something every day to their blogs, or post something every week to their blogs. Since I’ve never been (nor ever intended to be) a daily post kind of guy, I’m taking them up on the latter challenge…with a twist.
A few months back I tweeted a nifty little item I found from Chris Forbes called Pastor’s 10 Minute Jump Start Guide to Social Media. It’s a quick and easy guide for busy pastors (or anyone else, for that matter) interested in using social media more without being overwhelmed by it. In addition to tips on how to participate, network, and share via social media like Facebook, Twitter, etc., Forbes also suggests that in addition to posting, commenting, and tweeting to those sites, pastors should add fresh content to the web “about three times per week,” by writing “a blog post and link[ing] to individuals and pages in your networks.”
So I’ve decided to take WordPress up on their challenge to post weekly and up the ante by following Forbes’ advice to post about three times a week. Wish me luck. We’ll see how it goes.
One of the things to do when you’re serious about blogging is to read other blogs to see how it’s done. There was a time about a year and a half ago when I was reading about 15 to 20 blogs a day, and not just blogs written by Unitarian Universalists. I was reading a fair number of tech blogs as well as a sampling of some well-known Christian bloggers. Two of my favorites in the later group were Ben Arment (whose blog “History in the Making” can be found at www.benarment.com) and Andrew Jones (aka Tall Skinny Kiwi at tallskinnykiwi.typepad.com). Aside from their evangelical fervor (for both blogging and Jesus), I appreciated how each one kept their respective blogs fresh with a mixture of personal and professional information. Arment, a church planter, has some lovely posts about his family (like dancing in the living room with his young son, or spotting from the inside of a Starbucks his wife strolling along with their children). Jones is a globe-trotting apostle for the emerging church movement, and his posts are liberally illustrated with photos from his travels. So in spite of any theological differences I might have with these two, I thoroughly respect them as bloggers. And, of course, part of me wanted to emulate them.
However, this blog is really mostly about my work as the Lifespan Program Director of the Prairie Star District. In fact, there’s a link to it from the from home page of the PSD website (www.psduua.org). This means that even though it’s a personal blog (I started it on my own), I feel an obligation to blog primarily about my work as a program consultant co-employed with the Unitarian Universalist Association. But I still feel it’s important to have some personal information here, as well as a photo or two of the family (see my last post “Henry the Redhead Reindeer). So…a bit of a dilemma. Do I post more often with a lot of personal stuff mixed in with the professional? Or do I keep posting at the current rate of one or two a week and stick to the strictly professional? What’s a blogger to do?
Well, I think I’ve found a solution. Enter the microblogging service Twitter. In case you haven’t heard about it, what Twitter does is allow you to send out 140 character posts (know as “tweets”) to whoever happens to care about what it is you’re doing. I’ve avoided the service until now because it seemed like a colossal waste of time. But then I realize that I could use my WordPress RSS feed widget to post tweets on my blog. Which is exactly what I did. So if you scroll down below my Flickr badge, you’ll see this:
That’s my “Tweets” feed, which I plan to use primarily for keeping you up to date with where I am and what I’m doing. Not that anyone really cares too much. But I do enjoy sending little updates when I’m traveling (like “Just checked into the Microtel in Ames, IA.” or “Having lunch with Sherry Warren, Prairie Star’s youth and young adult specialist.”), and while this information may not be inportant enough for a full post on Phil’s Little Blog on the Prairie, it might be of interest as an ongoing log of what I’m doing for work. And there’s the personal element, too. I twittered yesterday about eating lutefisk at Pearson’s in Edina, MN. Apparently that is news because my colleague, PSD District Exec Nancy Heege, posted something about it on her blog Nancy’s Views of the Landscape. So I think Twitter will give me the opportunity to add a little bit more of the personal as well as some posts about my travels. That, along with the Flickr badge, will allow me to update more often and add more photos without a full-fledged blog post. Who cares? Who knows. At least it gives me something to do when I’m on the road!
P.S. If you are interested in following my tweets directly from Twitter, you can find me at twitter.com/psdlund. Oh, and I’ve found that I can use Twitter to update the status on my Facebook page as well. Neat, huh? Finally, if you really want the full scoop on Pearson’s and lutefisk, check out this article from the New York Times: Forget Eggnog; Bring the Lye-Cured Cod.
Today has been one of the best Black Friday’s I’ve ever experienced–and I didn’t set foot in a mall! Instead, I went to church: Unity Church-Unitarian in Saint Paul, where we celebrated the culmination of a year-long process to explore the source of our cultural and spiritual discontent around the Christmas season. A group of about ten people at Unity has been meeting roughly two times a month since last January under the guidance of Bill Doherty, professor at the University of Minnesota and member of Unity Church-Unitarian. Our group, known as the UU Christmas Reclamation Project, has taken as our mission to generate ideas and practices that our community might embrace in order to reclaim Christmas. And the first fruit of that effort was made manifest today at Unity during an event called “Feeding the Spirit on the Feast Day of Consumption.” To find out more, check out this video from KARE 11, the NBC affiliate in the Twin Cities.
And to round out our Black Friday experience, my wife Julia and I finally got around to watching What Would Jesus Buy? Definitely worth putting on your Netflix or Blockbuster queue.
Last week I received an e-mail from Shelby Meyerhoff, public witness specialist at the UUA, asking me to respond to a survey. It’s part of the Unitarian Universalist Blogging Resource Project, which is designed to support bloggers who promote Unitarian Universalism. Shelby’s asking UU bloggers to answer 18 questions about blogging. Here are my responses:
Why do you blog? What goals do you have for your blog?
I started blogging because I missed doing the weekly column I wrote during my internship at the Rockford, Illinois UU Church. My main goal is to keep religious educators in my district informed about issues around lifespan faith development.
Who is your intended audience?
Religious educators and whoever else is interested in lifespan faith development.
Who owns your blog? Does it belong to you as individual or to your congregation or other organization?
I started the blog myself, first using Trellix (Earthlink’s meager attempt to offer blogging software), then later WordPress. We talked about having the district host my blog, but we decided that it should be mine.
How frequently do you post?
I try to post at least once a week.
What is the tone of your blog?
Informal, like something you would find in a church newsletter.
What steps do you take to make sure that your blog is a safe space, both for you and for other participants? Do you have a code of conduct?
WordPress lets you moderate comments, which is the best way I’ve found to keep the blog a safe space. Most comments are approved, as long as they are directly related to a particular post. If it’s someone who’s just out to complain about Unitarian Universalism in general, I probably won’t approve their comment.
What kinds of boundaries do you observe around confidentiality?
The church newsletter comparison works here, too. I wouldn’t write anything here that I wouldn’t publish in a church newsletter.
How do you respond to comments and email from readers?
In his book The Blogging Church, Brian Bailey says something about the saddest thing to see next to a blog post is “1 Comment.” So I try to always respond to comment’s I’ve approved. Of course the same is true of e-mail comments.
What are the most challenging aspects of blogging in your experience?
Trying to stay true to the original intent of my blog (weekly newsletter-type posts). At times there’s been some pressure from the UU blogosphere to post things that will draw a lot of readers and a lot of responses. But I’m really doing this for the religious educators in my district, so I’m trying more to make sure my posts are aimed at them.
What are the most rewarding aspects of blogging in your experience?
Well, having said that I’m not trying to draw too much attention to my blog, it’s always rewarding to get comments from folks beyond my intended audience. And it’s nice to have an informal outlet for my thoughts on lifespan faith development.
What advice would you give to Unitarian Universalists who are new to blogging and want to get started?
Get a blog and start writing. Subscribe to some blogs to see what other folks are doing. Write about things you care about. Have fun.
How do you evaluate the success of your blog? What have been your most successful blog posts or series?
I do look at the number of readers from time to time (WordPress, like other blogging services, has great tools for keeping track of how many people are reading your blog). But the real measure of success, I think, is finding out who’s linked to one of my posts. I always count it as a success if another blogger has found something that I’ve written about worth referring to.
What do you wish you had done differently in your blogging?
For awhile I was trying to post more often than once a week and was really keeping track of my numbers. But that started to interfere with the original purpose of my blog (weekly posts about lifespan faith development). So I backed off a bit. In hindsight, I think it would have been best if I had stuck to my original plan.
What other online tools do you use to promote your blog? (i.e. social networking sites, Twitter, social bookmarking tools, etc.)
My blog is linked to the Prairie Star District website. That’s about all the promotion I feel I need. I may start putting a notice of my updates on Plaxo since there seems to be quite a network of UUs there.
Do you use an Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed? How many subscribers do you have?
WordPress offers RSS automatically. I really don’t keep track of subscribers.
Do you track site traffic? How many unique visitors do you have per day (on average)?
I just checked my stats, and it looks like I get around five to ten visitors a day. A really good day will have 35 to 40 visitors.
Do you find Unitarian Universalist Association resources helpful to you as a blogger? What additional resources could we provide to Unitarian Universalist bloggers?
I link to a lot of resources on the UUA webpage (especially resources about lifespan faith development) so content is the number one resource for me. I appreciate, too, that the UU World keeps up with the UU blogosphere and calls attention to notable posts. I think it would be great if the UUA’s website had bloggers more visible.
Please write any additional comments or suggestions.
I think blogging is an especially helpful tool for religious professionals: ministers, religious educators, musicians, etc. It may seem like “one more thing” to do, but it’s worth the (minimal) time and effort. And it’s worth taking a look at Brian Bailey’s book.