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This webinar highlighted 10 steps for congregations to consider in becoming a Safe Congregation, including information on safety and liability policies for religious education programs, as well as safe congregation policies for the entire congregation.
Leaders: Rev. Phil Lund, the Lifespan Program Director for the Prairie Star District, and Nancy Combs-Morgan, the Faith Development Director for the Heartland District of the UUA.
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You may have heard about the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Second Life, which is pretty cool. But you don’t have to have an online avatar in “an Internet-based virtual world” order to live a virtual life. Most of us are already living virtually whenever we used the internet for relatively simple tasks, like sending e-mail. I’m thinking about the use of e-mail right now because it’s one of the topics we’ll be bringing up during tonight’s online workshop on disaster preparations for UU congregations (and there’s still room for some more participants, so if you’re interested, get your virtual self online and register here). It’s number seven of our 10 good ideas: Beware the power of electronic communication to drive anxiety. And I think one of the best ways for us to avoid anxiety caused by electronic communication in our congregations is to have some ground rules about how we interact with one another via the internet. To that end, I’d like to share with you a great little resource from Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman, authors of You Send Me: Getting It Right When You Write Online. Take a look at this feature at O’Conner’s website Grammarphobia.com – Test Your E-Mail I.Q.. It’s a twenty question test she calls “Get a Virtual Life: Operating Instructions.” Regarding congregational best practices around e-mail, I find the following questions and answers most helpful:

  • Are your facts right? It’s all right to be informal, but not with the facts. And check the math too. The Internet is full of misinformation, so be careful about what you pass on.
  • Were you polite? Small slights are magnified in e-mail and other online writing, and offhand remarks can be taken the wrong way. Ask for something, don’t demand it. Use words like “please,” “thank you,” and “sorry.”
  • Were you discreet? E-mail isn’t the place for sensitive personnel matters, criticism of third parties, off-color remarks, office romance, gossip, rumors, or tooting your own horn. And don’t share someone’s e-mail address without permission.
  • Do all these people need copies? Don’t copy your every idea to everyone in your seminar or sales group or alumni association or address book. Everybody else’s mailbox is just as stuffed as yours.
  • Should you sleep on it? Never e-mail in the heat of anger. You’ll regret it the next day. If there’s steam shooting out your ears, cool off before you click Send.
  • Does it have to be an e-mail? E-mail is swell, but it’s not always appropriate. Maybe a letter or a phone call or a face-to-face meeting would be better.

Of course the place to start changing the online culture of a congregation is with the leadership. Perhaps O’Conner’s and Kellerman’s book should be required reading for all new staff and board members?

I’m really getting into preparing online workshops for the Mid-America District Staff Group of the UUA (that’s Prairie Star, Central Midwest, and Heartland). We’ve been offering them monthy since last August, and we’ve learned quite a bit about what we’re doing right…and wrong. One of our shortcomings has been the assumption that everyone taking the workshop is relatively comfortable with the online learning environment we’ve been using (Persony). We’ve realized that it would be helpful for newbies to have a brief tutorial available before they actually take the workshop. So I’ve prepare a less-than-five-minute lesson called “How to Take an Online Workshop.” I had a rough draft of it up on Slideshare for the last couple of weeks, and I’m happy to say that at one point the presentation was showcased on the ‘How-to & DIY’ page by their editorial team. So here’s the final version:

By the way, the next online workshop the Mid-America District Staff will be offering is Ten Good Ideas about Preparing for Disasters. It’s free and open to anyone. You can register for it here.

Yesterday morning I got up early and worked on the sermon I was going to present later at the Saint Cloud UU Fellowship. Planning a short trip like this in January or February (or even in March!) can be risky here in Prairie Star, but the weather was cooperating for the most part–temperature in the low 30s and no snow. But there was a LOT of fog. Not quite enough to cancel the trip, but enough to make driving on I-94 West a bit of an adventure. One good thing about driving on Sunday mornings, though, is that there’s never much traffic. So a little fog didn’t hurt.

Once I got to Saint Cloud was warmly received. This was my second visit to the fellowship, and I was happy to see some new faces (as well as some old friends). They’re working on some growth plans right now, and the congregation seems to be poised to move into a new phase which includes being more visible in the community. At any rate, the sermon went well, I think. It’s a little long and needs a new ending, but I think it’s the one I’ll be using for my next preaching gigs (in Northfield and Fridley–both in Minnesota).

After the service we had a soup and bread lunch, and then I met with about a dozen church leaders to talk about safe congregations and right relations. I’m happy to say that the congregation has purchase the Reducing the Risk II resource kit, and one of their members is ready to take the exam to get the Safety Award in Reducing the Risk of Child Sexual Abuse. It was about 2:00 p.m. when the meeting was over. By that time the sun was out and the temperature had reached the high 40s, making the trip back home a pleasant Sunday afternoon drive.

Saint Cloud UU Fellowship

So here’s the plan for getting a majority of religious educators in Prairie Star participating in the Reducing the Risk program in general, and the Safety Award in Reducing the Risk of Child Sexual Abuse in particular. The district has purchased 25 Reducing the Risk resource kits to distribute to PSD congregations at a considerable discount (the kits normally cost $50 plus shipping–PSD congregations can order them from the district for $25 plus $5 shipping). In addition to the kits themselves (a DVD set, a training manual, and reference book), the district will also pay the tuition for religious educators to take the online examination required to receive the Safety Award through the Institute of Church Safety.

Completing the program does take an investment of time (I spent most of Wednesday reading the online sessions, taking self-evaluation quizzes and comprehensive reviews, and completing the 25 question final examination). But it’s an investment that’s well worth it. And since I’ve already completed the program, I’m ready to assist any PSD religious educator in the program. So, for $30 total Prairie Star religious educators receive the RTR resource kit, are eligible to enroll in the online seminars of the Institute of Church Safety, and are free to take the final examination needed to received the Safety Award. Again, the goal is to have at least half of the religious educators in Prairie Star trained in this program. For more information, send me an e-mail or call me at (612) 230-3274.

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