Episcopal Life is dead. Long live Episcopal Life!

Today the General Convention approved a radically trimmed-down budget for the Episcopal Church for the next three years. There were many cuts in program, and many people at the Episcopal Church Center will lose their jobs. Among the cuts, the communications budget was trimmed greatly.

Just before General Convention, the Director of Communications provided a new budget to the committee preparing the final budget. Among many other changes, the new budget provides greater focus on branding/external work and less emphasis on internal communication. Instead of printing Episcopal Life as a monthly newsprint paper, it would be printed as a quarterly magazine. This is exactly the direction we need to go.

That said, I had some concerns about the plan. I also serve on the Board of Governors of Episcopal Life, and we discussed these changes at length. Some of us are insistent that newsprint must (and will) have a long life as our core strategy. I am probably the board member who is most eager to push ahead with new ways of communicating. The others are somewhere in the middle. All of us, however, felt that the transition needed to be longer, giving dioceses a bit more time to make new plans. We also felt that, as the Board of Governors, we should have been consulted earlier in the planning.

This all led us to issue a statement a few days ago, calling for withdrawal of the plan to transition immediately away from monthly newsprint. Some of us felt that the entire plan was completely flawed. I said that the plan is good, but maybe we need just a bit more time.

Today the decisions were made. The House of Deputies approved the budget after an attempt to modify it to keep the monthly print publication into 2010. I spoke in favor of the an amendment which would have kept the new strategy in place while allowing the newsprint paper to last a bit longer. The amendment was roundly defeated.

The church has spoken. We are ready to move on. Speaking about this matter, I heard a number of Deputies say, “It’s time for new technologies and new ways to do things.” I agree completely. As a Board member, I felt that it was my duty to advocate strongly on behalf of printing partners. But as a priest in the church, I want our church to have a strong message that reaches those who are not in the church primarily. Building up disciples through our communication channels is of secondary importance.

Our new Director of Communications, Anne Rudig, has done what she was asked to do: she is creating a strategy to increase the visibility of the Episcopal Church in the wider culture. She’s also working to inform and inspire current Episcopalians in new ways. You can see a sample of this new way of doing things in the GC Media Hub. While the last convention forbade recordings or photos in the House of Bishops, people have been able to watch live streaming video of our bishops at work at this convention. (The Media Hub has not been without problems, but my hope is that these are “launch pains” that will be sorted out soon after Convention.)

Some will say we’re not ready for new ways of doing things. Change is never easy. This will be especially challenging for printing partners, who will have to get to work right away on finding alternate ways to print news, if they continue to want printed news. Some people will need to learn to get their news in new ways. Congregations might need to print out some materials from the web to make them available to members without Internet access (through that number is smaller with every passing day).

Some of us will miss the monthly publication. But many of us will enjoy the new quarterly magazine. And many, many more people will see and hear about the Episcopal Church. So the old Episcopal Life might be dead, but a new Episcopal Life will be born. And that is a good thing.

Disclosure: I was on the search committee that recommended Anne Rudig to the Presiding Bishop. I continue to be proud of her and to believe that we made a great choice. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Anne to think about new ways of doing things, and I hope to be involved as our church grows and explores new technologies and new channels.

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3 Responses

  1. For those of us who also maintain local parish websites, it’s going to become all the more important we include the feed from the national church.

  2. James Mackay says:

    The GC News Hub was a disaster. I have a broadband connection. I added more memory to my three computers. Not one of them was able to successfully run the GC News Hub. It neither loaded quickly, nor did it load completely.

    I also noticed that with amazing consistency PDF documents were posted that required the latest Adobe Reader.

    Two of the principles of electronic publishing is that the document (article) in question must display in a time quicker than it takes to get the paper copy of Episcopal Life, scan each page, and find the article and, in re document format, that it be compatible with at least one previous generation of software.

    An assumption that underlies the communication decisions made in recent months is that everyone has access to high-speed internet, the most up-to-date computer equipment, the latest operating system, and the very last software releases. One cursory look at industry papers shows that there are still a goodly number of Windows XP-based computers out there with a slow cycle to adoption of newer OS’s.

    When we speak of The Episcopal Church what is often said is that it is grey and aging. Perhaps the decision has been taken with purpose and foreknowledge that disenfranchisement from communications is fine for the largest segment of The Episcopal Church. As it rebrands itself, perhaps the Church has determined that it only wants younger, tech-savy folks with a disposable income sufficient to purchase the technological interface convenient to 815’s communications lords.

    Too, if local dioceses and parishes are hurting financially as much as the national church offices are — and this certainly seems to be the case — where is there a basis for the belief that the local church will be able to pick up the slack and deliver information to its people.

    The communications proposal, its rational, the Church’s re-branding, and the idolizing of technology has made me very sad.

  3. Bob Chapman says:

    Some related thoughts on my blog, as started by a Techdirt article.