December 19, 2017
Tech on the Go, part 2
Read part one of this blog here.
In part one of this post, I asked us to think theologically and, indeed, ecclesiologically about technology, specifically how and whether an emerging technology or media platform may (or may not) align with our self-understanding as Christ’s Body and whether in its core assumptions it might magnify or diminish Christ’s Good News.
That’s how theology works. Nothing is what it seems; nothing is innocuous, merely mechanical, purely technical, alone. When we use the language of theology – the church’s only language, in fact – we learn that things are only what God reveals them to be. This is no less true for the bible as for how we approach Facebook and our Twitter feed.
We also know that from other angles. That is, we know that technology is only as useful and well-connected as the person using it. More, we know from an organizational perspective that individuals are always part of a system, no matter what, and that the system determines functions and capacities more often than the individual, no matter how charismatic or brilliant or gifted s/he may be. Therefore, I’m guessing that much of the use of our technology across the Episcopal Church is insider-focused, largely because many of our congregational cultures are insider-driven. I’ve begun to wonder if we, as a churchwide system, will be able to adapt well to new and emerging social media, largely because I’m not certain that we have within our present capacity that kind of expansive, inside-out imagination that’s driving much of the emergent technologies of today.
Unexpectedly, that’s been a large part of my learning and, indeed, part of our challenge as we’ve yoked two neighbor parishes in St. Mary’s County in the Diocese of Washington with the same leadership, same rector, same parish administrator, and aligned ministries. We’re nowhere near complete on this venture, but early on we collectively realized how very ‘bricks and mortar’ our use of technology had become. I suspect these are issues we all need to confront, regardless of whether you serve in a large, multi-staff ‘brick and mortar’ church or on an emerging more-multisite constellation of ministries/gatherings. Have you considered how your phone rings, even if you’re not at the office? Not remote access to voicemail but, literally, church office on-the-road. Most of us can access work email from a smartphone, but can you interface your entire office set-up and your smartphone? How do you access files remotely and, if you have a remote server, can they be shared more widely and wisely among leadership bodies? Are financial systems internalized sufficiently, and can they be overseen and administered on a wider basis?
At Ascension & St. George’s, the yoked congregations I serve as joint rector, we’ve been moving in some direction on some of these:
- Ooma (www.ooma.com), a web-based phone system, offers a great interface between brick-and-mortar phone systems and my cell phone, on the go. If you call my office at either location, it ring there and on my cell phone, at the same time. It can be setup so that I know if it’s an incoming call from the office, or a call to my cell. Ooma still feels like they’re working out the kinks and it is a quirky system, but it starts to make sense soon. Ooma also allowed us to keep our old phone numbers.
- Google Drive and the G-Suite applications (www.drive.google.com) is a free service with a great deal of cloud-based storage, and a modest cost for increased capacity. Having the ability to share files remotely has been a great time saver for me, our parish administrator, and our working committees, but I realized it wouldn’t have come about unless we committed, first, to an entire cloud-first approach.
- Realm (www.acstechnologies.com/products/realm), ACS Technology’s newest offering, is a comprehensive, cloud-based management software with all kinds of bells and whistles. Mostly, we’re using it for its integrated approach to database management as well as the shared financial/accounting platform. It’s been a learning curve for us, mostly for our volunteers, but we believe Realm will help not only streamline internal systems but also set up good communication practices and a larger sense of ‘shared authority’ across leaders in both congregations.
Technology and especially the emerging types of tech, today, are a kind of ‘grist in the mill’, showing (challenging?) us to do what we say we’d like to do – get out of our buildings, into the neighborhood, bring the redeeming Good News of Jesus, travel more lightly, trim our excesses, be more missionary-minded. Simply, we cannot function with a brick-and-mortar mentality in a cloud-based world. We have to choose, one or the other. But I’d encourage the Episcopal Church to make this choice based on our inherited theological, indeed ecclesiological self-understanding. We don’t have to ditch our bricks-and-mortar; in fact, those lovely, holy, peaceful places are part of our gift and mission. But with some theological convictions, we may need to head more bravely into the interconnected, networked, relationship-first cloud of the emerging world and expect that that ‘cloud’, all the same, will be today’s vehicle by which women and men are brought into deeper relationship with God in Christ and with one another.