Plodding and Racing, Simultaneously

No, the theme for the new programmatic year won’t be a beloved community, at least, not by conscious design. “Beloved Community” was seen as a potential co-optation of Martin Luther King’s vision. Also problematic for some was the deep emphasis on nonviolent protest and action, which was not the intention of the general idea of environmental and human justice that had been proposed. Several of us liked “Green Earth, Black Lives,” but others felt it was too specifically focused. The discussion will continue next week.

Working within the ethnographic method of LeCompte & Schensul (2010), the researcher is involved not just with the community, but as a community member. There are always small wrinkles in any method, however. In last week’s discussion, I wasn’t just engaging as a community member, I had a vested role in the outcome. To put it bluntly, I wanted my ideas to win. I loved my ideas; I wanted everyone else to, too. When it became obvious that I had to let the idea go, I tried to do it quickly and with as much grace as I could muster, but the ego is never happy when it’s brought down to earth.

It’s going to be important to remember that there is no objectivity when working with other people. There is especially no objectivity when one’s own ideas are in the mix.

The same thing happened in my own committee meeting last week. From my perspective, we need a chunk of time to talk through some of the tech-related challenges we face, the goals we want to set, the ways we want to work to continue to enable communication among the congregation. But there was a lot of pushback against spending a great deal of time in these discussions. I think there are some expectations and other typical organizational forces at work here; time will tell.

Two interesting moments: in the special board meeting on Tuesday, I took a brief poll. Most members get their church information from the weekly email letter or the church’s Facebook page. The least used method of getting information related to church was the website. That tidbit provides an interesting frame going forward.

For some time in my first two years on the committee, the chorus among leaders was “the website the website the website.” The website was going to solve all kinds of woes. There was going to be a portal and members could log in, manage their accounts, get all kinds of information, etc. There would be a space for committees to store their work, and so much more.

But. First, everyone would need to have a password. Let’s not forget, this is a community where many folks use the same password on multiple sites.(Which is why I made a Digital Safety pamphlet for everyone.) I couldn’t imagine the initial challenge of handing out a password to everyone (our ISP said that was the initial way we’d have to do it, then people could change their passwords to whatever they wanted) then dealing with the dirge of “I forgot my password, what should I do?” There was just no way I was going to deal with setting up individual accounts let alone get church functions to work through the website.

Let’s face it, setting up technology tools is one thing, but then who manages the tools? Who keeps content up to date? These are things most people don’t think about– perhaps even my tech-savvy committee member who doesn’t see the need for meetings? That’s something to consider.

So the website is an outward-facing instrument. In other words, the website’s purpose right now is to broadcast out. Even though there’s an events column and a calendar, church board members generally don’t go to that for their information.

The other interesting discussions in the committee this past week had to do with access. Hardware access, software access, WIFI access. There are people in our church who have none of these things. If we are envisioning a future that may draw on the internet even in a small way, we must address this.

But I add mental access to the list as well. Someone might have a tablet or smartphone and WIFI and not have a clue about what it means to live in a world where these tools enable new ways of being and working with others. I see that this is something our committee will need to think about as we move forward.

A perfect example came from a committee member who is also on a task force about reopening the church (post-Covid). She described how the task force set up a Google Doc they’d share to accomplish some work before their next meeting, and how one member kept puzzling over who was in charge of the document. They just couldn’t understand that the document was something everyone would add to, and everyone could edit. This isn’t a difficulty with learning software, it’s primarily a difficulty with grasping a new way to work with others. Learning to use the tools is a completely different– and easier?– task.

But circumstances that led me to think there was something to learn are changing quickly. People who weren’t online before Covid-19 are now online. As their comfort grows, their memory of how they used to see internet-related communications may fade. I can’t take a deep dive into learning about ethnographic research now and postpone diving in to interviews, etc. I think I risk losing key information and perspectives.

Onward, then. Faster.









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