Free blog facilities to help Mothers’ Union develop and debate

I’m chuffed today to find Mothers’ Union Diocese of Winchester featured as the first ‘Website of the Month’ by Corbin Featherstone of Mothers’ Union enterprises.

When I started www.muwinchester.org.uk nearly two years ago, I had become convinced by friends that WordPress, or other blog formats, was the most sensible way for Mothers’ Union diocese and other charitable groups to create an internet presence that was both professional and cheap/free. I spoke about this to colleagues at the Mothers’ Union conference in 2009 using a brief summary of how I did it and what other options there were Blog Based Content Management 4 MU (most of which is still accurate). This was despite having been told by staff at the time that  a blog wasn’t a website.

However, we live in a fast moving world and that view has changed, which is why I’m particularly thrilled to see that Corbin (the central Mothers’ Union ‘webmaster’) is now not only encouraging Mothers’ Union individuals and groups to use WordPress, but making it very, very easy to do so…

By completing the simple on-line application here, Mothers’ Union diocese that don’t yet have a website, or wish to update what they have, can make that possible using WordPress, which has an incredibly straightforward ‘backend’ or ‘user interface’ that the complete novice can use easily (that’s why I’ve been using it for nearly two years!).

To provide even more help and encouragement, to the Mothers’ Union diocese who think that they don’t have the expertise to create anything on the web, Corbin has also started to produce a series of website tutorials. Reviewing them, I think they are particularly good, and yes, I’ve learnt a couple of tricks I’d not spotted.

Corbin said to me today that he’d “really like to see all the disparate sites collated into one great big web presence” which would be great. To make that useful we need Mothers’ Union supporters to be using the ‘comment’ facilities on these sites (which WordPress provides automatically). This will enable feedback as to how different ideas and activities have worked at local level, and start a wider debate about some of the more difficult issues that Mothers’ Union leaders are grappling with. I’ve been particularly impressed by what Trevor Jordon is doing for MU Scarborough Deanery. This includes a debate about their proposed Diocesan re-organisation here and here.

All this means that we need a generation of computer using, web aware Mothers’ Union supporters willing to make good use of the technology available, and publicly debate the issues. That’s the rub – from the fear of both I encountered at our conference this year, I’m still not convinced that there are enough of us here to make this work. But I’d love to be proved wrong!

Why use Social Networks to reinforce social campaigning?

Some of the things that I talked informally about in the bar at #muconf10 (Mothers’ Union All Unit Conference at Swanwick last week) was my understanding that ordinary people need to reinforce and make visible their commitment to and passion for particular forms of social action by talking about them on social media networks.

My basic logic is this (and based on the recent launch of Mothers’ Union Bye Buy Childhood campaign):

Mothers’ Union officers and staff go to the trouble of launching a long-term campaign that seeks to encourage some constructive change by businesses on the issue of the commercialisation of childhood, follows up on manifesto commitments by our political parties on the subject, and will also provide practical help to young families who want to deal with the related problems they encounter in daily life. They get good coverage in the national press, from the BBC as well as national papers.

But how does the wider media world know that ordinary people, whether Mothers’ Union members or not, really care about issues like this? They don’t, unless ordinary people (whether Mothers’ Union members or not) are out there talking about the issues involved, and showing themselves to be committed to supporting the campaign on their social media networks, and preferably on the networks used or noticed by people who will talk about this sort of campaign.

Now, if you’re reading this, you know I have a blog. I’ve been on Facebook for several years and the blog linked to my Facebook presence fairly soon after I started it. I use it to communicate with real family and friends (people I’ve met and know) who over the years have become spread around the globe. I want to talk to these people about the things I’m involved with, what I feel strongly about, and why. So yes, I talked about the Bye Buy Childhood campaign on Facebook as it was launched.

I’ve been on Twitter since early this year – these days to save time, my blog posts feed my Twitter account, which in turn automatically feeds my Facebook account in one easy electronic process, and I read and write the whole lot in one application called Tweetdeck.

Those folk I follow, and who follow me on Twitter, tend largely to be a different network of people. I have not necessarily met these people, but I’ve read stuff by them or about them, that makes me value their opinion and want to communicate with them.

Among these folk are people who I’m glad ‘follow’ me, because it means I feel like I’m getting information about what I think and care about into their lives. So yes, I talked about the launch of the campaign on my Twitter account –  and if that means Ruth Gledhill of The Times (who for some reason follows my tweets) took just the smallest notice, that can only be to the good.

Basically the more people that know that grass-roots Mothers’ Union members are passionate about the campaigns the organisation launches, the better it is for the campaigns and for Mothers’ Union. The same would be true for any other NGO!

There is another reason for Mothers’ Union members specifically to social network their commitment to their faith and Mothers’ Union: Mothers’ Union members had an image that suggested they were a bit ‘behind the times’. Getting ordinary members out into the world of social networks is another way of dispelling that image and getting our voice heard and respected in the public arena, and not just the hallowed corridors of power.

I know that Social Networks can be regarded as the big bogi-men of the internet – that much was apparent at the conference from some conversations I had. But if handled carefully, with the appropriate privacy levels, I’m totally convinced that social networks are and can increasingly be, a useful tool that we can use wisely to change our world for the better.

I was really encouraged that whilst writing this post (over a couple of late evenings) I found that people are way ahead of me: try reading Graham Richards Serentwitterpy page to learn more about the power of Social Media and how to Twitter usefully. Another person who can talk much more technically on this sort of stuff than I ever will is Dr Bex Lewis.

And thanks to Alec Muffett for getting me into all this stuff in the first place!

Social networking and blog based content management

I spent part of my time at the Mothers’ Union All Unit Conference #muconf10 at Swanwick talking about what I know about Social Media and back tracking to what I shared at last year’s MU Marketing Conference about using blog software to create websites.

The initial result after 24 hours home from conference, is a smattering of Twitter followers from fellow Mothers’ Union members who the MU Communications Officer (Fiona Thomas) and I have convinced to take the plunge. For these brave souls I will blog a little more of what I said later next week.

In the meantime, for those people who were interested in what I produced last year about why and how I came to use blog based content management for www.muwinchester.org.uk HERE is the link to what I wrote last year on that website, and the document I wrote and shared at last years conference: Blog Based Content Management 4 MU

Lose some, gain some – blogs and poverty

I was sad to see last week that “A Man Breathing” has hung up his blogging fingers, but have some understanding of the pressures that might lead to such a decision. Sometimes I find blogging really helpful, but it can endanger other things. However I’ve got much encouragement and inspiration from A Man Breathing and I’m sad to see him go – God bless on his journey onward.

June 2005 - Rt Revd Paul Butler (then Bishop of Southampton) with Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt (Bishop of Winchester) leading the MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY rally to Winchester Cathedral.

However, you may have noticed me picking up on Richard Littledale’s Preachers A-Z of recent weeks – a great encouragement to those with L-plates to be part of an ecumenical community of preachers.

And today the Church Mouse has announced that one of our erstwhile suffragans has started to blog, and I’m looking forward to reading what Bishop Paul Butler has to share. I have fond memories of Bishop Paul supporting MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY and Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Winchester.

It is perhaps timely that I am reminded of Bishop Paul, as today’s headlines include the fact that there is uneven progress on UN Millennium Development Goals. Perhaps I’m almost surprised that the reporting is so positive. Certainly my sense, gained largely through Mothers’ Union links in Africa, is that overall little progress has been made. I’m sure there are pockets of hope, and I know individual NGOs like Mothers’ Union are making progress on things like literacy and maternal and childhood mortality rates through development work.

But, unless governments across the world can really get to grips with reducing corruption, and targeting resources where they are needed, if need be by using the expertise and experience of NGOs, then my gut feeling is that there is not chance of meeting those goals.

I wonder what some of the blogging bishops will be able to say or do to add to the voices calling for change? At times it must feel like working for MDGs feels like voices calling in a wilderness, but the voices aren’t alone. Several Bishops, including Bishop Paul Butler support of the Micah Challenge work to encourage as many people as possible to make their own commitments to support work towards the MDGs. There seems to be lots planned for 10.10.10 but Micah Challenge are also asking everyone “What’s your promise?”

Wearing a kilt for a cause

Steve - kilted in aid of Alzheimer's Research Trust

This is an unashamed plug for our friend Steve who is wearing a kilt for a whole month in aid of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust.

Steve (who has just spent the weekend staying with us) had to wear a kilt for a friends costumed wedding celebration, producing some positive responses about how good he looked, and some jokes about wearing a kilt for a longer period. Taking some of our comments perhaps more seriously than we intended, Steve ever a man of his word, decided that he would wear one for a month! Needing a reason for carrying through this slightly mad choice of summer outfit, he has chosen to support Alzheimer’s Research, as his mother is a sufferer.

His major concern about staying with us, was probably our dog. A small terrier might take too great an interest in a man wearing a kilt, shall we say, traditionally! In the event, Honey the terrier was more interested in the knee high wool socks than anything else – and the biggest problem was the humidity, especially sat watching our son at the sailing club.

If you happen to live or work in Oxford, you may well see Steve (who blogs about the venture here), wandering the streets in his distinctive outfit till the turn of the month. Whether or not you actually meet him, if you have a small amount of spare cash for a man doing something unusual in a good cause, do please sponsor him at his Just Giving site: www.justgiving.com/Stephen-Usher

Remembering that God put me where I am

"Bloom where you are planted" like the bluebells will, even in the shade of an overcrowded copse where just a little light shines through

I’m really struggling this Lent. Responding to the desperate cries for help of everything from Saturday’s bride (nothing more exciting than sorting the playing of a CD), through the needs of a baptism family where the Godparents need enough notice to book (cheapish) flights from the US, to the very real needs of a friend… all of which have seemed more urgent thanan essay (due now, two weeks today). I’ve really battled to remain committed too, to the CMD Storytelling booked months ago to share with my husband. But we are both leaving this afternoon, dog and son in the care of my Dad.

Today’s Holy Communion Gospel (Mark 12:28-34) talks about love of God and love of neighbour being more important that burnt sacrifices – I wondered if my essay is a burnt sacrifice… an offering that costs, or a waste of time?

And yet just now I’ve been reminded that God put me where I am, and presumably that’s the parish and the essay. More helpful than anything else this Lent has been the reflections of Fr Andrew Dotchin based on ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ by Margery Williams, posted by “amanbreathing“:

When faced with the challenges brought to me by other people’s journey of faith I need to remember that God put me where I am now. For this moment it is in this place that I must live out the love of God… Anything less would be unfaithfulness and demonstrate an unwillingness to be shaped by the One who made me.

I have to trust that I can do both, and pray that God clears the next fortnight of people’s needs enough for me to celebrate my freedom with them when the essay is handed in.

Just in case your interested, the essay title is:

What theological themes should emerge within the preparation of couples for marriage and how might these influence the contents of a preparation course?

PS There’s a Stonechat and a Skylark returned to the back of Blackbushe Airport – the first since all that winter snow!

Mission, Ministry and Marketing

Given that I should be concentrating on the mission of my local church and my own ministry for this terms module, this posting from Bishop Alan struck me as interesting and something to look at more closely.

Bishop Alan’s Blog: Good news in Gerrards Cross

Because?
Point 2 especially seems to be similar to how we seek to operate at St. Peter’s – but we’ve not broken the 400 barrier! I wonder if it is worth a visit?

Blogged now to return to as tomorrow morning I’m off to Swanwick for the Mothers’ Union Marketing Conference. I am hoping that if the technology lets me I shall be blogging from there either here, or at http://www.muwinchester.org.uk/ I shall also be posting the discussion paper I’ve written about websites to share my enthusiasm for blog based content management.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Is blogging a ministry?

There’s been a bit of talk going round about female bibliobloggers and theobloggers (doesn’t the internet invent new words fast for the English language) – see here and here at Maggi Dawn’s blog. All of which got me thinking about this blog…

I have never set out to be a female, blogging, Christian and my theological content is thin, but hey…it started back on Jan 22nd, as an experiment for a website, but has become at times the following

  • good practice for theological reflection (at least my placement vicar told me what I was blogging at the time was what my placement report should involve);
  • a way to file useful snippets on things that interest me;
  • then I found a fellow traveller on route towards ministry who responds to mine as I do to his, all thanks to reading links and blog rolls occasionally;
  • a way to communicate with some techie folk I know (mostly atheists), and relate their skills to what I’m trying to do (and hopefully they might read some of the God stuff along the way);
  • to use the ideas of the techie crew to check back how we Christians communicate – which has involved some cross reference to what other Christians have blogged, most recently Bishop Alan (see blogroll – he’s laid low at present);
  • and currently a means of showing family and friends how the house-extension is going!

Whether this any of these reasons are particularly valid or interesting to others, I don’t really know, but I do hope that at some point in time I might help someone else. And I will admit I do become slightly fascinated by blog stats, and then feel suitably guilty for it… absolution required 🙂

Here’s a question that arises from these thoughts: since the internet can be regarded as a mission field, is blogging a ministry?