Thursday, 26 March 2015

Connect to People Everywhere

There was a time when the only method of connection was face to face. Then we learnt to write things down and send messages. As the 20th century dawned we invented radio, the telephone, then television and now we have the Internet. No doubt in the future some new method, as yet unknown, will be invented.

We now have so many different methods of receiving communication and far more communications to receive, that we have had to become adept at discarding all but the most important. And therein lies our challenge.

How can we convince others that our message is important to them personally? What is it we are trying to say? What is it that others are waiting to hear?

We can no longer rely on connecting by just one single method and we must ensure that our message is not discarded. The same message will have to be sent in many different forms and many different ways if we are reach those who may benefit. Neither should we forget those who struggle to come to terms with the latest technology.

There is an economical challenge for us in our communications. Post is increasingly expensive. The Telephone is very labour intensive, particularly if there is a general message to go to many people. Television can reach many people effectively but it is expensive. The Internet has spawned many different options. E mails are cheap and quick, but easily discarded. Facebook carries hidden dangers but we appreciate it provides the opportunity to give thoughts and opinions and we are still discovering how to use it effectively as we are with other sites of a similar nature.

What does the future hold?

I have no doubt Unitarian TV will develop and grow to reach those who need or want to receive the message at home at a time of their choosing. There is much competition amongst TV channels, although broadcasting is likely to move increasingly to the Internet. People will need to know that there is something worthwhile to be watched.

Our two publications, the Inquirer and the Unitarian, face challenges today of how to adapt to the Internet, as many including myself, read papers and books electronically. The same is true for the Lindsey Press; and yet many still enjoy reading paper versions.

Facebook, we read, is not necessarily going to be around in its present form for too long and is likely to morph into something new. The younger generation is far more willing than us oldies to advertise the minutae of their lives to anyone who wishes to know about it, and plenty who don't, yet it remains a powerful tool to discuss issues of importance. We are still learning how best to deal with complex and wide-ranging subjects not suited to the limited space Facebook provides. No doubt we will learn to do better in time.

When creating new national website, we recognised that there is a specific skill in writing for the Internet. This is something very different from the talent of writing we are used to. It requires a clearer more concise approach, rather than a developed argument. Presentation and layout have also assumed a new importance as we live in a society faced with many choices and increasingly able to reject anything that does not create immediate interest. Many will say that this is a very shallow approach, and so it is, but this is today's reality.

Distance is no longer an obstacle to communication and most methods these days are all but instantaneous. As our mobiles alert us instantly to a new message received and we interrupt what are doing in anticipation of something new and important, there is a great opportunity to be had, if only we can find a way though the web of possibilities.

And yet, we are famously unsure exactly how to explain what Unitarianism is all about, probably because we all have a different perception of what it means and each of us would explain it different way. As usual, a great virtue has turned into significant challenge for us.

I suspect in this ever more complex world the simple message is the most attractive.

What would your simple message be?

What should our simple message be?

In the short term, however, there are things that can be done and easily achieved:
Each congregation should be able to communicate electronically. It doesn't have to be the                   secretary, but it would be good if it was.
Everybody who can, should subscribe to Uni-News, so they know what is going on nationally.
We should create special interest groups to allow messages and e mails to be sent easily and               quickly to the right people. We already have the capability to do this at Essex Hall.
We should share our resources through the Internet.

And there are plenty more ways - plenty more opportunities. We just need to find them and make them happen!

Robert Ince


  1. We have to be able to communicate well. Everything discussed in the contributions so far comes to naught without being able to communicate well. The Unitarian and The Inquirer are pretty much internal communications, which is fine. They do their jobs very well, despite their lack of internet presence. But is it all about the internet? No. Taking out ads on the Underground and bus shelters would be expensive but it might help. People pay attention to them and even if they don’t act on them immediately, they nestle in the back of the mind.

    Communication also has to happen in our congregations. Do we encourage people to leave their finished copies of The Inquirer or The Unitarian on the bus or café? If you are one of those who keeps their back copies in a box for posterity, ask yourself, as Nasrudin would, 'To what end?' Do we have engaging posters in our wayside pulpits? And, most importantly, have we armed our members with the words to express their faith? There is no better way of passing on the message than word of mouth but with such a nebulous faith, some people find it difficult to talk about in a coherent way.

    So, I have several simple messages, in house messages first. One of them is that we have to be better at saying hello to the world. That’s obvious. Another is that in a community where you decide what you believe, you have to be able to speak generally so that a stranger can understand. Our previous motto was perfect for that: freedom, reason, tolerance.

    Our simple message should be that we are a faith where you listen to and with your heart, use your brain and open your hands. We proclaim love, whoever you are.

    My simple message to the world is that I am a Unitarian (Universalist). I believe in a loving God who resides in everyone, the spiritual leadership of Jesus, that God is still speaking and s/he speaks through you and through me, that we can never know everything and we should never stop the search for truth, that good works are required of us to live our faith and, at the end of it all, we are loved, loved, loved.

    Tristan Jovanovic (member, Kensington Unitarians)

  2. (I should note that my final simple message is a riff on the Washington-Andover Avowal and Rev Dr Elizabeth Strong's version of it for young people)

  3. Unitarianism is a very verbal form of religious activity. Outside of a lecture hall where else might you be expected to listen to one person discourse for an hour ? Like it or not, modern media have accustomed us to a short attention span ; almost every TV / radio programme has at least two presenters - even if it's only half and hour in length.