Online Webinars Cover Range of Congregational Issues
Harold Wood is president of the 24-member Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Visalia, in California's Central Valley. The congregation is lay led and he and others in the fellowship are committed to gathering resources to create high-quality worship services and programming so that the fellowship can promote its values throughout the area.
Not that long ago if Wood wanted to gather information about worship or religious education or welcoming practices he had to travel to a district assembly or to General Assembly. But lately what he does when he wants information on a particular topic is log into a webinar from his computer at home.
Webinars are presentations of generally an hour or more, which are either presented live (scheduled) or have been previously recorded (on-demand) about a particular topic pertaining to congregational life. They're often like workshops at General Assembly, with one or two main presenters. Scheduled webinars—meaning they'll take place in the near future—sometimes require a sign-up fee. Many include opportunities to ask questions and to engage with other participants. As technology has advanced, scores of UU webinars have become available on the Internet on a wide range of topics.
Wood has become a fan of webinars, both the live ones where he can ask questions and the archived ones that he can access at his leisure. He often gathers several other congregation members to watch with him and they discuss them afterwards. One recent one was on growth and another was on worship music.
"These are just perfect for us," he said. "It takes an hour and we're done. The alternative would be for us to drive three to four hours to a congregation in the Bay Area that might have a weekend seminar. That's a large commitment that would be difficult for many of us. So webinars are very important for us."
In the past two years Unitarian Universalist (UU) webinars, also known as one form of "distance learning," have proliferated. There are too many to list individually, but they have been collected in several places.
One of the most comprehensive sites is UUA.org's webpage on Webinars for Leadership Development. It includes links to collections of webinars compiled by various Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) districts and regions. Around 100 webinars of around an hour each are listed, plus many shorter presentations, including YouTube videos on UU leadership topics. Some of the collections are searchable by topic, but others require browsing. Take a look to determine which ones might be useful for issues your congregation is facing.
In addition to single-event presentations, there are also an increasing number of online courses that meet for multiple sessions. Earlier this year the Rev. Phil Lund, Congregational Life consultant for the MidAmerica Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association, put together an online course on spiritual exploration. It met for six weeks and generally had six to seven participants. "It worked great," he said.
"This technology that allows us to see each other face to face is very satisfying. Perhaps not as much as in-person would be, but still satisfying. People say that seeing each other online helps them be more attentive to each other and aware of what they're doing.
Lund is also working to make some of the Midwest Leadership School presentations available online. "There are also opportunities for developing some online collegiality groups. I'd love to see interim ministers, for example, talk online in groups of six to eight. We could do another group for presidents of small congregations, etc."
He added, "For a few years now people have gathered in email groups, but those do not happen in real time. Being able to see someone and hear their voice makes the connections deeper. What we want to do won't replace email groups. It will just be in addition to them."
Lund is also working with Gail Forsyth-Vail, the UUA's director of Adult Programs, to create the first online renaissance module for religious educators. Completing renaissance modules is the standard way for educators to become accredited. The topic of this first online module is UU history.
Online webinars are, of course, not a substitute for being in touch with a UUA district or regional staff member when a congregational issue requires a direct conversation. These staff will also have knowledge of specific other online resources that are available in their districts or regions.