General Assembly: GA Presentations: Presenter views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UUA.

Blogs: A New Generation in Communications

General Assembly 2007 Event 3064
Presenters: Peter Freedman Bowden, Rev. Christine Robinson, Christopher L. Walton, Suzyn Smith Webb

Blogs, the personal online journals now being published by millions, can be a great tool for Unitarian Univeralists (UUs) looking to get their messages out to a wide audience, according to a panel of experts at the General Assembly (GA) here Friday (June 22). But beware, the relatively new internet phenomenon also has its pitfalls, the group noted.

Various websites (including UUpdates) have tracked as many as 250 UU blogs out of the pool of as many as nine million followed by mainstream websites such as Technorati. Those numbers are likely to continue growing for a variety of reasons.

"I am interested in blogs as a new way to get information out," said Christopher L. Walton, editor of the UU World magazine and its companion website. "Opportunities for new UU periodicals seem to be shriveling up but the need to get the message out is as important as ever, so blogs can be key," said Walton.

Walton has been writing for four years his own blog called Philocrites. It got mentioned on a segment about journalism on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He also uses a blog to track information about UUs in the media.

Blogs by ministers and other UUs have turned the tide in church elections, helped start new religious movements and pulled in web searchers who ultimately found websites of related congregations, said Peter Freedman Bowden, author of the UU Planet blog. "Blogs can be tools of transformation," said Bowden. "People are being drawn in and finding out about us. This is about relationships," he added.

Rev. Christine Robinson, senior minister at the First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque, started blogging 18 months ago while on sabbatical. "I wanted to let my congregation have some idea what I was doing and thinking without needing to interact with them," she joked. Her iMinister site now draws more than half its readers from UUs outside her state. "My isolation in the outback of Albuquerque was nearly intolerable until the advent of email and the Internet, and it got better with blogging," she said. "I find it to be a highly useful adjunct to my ministry," she added.

That's not to say the technology is without its limits and problems. "Blogs will attract spam and people who want to take over what you are doing, so you want to moderate comments and model what you want your blog to be," said Walton. "And a lot of congregations don't want to interact with each other on the Web," he added.

Suzyn Smith Webb said flaming comments have not been a problem for her personal UU blog called Chalice Chick. "People get agitated, but I just go with it…it gets people reading," she said. Webb has even learned how to blog when mobile by sending text messages from her cellphone to her site. "I have this thing I sometimes do called a mid-movie movie review," she said.

Reported by Rick Merritt; edited by Pat Emery.