Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the NCEA conference in Pittsburgh. I had a great time meeting up with Twitter friends old and new, attending great breakout presentations, and giving my own breakout on Catholic schools.
The highlight of the conference was an outstanding keynote address by Donald Cardinal Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C. He spoke on the work of the New Evangelization in light of the first anniversary of the election of Pope Francis and his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. Some notes from that keynote:
The New Evangelization consists of the Church going out into the world to share the beauty of the Gospel.
The New Evangelization is not a program, but a way of seeing the world.
We must recognize the challenges of a secular, materialistic, individualistic culture to the faith. Secularism has swept Western culture like a tsunami, sweeping away family, church, faith.
We must be committed to and confident in the truth of the Gospel, then share it with others.
Engaging in the the corporal and spiritual Works of Mercy is an indispensable part of the New Evangelization.
Where do we meet Jesus today? With the only remaining living witness of his life, death, and resurrection: the Church. It is within the witness of the Church that we can be confident in the truth of the Gospel.
New evangelists must be bold; connected to the Church; have a sense of urgency; and radiate joy. People must see and hear our joy; this way they may be inspired to follow us to Christ.
My only quibble with what was otherwise an outstanding address is that the cardinal spoke about the importance of both the parish and the school as contexts for passing on the Catholic faith — but failed to mention the family, which seems to me to be the most important context for evangelization and catechesis. This is understandable considering the audience; still, it would have been good to hear the family tied into the parish and the school.
As I mentioned on Twitter the other day my conference season is just around the corner. This year I’m attending both the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) and National Conference for Catechetical Leadership (NCCL) conventions. After five years I think I’m finally getting the hang of attending a conference and getting the most out of it; here are a few tips if you’ll be attending these or one of the other fine conferences coming up!
Pack light… Don’t try to take everything and the kitchen sink, especially if you’re flying. Take the bare necessities. This will both lighten your load and make it easier to spend several days on your feet. I was able to attend my first NCCL conference — five days — with just a back pack. (The secret: rolling your clothes.)
…and leave room for goodies. The downside of that first NCCL conference was that I didn’t have any room for the free books, materials, and assorted goodies I got from various publishers and vendors. Fortunately my associate director drove to the conference, so I was able to give them to her to take back to Illinois. If not for her I might have had to explain to my wife why I left some shirts and pants behind.
Make the most of your time between sessions. Don’t get me wrong: I love attending breakout sessions, whether to hear a new speaker or find out how other dioceses are approaching particular challenges. But the real value of a conference is the connections made with other people. Don’t be afraid to approach a speaker or other attendee and engage with them; they are great resources that can be tapped after the conference is over! (Three years ago I even created an “audio postcard” by recording interviews with attendees at NCCL!)
Volunteer. Conferences are always in need of people to help with registrations, plan liturgies, escort speakers, hang signage, or just act as gofers. Volunteering is a great way to network and meet other dedicated catechists.
Don’t be afraid to change your mind. Did you go to a breakout speaker only to discover that the topic was vastly different from what you expected? Feel free to walk out and go to a different session. After all, your time is valuable and there is no sense in attending a session that you find uninteresting or unhelpful. Personally I operate on a five minute rule: if a breakout speaker or session hasn’t grabbed my attention within five minutes, I’ll generally try to find another to attend.
Stop by the exhibitors. If the conference you’re attending has an exhibitor’s hall, make sure to walk through it at least once. Lots of publishers have demos of new programs, special rates for attendees, and other “perks” that make it worth while. Perusing their booths also helps the conference: organizers rely on exhibitors purchasing booth space to cover some of the costs of the conference, but exhibitors won’t return if attendees don’t stop by.
Participate in the back channel. Twitter is one of the greatest conference attendance tools I know of. Through the use of hashtags it’s easy to find other attendees and have a conversation about what you’re seeing and hearing — even if they are sitting on the other side of a 1000-person ballroom!Even if you can’t attend a conference, following hashtags can give you a virtual convention experience. (The hashtags to follow for NCEA and NCCL are #NCEA14 and #NCCL2014, respectively.)
What advice do you have for people attending a conference this year?
Here are five suggestions for improving your leadership in 2014:
Hone Your Leadership Skills While many of us have degrees in theology, religious studies, and education, these degrees don’t always prepare us for the day-to-day work of leadership and management. You might pick up a good book (I’ve set up a list of some of my favorite leadership books), listen to a podcast like Manager Tools, or even try to take a course at a local college; regardless, make a commitment to learn more about how to be an effective leader in your parish or diocese!
Make Something… Too often in catechesis we look for a canned program instead of creating something that will meet the specific needs of our parishes and schools. This year, try creating something yourself! It doesn’t have to be grand. A short study guide, a reflection booklet, a prayer card; just flex your creativity for the glory of God!
…And Share It With the World If you have something you’ve made that you’re particularly happy with, share it! Send copies to your diocesan office to distribute, put it online, or just email it to someone. Share your blessings with others so that the great work you do isn’t just confined to your local area. You might even consider releasing your creation under a Creative Commons license.
Pray For Success Above all else, commit yourself to praying more for the success of your ministry. As I’ve mentioned before, our diocesan offices have been praying the Rosary weekly with a special intention for an increase in faith and discipleship in our parishes. Choose a special intention centered on your efforts and pray constantly for it!
What resolutions are you making regarding your ministry this year?
The truth is, having worked on a number of conferences, I understand why wifi isn’t a priority. For one, it’s expensive. (Seriously; ask a convention center or hotel how much they charge for wifi. Just be prepared to pick your jaw up from the floor.) Second, most leaders still don’t recognize that internet connectivity is increasingly akin to a utility. You wouldn’t hold a conference without electricity or running water, would you? And finally, conference planners believe that either very few people will use it or that so many will that the connection won’t be stable. Either way, why ask for the hassle?
The truth is that internet connectivity (by which I mean wireless connectivity across most of the conference space, not a room with some ethernet plugs) is a must-have for modern conferences. Here’s three reasons why:
Offering wifi allows participants to help each other. Increased communication among conference attendees means that they can help each other with both mundane questions (locating restrooms, good restaurants in the area, etc.) as well as more esoteric concerns (which breakout sessions are worth attending, what’s the keynote speaker’s web site, etc.). Both of these can help relieve the stress of already harried conference organizers by helping participants assist one another without the need to track down staff.
Offering wifi encourages people to spread your message. I love it when I see people on Twitter sharing insights and questions from conferences they are attending. Most conference even distribute an official conference “hashtag” in order to help participants connect their communications with the conference. (Last week’s NCEA conference in Houston used the hashtag #ncea2013.) This helps non-participants see the value of attending the conference and may influence their future conference attendance.
Offering wifi lets presenters and exhibitors get creative. One of the most frustrating experiences I ever had speaking at a conference was arriving to give a tech demonstration only to discover that internet connectivity was only available in a side room away from the room where it was supposed to be held. Demonstrating live web resources (and incorporating them into presentations) is vital for many presenters, and limiting where internet connectivity can be had puts a damper on our ability to most effectively communicate how to use these tools.
What reasons can you think of for conferences to offer wifi?
As catechists, we have been called to tell the Story of God’s Reign, and to tell it well. As ministers we have been called to empower our learners to tell their stories as growing disciples. Join us as we explore why and how to use technology in faith formation. Together with Tim Welch, we will explore 28,217 years of media and technology tools, from oral traditions to mobile apps, bringing us to the tools of today ¦and perhaps beyond!
Jonathan Sullivan will help take some of the mystery and apprehension out of online tools by demonstrating how to integrate social media into a parish’s adult faith formation efforts, beginning with a “live” demonstration of how to set up a parish Facebook page for one lucky participant! He will also explain just what Twitter is good for, what every parish web site should have on the front page (but very few do), and the value of a “human voice” in online interactions. Jonathan’s presentation encourages interaction and “try-as-you-go” methods, so bring your laptop or other mobile device.
This past Saturday I attended the Catholic New Media Conference in Kansas City. I had a great time meeting some fellow Catholic new media enthusiasts, including lots of people I follow on Twitter and Google+. These were some of the highlights:
I started the day with an unexpected Holy Hour, thanks to the fact that I wrote down the wrong start time for Mass. (Doh!)
“What counts isn’t the numbers, but the presence of the Holy Spirit.” – St. Anne Flanagan, FSP
” We need to do a better job of recruiting talent and leaders for Catholic New Media.” – Matt Warner
I got my copy of The Church and New Media signed by Brandon Vogt!
“Why do Catholics have to pay someone to set them on fire?” – Devin Jones
“A good book either offers a gift or solves a problem.” – Pat Gohn
Enjoyed a great keynote by Sean Patrick Lovett, the Director of Vatican Radio.
Got Lisa Hendey to sign a copy of Handbook for Catholic Moms for my wife.
“You’re a diocesan beereaucrat!” – Pat Gohn (This will now be added to my fictional business cards (along with Professional Catholic and Theology Geek).
Enjoyed great dinner conversation with Fr. Roderick VonhÃ¶gen, Marc Cardaronella, Helen Lee, and Pat Gohn.
I really enjoyed my first CNMC, and while I doubt I’ll be able to go every year, I certainly hope to get back again in the future!
I just got back from the 75th annual NCCL convention and expo in Atlanta, Georgia. I had a great time meeting new friends, catching up with old friends, engaging in learning sessions, and experiencing TED-style general sessions.
I also took a portable audio recorder with me to talk with some of the presenters, attendees, and NCCL leaders at the conference. This “audio postcard” gives just a glimpse of what we all heard, saw, and felt during our five days in Atlanta. Enjoy!
Tonight I had the immense pleasure of gathering with about 12 other Catholic bloggers and Twitter users at the NCCL convention in Atlanta, Georgia. We sat around, enjoyed some great local beer, and discussed everything from the Blessed Virgin’s role as the model catechist to WordPress configurations; Twitter clients to the Civil War War of Northern Aggression; protecting yourself online to the number of hits our sites get.
It was a very diverse group, but I was amazed at how quickly we fell into easy conversation. That is, I think, one of the gifts of Catholicism: a shared culture and experience that allows us to relate to one another despite any superficial differences. It is also a gift of social media: I knew several of the people even though we had never met face-to-face. Combined, Catholicism and social media make a potent combination. I’m convinced that we’ve only seen the beginning of what we can accomplish with these new tools.
Thank you again to everyone who came out for the TweetUp. Hopefully this will become an annual event; for my part, I will certainly work to see that it is.