How to Break In Your Liturgical Books

Recently my office purchased a complete set of the Lectionary for Mass. Wanting to make sure the books lasted a long time, I asked our director for worship and the catechumenate how he prepares liturgical books for regular use. Here’s a video demonstrating the technique he shared with me:

Image by Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP, under a CC-BY-NC-ND license.

10 Steps to Managing Communications in a Crisis

Last week, at our diocese’s annual Principals’ Leadership Conference, Kathie Sass, our soon-to-be-retired diocesan spokesperson, gave a wonderful presentation on the 10 steps leaders should take to anticipate and react to crises in their ministries. The talk was based on the work of Jonathan Bernstein.

First, Kathie outlined the steps organizations should take before a crisis to ensure they are ready should a crisis occur:

  1. Anticipate crises and put written policies in place on how to avoid and deal with specific types of crises.
  2. Identify a crisis communications team. The team should include whoever is the head of the organization, legal council, and someone on staff with expertise in the crisis area.
  3. Appoint an official spokesperson. You don’t want media calling teachers, parents, etc. Appoint someone who is well-spoken, not just the person in charge.
  4. Train your spokesperson!
  5. Establish notification and monitoring systems. This includes both old media (television, radio, and newspapers) as well as new media (text messages, Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.).
  6. Identify and know your stakeholders. Communicate with them and let them know who to refer media inquiries to.
  7. Develop holding statements. Don’t say “No comment”; at the very least express sympathy, offer prayers, and say that a statement will come later. Crisis communications team should review these holding statements regularly to ensure that they are well crafted, easily understood, and truthful!

Kathie then gave guidance on how to respond should a crisis occur:

  1. At the outset of a crisis, assess the situation. Make sure you know the specifics before acting or making a statement. Reacting before you have all the information can result in bad decisions or hasty statements that must later be retracted. (This is where those holding statements come in handy!)
  2. Finalize and adapt your key messages; continue to communicate these messages to your key stakeholders. Don’t automatically act on a lawyer’s advice to say nothing! Transparency can mitigate bad feelings and avoid the appearance of a cover up.
  3. Do a post-crisis analysis. Detail what you did well, what you failed to anticipate, and how you could improve. Update your policies and procedures as needed.

All of us hope that we can avoid crises in our ministries, but the past few decades have shown that we all need to be prepared to act should the unthinkable happen.

7 Ways to Get More Out of a Catechetical Conference

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!

  1. 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.)
  2. …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.
  3. 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!)
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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?

Free Webinar: How To Write a News Release

newspaperThe Office for Catechesis of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois will be offering a free webinar in a few weeks on writing news releases:

When getting the word out about your parish, school, or ministry, you have a lot of choices: newsletters, Facebook, email lists, Twitter, etc. But one communications channel often overlooked is the news release. A well written and professional news release can increase the chances that your item will be picked up by your local newspaper or news stations!

Kathie Sass, director of communications for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, will offer a one hour webinar on how to write a news release for your parish, school, or ministry. Starting with what information reporters and news organizations want, she will detail how to craft a professional release that will help you communicate your good news to your community.

The webinar, which we are recommending for communications directors, development personnel, principals, DREs, and other parish leaders, will be offered at two different times on Wednesday, September 18:

We hope to see you there!

Publishing Under Creative Commons: A Primer for Parishes and Dioceses

Last week the Catholic Twittersphere erupted when both the Vatican and the USCCB demanded that blogger Brandon Vogt remove e-book versions of Pope Francis’ encyclical Lumen Fidei from his web site. Brandon had converted the encyclical into a variety of formats, including Kindle, iPad, and Nook, and was making them freely available so that people could access the pope’s writings on their device of choice.

My purpose here is not to defend either party; rather, I’d like to ask why the Church’s treasure of teachings, chant, liturgical texts, and other works are so tightly controlled when there are catechists, bloggers, and media producers who would gladly make use of them to further the Church’s mission of evangelization. That these resources remain unavailable to the Christian faithful in their apostolates constitutes a great disservice to the work of catechesis and evangelization. It’s hard not to get the impression that some in the Church are more concerned with asserting copyright than spreading the Good News.

Fortunately there is a solution that would both allow the Church to maintain copyright of its works while allowing the faithful to make use of them in the mission of evangelization: the Creative Commons license.

What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons (CC) is a standard for creating licenses allowing others to use your copyrighted works. In other words, you give permission for others to use your created works (be it text, images, sound, or video) under specific conditions set by you. As an example, I post everything on this web site under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license. That means that anyone may copy my blog posts or images that I create for my site and edit them for their own purposes, provided that they a) attribute me at the original creator and b) do not sell the resulting work or otherwise make money off it.

The four main conditions typically attached to CC licenses are

  • Attribution (the licensee must attribute the original creator)
  • NonCommercial (resulting works may not be sold)
  • NonDerivative (the original work may not be altered or edited)
  • Share-Alike (you can edit the work but must release your creation under the same CC license)

Creators can mix and match the conditions they put on works; CC does not require that all four be used.

It is important to note that a CC license does not negate or otherwise replace copyright. The original creator retains the copyright to their work. Rather, CC is designed to sit along side — and, in fact, relies on — traditional copyright law. It is merely meant to allow others access to the work under the conditions of the CC license.

Why Publish Under Creative Commons?

Publishing under a CC license allows creators to retain the copyright to their works while ensuring that the works may be used by others. In the case of Church documents, this would keep the copyright with the USCCB or Holy See while allowing the faithful to use the Church’s treasury of teachings in catechetical handouts, blog posts, mobile apps, online videos, study guides, and other media.

Utilizing the CC model recognizes that the information and resources produced by the Church are not useful if they cannot be easily shared. The internet and related digital tools have created an environment in which it is able — and indeed expected — that text, audio, and video will be readily accessible and available for editing and sharing. A whole generation of young Catholics, such as Brandon, is already experimenting with new media tools in evangelization efforts. The more the Church can support these efforts the more enthusiastic evangelists it will foster.

Indeed, the USCCB already does this (although not under the Creative Commons name) for many of the resources available on their web site. For instance, the 2013 Catechetical Sunday materials contain this disclaimer:

Copyright © 2013, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to duplicate this work without adaptation for non-commercial use.

This is essentially a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NonDerivatives license. It allows others to copy the material without alteration for noncommercial use. I’ve reproduced some of these articles in my office’s catechetical newsletter (which is itself released under a CC license) thanks to the permissions granted by the USCCB.

Switching from the generic permission disclaimer above to a CC license would be a powerful signal by the USCCB that it not only allows but actively encourages Catholics to copy and distribute the resources that the faithful, through their generosity to the Church, have funded.

How to Add a Creative Commons License

Once you’ve decided to publish a work under a CC license it’s simply a matter of using the Creative Commons web site’s handy tool ( to choose the appropriate license for the work. The tool includes the relevant text and images to add to the work to ensure that the license is clear; these can be copied and posted directly from the Creative Commons site.

For most Church-related works an Attribution-NonCommerical-NoDerivatives license will address the most common concerns. This license allows others to copy the work in its entirety and without edits, and redistribute it for free while given proper attribution. A better choice, however, would be an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. This license allows others to edit the work so long as they freely share the resulting work under the same license. This arrangement would have allowed Brandon to reformat Lumen Fidei into different electronic formats without violating the terms of the license.

In either case, as stated above, the creator retains the copyright to the work.

Parishes and dioceses should consider using a Creative Commons license when they create a variety of works, including

  • blog posts
  • catechetical aids
  • online videos
  • original music compositions
  • PowerPoint presentations
  • homilies
  • podcasts

Of course relevant local or diocesan policies should be followed. But it is my hope that more and more pastors, bishops, lay directors, composers, artists, and other Catholic media creators will recognize the value of using the Creative Commons to ensure that the faithful have access to the official teachings of the Church for use in evangelization and catechesis.

Three Ways to Keep Me From Following You on Twitter


I haven’t made any bones about the fact that Twitter is my go-to social media platform. I find that I get more value out of Twitter with the same investment of time and energy than any other service out there.

That having been said I’m still pretty picky about who I choose to follow on Twitter. (Yes, even someone who follows 2,200 accounts has standards!)

With that in mind here are three things that will keep me from following you on Twitter:

  1. Only post once per week. Twitter is a veritable fire hose of updates and information; it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. If you’re not posting on a regular basis — even once a day or so — I know I’m going to miss whatever you have to say, so I probably won’t even bother following you in the first place. The USCCB posts about 7-9 times per day (including retweets); that’s a pretty healthy stream of information and ensures that, regardless of when I check Twitter, I’ll probably notice you. I do make some exceptions for this rule, but only for people that post really high-quality updates that I don’t want to miss.
  2. Never reply to what others post. I use Twitter to interact with other people — the real takeaway for me is the conversations and sharing that occurs in 140 characters. If I don’t see any @ replies in your Twitter stream I’m probably not going to bother following you because it’s obvious you’re not interested in talking, just broadcasting.
  3. Only post promotions — or worse, spam. A couple months ago I had a Catholic company tweet at me about some service or product they were offering. Starting a relationship with a sales pitch isn’t the best first move. To make it even worse, when I checked their account it was obvious that they were sending the exact same message to dozens of others Catholics on Twitter. This is pretty much the definition of spam and I reported the account to Twitter as such. I don’t care if we share the faith or not — good manners count online. Introduce yourself to others by replying to their tweets before you start telling them about your services.

Do you have any standards for connecting with others online? Share them in the comments!

3 Reasons Why Your Conference Needs to Offer Wifi


Last week on Twitter my friend Greg Dhuyvetter complained about the lack of wifi availability at the NCEA conference in Houston. My immediate, if snarky, reply was

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 .) 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?

How To Survive a Social Media Attack With Your Soul Intact

The past weekend our diocesan Facebook page came under attack after our bishop wrote about the spiritual implications of voting for intrinsic evil. Some of the posters engaged the substance of the arguments; some, while disrespectful, were at least not vulgar or obscene; and the rest made for the most soul-damaging work of my life. I won’t describe the types of things I had to delete from our page. Suffice to say that the language, while course, was nothing compared to the brutality of the photoshopped pictures that people posted. I was sick to my stomach and sick in my heart.

So how does one maintain faith, hope, and charity amid such a morass of filth and hate? How can you weather such a storm with your heart still ready to reach out to others? Here’s how I handled it:

  1. Find some beauty. I was fortunate that, in the middle of this mess, I chanced across a picture my friend Dorian had tweeted of a beautiful cathedral dome. Taking in that beauty for just a few seconds lifted me up a bit and reminded me that, while my computer screen was filled with ugliness, there is beauty in the world.
  2. Take a break. Sometimes you just have to walk away for a little while. While I didn’t like the idea of something obscene being posted in my absence, the truth is that policing our Facebook page is not my most important job — either in my work for the Church or in my life. Taking time with my family, reading a book, making a meal — anything to get my mind off the Facebook page for a little while helped me to get back to a sense of “normalcy.”
  3. Remember it is temporary. Just remembering that this, too, will pass came with a great sense of relief. Our Facebook page has been attacked before; this one, too, will subside with time as people get bored and move on to the next confrontation. And in fact the main brunt of the attack was over in under 24 hours.
  4. Pray, pray, pray. We’ve been praying the St. Michael Prayer after Mass in our  diocese  for a couple years now, but never has the phrase “defend us in battle” taken on such immediacy for me. Asking the archangel for his intercession — especially on Saturday, when it was the Feast of the Archangels! — helped me to soldier on through the attacks. St. Michael is a powerful patron when undergoing spiritual trials — rely on him!

How do you maintain your spiritual wellness when confronted with sin and ugliness online?

Video and Footnotes “ 9 ½ Social Media Strategies for the Church

Last night I offered a webinar on social networking tips and tricks for Catholic parishes, schools, and other ministries:

Thanks to everyone who participated! As promised, I’m including footnotes and suggestions for further reading:


Web Resources

Video and Footnotes – Reaching Parishioners with Facebook

Tonight I offered a free webinar on using Facebook to build and strengthen relationships with parishioners. The video is now available:

The following are some additional resources and recommended reading:


Church Documents

Web Sites and Articles