Communicating in This New Normal

Bryan Haley

Over the last year and a half, churches across the globe—regardless of denomination, location, or demographics—have adapted to communicate more (and better) online. What's the future of communications look like? We talk about that and more in this episode.

Show Notes

Episode Summary

Over the last year and a half, churches across the globe have adapted to communicate differently. In this episode, we speak with Tori Wesley of St. Elizabeth Church in Rockville, Maryland about how her parish in the Washington, D.C. area has adapted to this new normal of digital and physical communication, and what they see as the future of communications.

Today's guest

Tori Wesley | Communication Director at St. Elizabeth Church, Rockville, MD
Email Tori | Instagram

Transcript

Jeanette:

Over the last year-and-a-half, churches across the globe, regardless of denomination, location or demographics, have adapted to communicate more and better online. Today, we are talking with the communications director from a Roman Catholic church in Maryland about how they've adapted to this new normal of digital and physical communication.

Bryan:

Hey, church communicator. Welcome to the Church Juice Podcast. I'm Bryan Haley, the producer of Church Juice, and I'm joined, as always, with my awesome co-host, Jeanette Yates. We're here energizing church communications.

Jeanette:

Yes, Bryan. We are. I'm so excited to welcome Victoria Wesley. She is the communication director in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Washington at St. Elizabeth Church in Rockville, Maryland. Hi, Tori.

Tori:

Hello.

Bryan:

Hey, Tori. Welcome to the podcast. Why don't you take a moment and just introduce yourself to our audience?

Tori:

Sure. Yes, I'm Tori. I am 27 years old, and I've been working for St. Elizabeths in Rockville, I guess, under the Archdiocese of Washington for almost four years now. My own faith journey, I didn't convert until the faith until I was 16, and had more of a conversion reversion in college. It's been a very interesting ride, and kind of fun. The last couple of years have been kind of crazy with Archdiocese of Washington and with COVID. It's been fun learning new things all the time.

Jeanette:

Yeah. It sounds like you just dove right in, and then just as you were getting things under your belt, everything changed. Here on the podcast, we talk a lot with communication leaders from across different regions, denominations, affiliations, and I'm interested to hear from you, what would you say makes communication unique in the Washington DC area, and also in the Roman Catholic church?

Tori:

Yeah. I mean, the DC area, obviously there's a lot of politics around us. We're also in a location that, at least of recently, we are very close to NIH. A lot of our parishioners are people who, with everything COVID, we made a stance and then they would tell us how to go five steps further with certain things. But it's not too different, luckily. We have a lot of churches around. There's a different Catholic church seven minutes away, so it's kind of an interesting landscape, and there's always something different going on DC wise. It's where young adults go, where older people go. We're more out in the suburbs, so sometimes there's a group of young adults, but more so they can kind of run the city. I guess with the Catholic church being different, there's just a lot of different ways to communicate and learn, go back in history and have to... I relearn things, and then I'm like, "Oh, this is cool. I can show other people this," if that makes sense. Yeah. That's kind of fun.

Bryan:

Yeah. I think one of the questions that Jeanette was asking actually before we even started the podcast was, okay, so we know that there are a couple of things that are important in the Catholic church, right? Communion and confession. Over the last couple of years, how has that looked in your parish specifically? What does that look like?

Tori:

Yeah. before lockdown, I mean, it was about March when we kind of were like, "What's going to happen?" Then within about 48 hours, I guess my pastors, my boss was like, "Okay, we're going to have to do videos." So, I had a camera, had not practiced at all with doing videos or anything, so I was taking a couple of days kind of crying a bit, because I was freaking out. Then within two days, I had to learn that. Then, when was it? March 13th or something when they completely just shut us down, for the first I think couple of weeks, we were shut down completely. I don't even think we had confessions or anybody in the building. Definitely could not have mass. But priest would say a private mass every day.

Tori:

Usually, for each mass, we'd have two masses during the day, and there was a mass intention. So, we were still able to do mass intentions. Priests were able to pray for those intentions when they had their private masses, but, yeah, for awhile, we were completely shut down. Then once we were able to open up a little bit, we took confession into a bigger room with windows and fans and spacing. People seemed to really respond to that. We actually had a lot more confession lines than we've had in the past. It was actually pretty good.

Bryan:

A lot of people, when they think of the Catholic church, they think very liturgical or traditional, or even stoic, kind of, whatever name you want to put on that. How do you think that impacts the way you communicate in your parish specifically? Because you're also in a suburban, but like you were talking about, young adult, young professional, so you have these two different audiences that you have to communicate to. What does that look like?

Tori:

Yeah. I mean, I think it's different. There's an inner joke within the Catholic church, some of our churches are very much the traditional crux type of design, where it's very big stained glass, everything.

Bryan:

Right.

Tori:

Our church Has stained glass, but it's an amphitheater type. Sometimes we joke and call it the living room. It's still pretty, but sometimes you're like, "Oh, man, why did they build this in the sixties?" I think part of with liturgical and stoic thing is actually taking some of the things that might seem boring or kind of just... about church, and especially with online, when people think about the mass, it's like, sit, stand, do all the things, but being able to actually explain what's happening, explain the Eucharist. There's a lot of different resources out there that have beautiful videos that communicate the beauty of all liturgical things, and what the real meaning is besides just listening to the words and being like, "All right, I don't understand."

Bryan:

Yeah, right.

Tori:

That's been kind of fun for me is to take the different sacraments and try to explain them in the way that when people go on our website, it's not just, "Here's the mass times." It's also like, "Okay, here's what we believe the Eucharist is. Here's what we think confession is," stuff like that.

Jeanette:

So, you've kind of already answered this question, but maybe we can dive a little bit deeper. Obviously, things changed in the way you had to communicate and you had to go digital first, which maybe you already were doing that before. I mean, maybe that was your... so, you can answer that. Were you already doing some of this stuff before, but then as you moved into that period of lockdown and uncertainty, because I'm sure, I know for my own personal experience where I live, it was very tough for people who are used to going to mass everyday or used to doing confession often, to then have to communicate all of that to them. I want to hear a little bit more about that, and then if you faced any challenges, how did you overcome those?

Tori:

Yeah, definitely. I didn't start here until 2017. I mean, I guess it's providential because when I started, they created my position as a communications person. My job really was to take them from paper only to... they had no email communications, their website was not good. There was no real way to send out information to a mass audience quick. Within the past three years, or four years now, but that's kind of been what I was working towards. By the time lockdown hit, luckily we've been using Flocknote, and I was able to immediately send out an email, send out a text being like, "This is what's going on." Yeah. One of the hot take things that we did, which was a little different than most parishes, is we did not live stream our mass.

Tori:

We are continuing to not do that. We kind of decided that we wanted to encourage people to, one, understand, yeah, this is hard. It's a pandemic, and it's also a sacrifice. You're going to have to sacrifice a little bit, a sacrifice to not be with Jesus sacramentally. We decided to take that and encourage people to pray at home. We'd give people the readings of the mass and be like, "Now we really want you to pray at home, and then when you feel safe, then come back," because basically the mass via live stream, you're not really there. Sometimes it's prerecorded, it's just not authentic community versus praying at home, and then when you can safely return and getting to embrace that community, that's also... being in community is being in the presence of God.

Tori:

So, that was our hot take, which every other day was, "Why aren't you live streaming the mass? Why aren't you having mass outdoors? Why aren't you doing this?" We could have, but it also would have been... do we really reverence Jesus and the Eucharist, or are we just pandering to fear? Yeah. That was a very interesting time. Now that we're fully open, it's kind of nice to see people slowly come back and do things, which is great.

Bryan:

I'm curious to hear how you anticipate using your website and the digital platforms that you're already, or that you have been using. How do you anticipate using those more in the future? Now that the people are coming back into the building, they're coming back for mass, back for Eucharist, what do you think your online presence is going to look like?

Tori:

Yeah. I think it would be to build more community. My goal before we hit lockdown was to get all of our ministry leaders to get more digitally equipped. So, training them how to use things so that when they would have a meeting, one, the parish would be invited and it wouldn't just be this private thing. So, I think, yeah, engaging people, hopefully maybe creating some type of forum where they can talk to each other, I think we're going to start having more social events after mass sometime in the fall, that'll be good. I think just equipping people with information, encouragement, sending more videos about what mass is about, what things are about, reflecting on the readings for the week, just things like that. Just continue engaging, but not bugging people to death or nagging them where it's like, "Okay, enough."

Bryan:

I think that's every communicator's struggle, right?

Tori:

Yeah.

Bryan:

How do we communicate effectively and make sure that everyone knows what's going on? But at that same time, we don't want it to become deaf or we don't want to bore you with everything that's happening so that you tune us out. Right?

Tori:

Yeah, exactly.

Jeanette:

Well, and one of the things I really like about what you said, Tori, when y'all made the decision to not live stream mass, and like you said, that was not always received well, but I love that before you even told us that, you were talking about using that time and the digital platforms to educate, which I think a lot of times that can sound like, "That's not what social's for. Social's for community." But I think in order for them to be able to pray at home and do the things that they're used to doing at mass at home, to have that education piece was probably so important to them.

Jeanette:

I just love that you know your audience so well. Bryan, we talk about this all the time, it's like who are you trying to reach? Who are you trying to communicate with? You knew what they were going to need, you and your pastors. I just think that's really great that you used the digital tools to communicate. That's really great. But I'm going to challenge you now. Is there anything that you wish that you're working on that you want to try to do better?

Tori:

Yeah. I think constantly. I think that's also the struggle about being a creator or creative, is you definitely can go into the compare and despair type of mindset, because there'll be times when I look at other people's, what they're doing, and I'm like, "If only." We're still working on doing a logo at some point. Our logo is non-existent right now. We've been using some stained glass things that we like, but...

Jeanette:

We could have a whole other thing on just the logo situation going on in the world.

Tori:

Yeah. It's hard. It's bad. Then I'm like, "Oh, maybe I can figure it out myself," and then I'm like, "Oh, I don't know." But I think, yeah, constant improvement. I think one thing I could definitely improve on would be to be more strategic with my communications as far as scheduling when this is posted, or maybe having different themes. Right now, I'm also taking on the role of secretary, so my full attention has not been able just to be I'll have nothing to do, so let me only focus on communications all day. But now it's like you got to do sponsor letters, got to add sacramental records, answer the phones off day, update the database. You know? Input giving things.

Tori:

So, there's always constant room for improvement and looking at how I can do things better, how to make things more engaging, especially as different digital platforms update and upgrade. Flocknote adds all these new different tools all the time, and I'm very excited to use them. Yeah, they had a new signup feature where people sign up, then you can text everyone who signed up or put them into a group. I'm like, "Oh, that's awesome." So, yeah, things like that, I'm like, "Okay," just kind of keeping up with what's changing.

Bryan:

What is one piece of advice that you would give to a communication leader that's listening to this episode?

Tori:

I would say, I think one thing is hard is to make sure your own personal faith life is there, because that makes communication easier when you actually know and believe in what you're communicating. I think that's important, and it can be hard to do when you're in the midst of it and seeing the behind the scenes. It's not always glamorous or as idealistic. Sometimes you do get very burnt out. But I'd also say to be confident, but also make sure that your communications are well-rounded. I'm very much not... I don't try to post controversial things. I don't go too much hot takey on social media or pull random things from... like, "Hmm, I like that, but would other people respond to that? Maybe not. How can I encourage people to pray? How can I encourage people to" think about God today? That's my main goal. If they think more about theological learnings from different things, that's great. If they learn about the saints, that's great too.

Jeanette:

Tori, it has been wonderful talking to you. When I found we were going to be interviewing you today, I got super excited. I'm so glad you were able to come on with us today. If someone wants to reach out to you, maybe has more questions or just wants to dig a little bit deeper and learn more about what you're doing, where you work, what is the best way they can get in contact with you?

Tori:

Yeah, sure. I think just the easiest social media way would be to connect with me on Instagram. It's @T-O-R-I-W-E-S, so Tori Wes. Facebook, it's Tori Wesley. I guess through email too. My work email is so long.

Jeanette:

We'll put it in the notes.

Tori:

Yeah, yeah. It's very long. But, yeah, [email protected] Very long.

Jeanette:

That's another podcast we could have, Bryan.

Bryan:

True, URL.

Jeanette:

We could do a whole podcast on logos and long emails.

Bryan:

Right.

Jeanette:

And long church names.

Tori:

It was so nice talking to you guys.

Bryan:

Yeah. Thank you for coming on today. We appreciate it.

Tori:

Perfect. Thanks.

Bryan:

Well, we love being able to talk with church communicators from across the globe, and we believe that every church and every communicator's story is unique and is valuable. This week, we'll be continuing today's discussion on Church Juice's insider Facebook group. You can join the insider's group as well as get today's show notes by going to churchjuice.com/podcast.

Jeanette:

Church Juice's podcast is a listener-supported production of Reframe Ministries, a family of programs designed to help you see your whole life reframed by God's gospel story. Church Juice is produced by Bryan Haley, with post-production by audio engineer, Nate Morris, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For more information about Church Juice, visit churchjuice.com. For more information on Reframe Ministries and our family of programs, visit reframeministries.org.