Breaking ground and taking chances are things Tom Shakely knows all about. Having traveled through all 50 states and beyond, this young descendent of an American Revolutionary militiaman lives in a former convent, where he guides parish staff through the digital continent. I’ve been impressed by him since learning about his creation, Ambo Creative.
Now, he’s launching a training and support service for Catholic pastoral leaders and staff. Is it worth looking into? I’m thrilled that Tom took time to answer my tough questions (well, some of them are) about this new endeavor.
Tom, many of us met you for the first time via The Huffington Post. Before we get into your new project, Pastoral Media Formation, give us a short overview of your “credentials.”
I’ll disclaim right from the start that I have no credentials within the world of the Catholic Church. What I am fortunate to offer, though, is experience in the worlds of traditional radio broadcasting and also print and web journalism.
During my time at Penn State University I spent three years running the campus station from both the programmatic and technical side. I also worked for two years at the defunct Philadelphia Bulletin, which had a 100,000+ readership base, as web editor. Later I was blessed with the opportunity to cover the 2010 Pennsylvania midterms for National Review Online.
I’ve now worked with Catholic communities over the course of the past two years helping them with their web presences, new media efforts, branding and identity, and content strategies. It’s been a fun few years, with a common theme — crafting a compelling and relevant narrative to energize and engage communities.
Give us the basics on Pastoral Media Formation.
Pastoral Media Formation is a subscription service for Catholic pastoral leaders designed to train, equip, and support them in their efforts to foster community, witness, and evangelize in new ways. It’s a continuing curriculum meant to help subscribers with specific solutions. It’s launching this month for any Catholic pastoral leader — pastor, lay staff person, nonprofit director, mission worker — looking to approach new and social media intentionally as a means to strengthen their communities.
What inspired you to start Pastoral Media Formation? Why is it needed?
Americans in the “mission” constituency are not reading printed fliers, and I think the Church is struggling deeply with this global digital shift. We’re still largely doing the same things (print bulletins), posting them digitally and thinking of our work as complete. It’s critical we learn and share strategies and tactics in a purposeful way.
How do you expect to address the wide variety of tech / media skill and knowledge levels amongst your subscribers?
Pastoral Media Formation offers something for everyone in that not every subscriber utilizes every aspect of the service. Some do, most don’t. The weekly memo is enough for some, and others value the weekly webcast or the special interviews.
You’ll offer personal phone calls to subscribers each week. Why did you decide to include this feature?
We all need prompting. We all need friends whispering in our ear. We all need encouragement. Direct follow-up calls are one means to “whisper in the ear” of subscribers, and ensure that solutions are working for them, and that they’re executing on their content strategies.
Many in Catholic ministry circles prefer unpaid (free) services, eg. volunteers. Why is Pastoral Media Formation a paid service? Do you expect this will be a difficult sell?
One of the earliest pieces of advice I received from a priest in my new media work was that “people pay for what they value.” This isn’t to say that “free” isn’t great, but that for pastoral leaders at the parish, nonprofit, and mission level, there’s an increasing awareness that we won’t succeed in our efforts to strengthen our Church and spread the Gospel message if we do so in a haphazard way. An intentional approach to new media and content strategy is needed for real impact in the New Evangelization. I think younger priests and leaders grasp this, and that true community is tremendously difficult with volunteer web committees and occasional status updates.
How do you expect to deliver quality content to Pastoral Media Formation subscribers week after week? From which sources, individuals, etc. are you drawing the content?
Pastoral Media Formation is a cross-disciplinary curriculum, meaning that much of the content is informed by the lessons of secular efforts in content strategy, marketing efforts, and new and social media. The lessons of the world outside the Church can inform our approaches within, and this also helps us avoid some of the insularity that many intra-Church efforts risk, where we’re speaking to the converted rather than being genuinely equipped to convert. But the simplest and most obvious answer is that you’ll have to subscribe to find out.
How is Pastoral Media Formation uniquely Catholic?
It’s very easy for talk about new media and evangelization to become speculative and tactics-driven, devolving into talk about Twitter hashtags or social media buttons. Quality content will find its audience. The Gospel is quality content. The lives of our Catholic shepherds and living saints are a powerful witness. Pastoral Media Formation isn’t an exercise in jargon or geekery, but about using new media and technology to share our human story, the same as we ever have.
Do you have any ultimate aspirations or dreams for Pastoral Media Formation?
There are no grand visions. If pastoral leaders can be better equipped even in a small way each week to foster community, witness, and evangelize, then I hope the cumulative effect can be positive.
Brandon Vogt and Matt Warner and many others in our Church have been visionaries for new media and voices for hope, but there’s still too little room within the institutional church both in dioceses and parishes for faithful and optimistic new media leaders. The Diocese of Springfield is an innovator in creating such roles, but the sooner others can replicate this and create room within the Church for new faces and new voices, the more dynamic and successful our missionary and ministry efforts will become.
Thanks for your time and sharing, Tom. Your words have a needed urgency in them.
Thank you, Angela! You are a guiding light for all of us working in new media.
Readers, what do you think…
Would your parish leaders be willing to try a service like this?