To prepare my blog entries each day I do a significant amount of internet searching for research and documentation purposes. Along the way I come to a number of “crash and burn” blog sites, established out of great enthusiasm but whose entries stopped without notice in 2014, or 2011, or even 2008. So undertaking your own blog site entails more challenges than one might think, but for some of you it may be a source of considerable professional satisfaction and ministerial meaning.
First of all, is it costly? My wife and I have a saying when evaluating the cost of a household item or a rare dinner out: “it’s no more expensive than a day of golf.” The same can be said for operating a blog site. I did not know much about the business end of blogs in November last year; I can’t tell you how I settled on the Weebly platform, although it was well reviewed across the net for cost and features. As I recall, the cost of a one-year contract was $25. However, Weebly markets multiple tiers, and I went to a second tier for another $25 annual fee, which allows me to look at the stats of the site. I should add, though, that hidden costs include theology books and subscriptions to Catholic professional journals, but if you are a paid minister, these are usually tax deductible.
It is critical to understand the amount of time and researching that goes into a blog. I recommend against “stream of consciousness” blogging which often degenerates into elongated Face Book posts. I felt from the first that the Café should offer something useful, or inspiring, or funny. This is where time is of the essence: you want to make sure the data is accurate, balanced, and networked to other reliable sources. My guess is that the site takes me about three hours per day to write. Currently I post every day. I felt it was important to get potential visitors to trust that the site was always “alive.” But, I can see a time coming when we go to five or six days per week. One reason is the need to maintain professional competence; at some point you run out of what you know or have read, and the need is always there for professional advancement. But even on off days or study days, I think it is wise for a blogger to just check in and say hello, perhaps provide a link to a good news story, journal article, or essay.
It is important to have a mission statement in your head. Mine had been forming for years. I am on the road from time to time for my diocese providing courses for catechists, Catholic school teachers, parish staff, faith formation ministers, and any Catholic adult who is interested in understanding the Catholic tradition. I find in my courses that there those teaching religion who are struggling with the basic concepts. I have great respect for their efforts and support them as best I can. But I also encounter a number of highly skilled professionals (retired military officers, for example) who clearly have the aptitude and the religious zeal to go further than the limited slate of courses typically offered for “official certification.”
So, I guess the overarching goal of this blog is to encourage and sustain those who “want more,” and even to recruit the accomplished professional into the work of faith formation. I have tried to introduce books, diocesan on-line programs and even college programs for such Catholics. Thus the tectonic shift of the Café has been toward the adult catechist experience. I am not an expert in the teaching of the fall of Rome or the Great Flood to minors; rather, I find myself focusing on the teacher’s own understanding of the development of Church structure or the philosophical myths of early Genesis. A wise generation of theologically informed Catholics represents for me one of the key pillars of the growth of the Church. I would add that my current blog platform offers space for such things as a guided reading program for adults wishing to pursue theological development in a sequential way, as a college or seminary program would undertake. I hope to at least establish this during June.
Another key for a blogger is his or her identity vis-à-vis the Church. God is the ultimate judge, but in a bar fight I will go down swinging professing my Catholicism, broken bottle in hand. However, I am of that breed that believes the best loyalty is an honest take. I admit to admiration of Andrew Greeley, (whose blog site lives on after his 2013 death.) If Baptism does indeed infuse us with the life of God, there is an innate wisdom that comes with this grace. To love the Church is to serve the Church, and service includes honest feedback. There are times in this blog that I have highlighted lack of due process, inadequate academic underpinnings for Church moral interpretations, or just plain sloppy trends in everyday parish life. For someone of my years I have more freedom to talk about these problems. For younger church employees with young mouths to feed, it is harder to play the prophet. I hope I can continue to speak for them.
A final word for future bloggers: it takes years to “catch on” if you have a quality product. If your hope is to be a lively magnet for readers around the world, you will be disappointed. In my own case, I can’t remember the last time I posted on another blog, although I read a number. Remember that good blog sites have easy to use archives; if you encounter a new visitor who likes what you write, the freedom is there to go back and read your corpus of entries, which is why the sweat of each day is so important. Joe DiMaggio put it well; when asked why he continued to play so hard every day, he replied, “There might be a fan out there who has never seen me play.”