By Susan Fawcett
This Advent, you may spend time each day with the daily readings. You may have a devotional book of some sort. You may light the candles on an Advent wreath. Or, you might just find yourself plugging in your iPod.
Last year, a group of young priests, recent graduates from Virginia Theological Seminary, created daily Advent podcasts. The Rev. Lonnie Lacy and the Revs. Casey and Melody Shobe came up with the idea.
Lonnie explains: "When I was in college, only 7 or 8 years ago, we didn't have iPods. Walking across campus, you'd pass people and say hello. Everyone was engaged with one another. But now that I'm on this large campus as a chaplain, everybody walks around with their iPods on and their earbuds in. It struck me as an opportunity because I thought, if people are walking around so isolated because they've got the earbuds in and they're not engaging one another or the world-maybe we can put out some good content that would challenge them to think about what it does mean to engage the world."
Additionally, communicating a spiritual message through a tech-savvy platform meets people where they already are. "We wanted to create something that would be relevant and accessible, to fit into daily life and work," said Melody Shobe. Lonnie agreed. "These podcasts are an attempt to integrate the holy into our daily lives and activities. Driving to Walmart isn't in itself a holy experience. But to invite God with you, to try to shape your perspective in a way that is absolutely contrary to the way Walmart shapes our perspective, IS a holy exercise. There is nothing wrong in the world with people trying to integrate the holy into their everyday ordinary activities."
Just 5-7 minutes long, with a focus on a brief segment of the daily readings from Lesser Feasts and Fasts, and always including some piece of contemporary music, the 'Devo-to-Go' podcasts were available on iTunes. The creators got very positive feedback, and expanded their base of contributors for a Lenten podcast series. By the end of Lent, their listenership was up to 600 people. "What blew my mind," Lonnie said, "is that we had listeners in Japan and South Africa; they must have found it via iTunes. I felt like we were just a bunch of kids playing with headphones and computers. But the fact is that we give these 7-minute glimpses into what life can be life in the midst of a culture that is becoming more isolated. So it's a gift."
Melody said that, as opposed to preaching, podcasting "gives me the freedom to have a little more fun-to be a little more creative in how I respond to a text. It's partially the anonymity of it-I can tell a story about my childhood that I might feel a little less comfortable saying in a worship setting. It's the distance that technology gives." Lonnie added that podcasting can be a surprisingly more intimate medium than preaching: "You're talking right into someone's ear. So, writing for a podcast is more like trying to share something intimate with a close friend, rather than trying to shape the hearts and minds of a large group of people."
Casey Shobe, another of the original creators of Devo-to-Go, said that "As the weeks of Advent went on, the effort of writing and mixing the podcasts became a sort of spiritual practice in itself. It was very fulfilling that something that spoke to my personal spiritual life was then able to speak to others and help them experience the seasons of Advent and Lent."
With an expanded list of over a dozen writers, clergy and lay, from all over
the country, the Devo-To-Go podcasts will be available again this Advent at several locations, including the Diocese of Washington’s online Advent calendar, and on iTunes.
"I think that this exercise has been a good example of how much the young clergy of our church have to offer, both to the church and to the world," Melody said. "Most of the contributors are under 30 years old, and their work is definitely quality. I listened to every one and was fed by every one. It was a gift that the young clergy of the church have given me. It's a reminder that experience isn't the only voice that has to speak; the fresh
perspective and enthusiasm and passion that we have to offer is important too."
Preach it, sister.
The Rev. Lonnie Lacy serves as Episcopal Chaplain to Georgia Southern University and the Assistant Rector at Trinity Episcopal Church, Statesboro, GA. The Rev. Casey Shobe is the Priest Associate, Christ Church Cathedral, Houston, Texas. The. Rev. Melody Wilson Shobe is the Assistant to the Rector at St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church, Houston, Texas. The Rev. Susan Fawcett keeps the blog This Passage. She serves a parish the Diocese of Virginia, and supports the work of the General Convention publication The Center Aisle.