Last Advent the Congregational Church of Belchertown, UCC told a piece of the Christmas story each day in 140 characters or less using twitter. This year, the Reverend Todd Farnsworth is telling the story via YouTube, a forum for sharing and watching videos.
On the Belchertown church website homepage, there is a large illustration of an Advent calendar. Advent Calendars – special calendars used to count down the days to Christmas – are pretty familiar holiday items. The calendars are usually large cards that have pull-open windows. Upon opening the window, you’ll see a seasonal illustration – a picture of a manger scene or reindeer or candy cane. Some calendars hold chocolate figures or miniature toys in their little windows so children can get a special treat every day.
The Belchertown church, however, has come up with a more high-tech Advent Calendar. Just click on each day of the calendar and you’ll see a 1-10 minute video clip housed on YouTube. The clips range from bold, in-your-face messages of “worship fully, spend less, and give more” or more sweet soft messages of Christmas hope. Belchertown posts just one clip a day, so you have to come back each day to see a new message. The messages are posted on Facebook so any followers can get notice of them or post them to their own pages for sharing.
The idea grew out of last year's twitter story. Farnsworth occasionally received YouTube videos from family, friends and parishioners and he wondered what it would be like to get a video a day to be reminded of the season. So he researched the videos in October and after getting feedback from his deacons, fine-tuned the list to reflect themes of HOPE, PEACE, JOY, AND LOVE. “Choosing the videos took me a couple of fun days of casual surfing,” he said. “Fortunately, when you type ‘Christmas’ or ‘Advent’ into YouTube’s search field, you will find hundreds of videos.”
“I also found a program (www.tweetdeck.com) that allows a person to schedule Facebook status posts as well as twitters, and had all things lined up by early November. I gave the url's to my webmaster who created the great page-a-day click that you see on the front page of our website.”
To make the project accessible to folks who are not online, Farnsworth downloaded the videos and created a DVD version. The menu has day numbers on it, which can be clicked so videos can be viewed each day.
“I don't know how many hits a day I get, but folks reference the videos in conversations I have around town,” he said.
Linda Ludwig Gumlaw, one of the clip’s followers wrote on Facebook: “The Advent clip a day calendar gives me a daily little injection of Christmas in a year that has left me without any Christmas in my heart. It is a daily reminder that Jesus is there, even when the rest of the world seems to have left.”
Bob Stephens, another Facebook follower, wrote: “On-line, 24/7 access to thought provoking stories of the season....and no calories to boot! What's better than that?”
“The clips are usually upbeat, colorful and thought provoking,” said Linda. “I think the calendar was a great idea, and yet another way BUCC reaches out to everyone!”
"I think it's important for a church that believes God is still speaking to keep on listening,” said Farnsworth. “By gathering videos from YouTube, we let folks know that we take their visions and expressions of faith seriously (even the funny stuff!). The video-a-day advent calendar exposes us to the many voices which join us in talking about the love of our life...Jesus Christ. What better gift to give ourselves and the community during Advent?"
There aren’t any chocolates in this calendar, but the messages sure are wonderful treats.
Rev. Todd Farnsworth can be reached at the church office at 413-323-7442 or emailed at email@example.com.