Digital Parish: Digital Ministry, New Wineskins for faith and community

Ready to add some time-tested tips to your digital ministry toolkit? Rev. Joe Webb shares the story of New Wineskins--a community of faith that found itself moving into the new wineskin of all-digital ministry when 2020 struck.

As Joe shares New Wineskins' story of moving into online ministry, we'll get some clarifying ideas about formulating a digital ministry strategy, a richer perspective for answering questions like "what is digital ministry?", and some ideas about why congregations or faith communities need digital ministry.

The Episode

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Show Notes 

Rev. Joe Webb is also a podcaster. He is one of the producers of Accidental Tomatoes.

And the New Wineskins network website is available here.

Ryan Dunn (00:01):

This is pastoring in the Digital Parish, your resource and point of connection for building digital ministry strategy and bringing your congregation into the digital age. It's season five of this podcast. My name is Ryan Dunn. I wasn't sure that we'd get this far, but honestly, we've just scratched the surface of providing answers to questions like, what is digital ministry? What is possible through digital ministry, and how do I build connections and strategy for digital ministry? I really believe that one of the best ways that we can provide answers to these questions about digital ministry is through simply sharing the stories of practitioners who've been there and done that. And we're gonna do quite a bit of that this season, while we also continue to bring new practices in online ministry to light and share some future vision and tips. This episode is about story sharing.

(00:58):

One of the first true digital ministries I came across was a group called New Wineskins. I actually found that community through my fascination with podcasts as I connected with one of the hosts of the Accidental Tomatoes podcast, a fellow named Joe Webb. And Joe started sharing some stories in questions he was encountering in building an online community centered on building bridges between the church and the community at large. So Joe and I started some online correspondence, you know, trading social media comments and messages with each other. And then it was finally time to have a real virtual face-to-face chat with Joe and get the full story of the new Wineskins community. So Joe sat down with his microphone. I sat behind mine, and we had a chat about starting ministry online building digital community, and where we see this digital ministry thing going. Reverend Joe Webb is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church like yours. Truly, he's trained in graphic design, not like yours. Truly, I have no training there. As a writer, interviewer, and public theologian, Joe seeks out the holy in the midst of the mundane. Joe's work is centered in living life on the edge of the inside, seeking to reform and redeem the broken systems that continue to colonize and oppress the Imago de or image of God inherent in all of us. So, <laugh>, that is some heavy theological lifting. Let's meet Reverend Joe Webb.

(02:39):

Joe Webb, thanks so much for joining us on pastoring in the Digital Parish. This is kind of a weird moment because I listened to Accidental Tomatoes, which is the podcast that you produce and have followed new wine skins online and your work that you're doing online as well as just following you online. And you and I have had a a number of kind of, of asynchronous conversations and commenting back at each other. If somebody were to ask me if I know Joe Webb, I'd be like, oh, yeah, sure. We're all digital ministry buddies, and yet in this moment I realize like we've never sat down together for a synchronous conversation.

Joe Webb (03:13):

Yeah, that's true.

Ryan Dunn (03:14):

I'm wondering, does does this kind of situation pop up for you a lot in your line of ministry these days?

Joe Webb (03:21):

You know, it kind of does since since new wines, and we'll talk a little bit, I, I guess about kind of how it all evolved, but since we became totally you know, fully online ministry, I, I'm having a lot of those situations where somebody that I've been in a lot of online conversations with, you know, in chats or instant messages or whatever and then all of a sudden we're on a Zoom call together or something, we're like, oh, you have a face

Ryan Dunn (03:47):

<Laugh>. Yeah. They say, oh, that's, you know, your voice is not, you know, yeah, yeah. Face isn't what I match to the voice. Right? Yeah.

Joe Webb (03:56):

You don't sound like Santa Claus

Ryan Dunn (03:59):

<Laugh>.

Joe Webb (04:00):

Yeah.

Ryan Dunn (04:02):

Well, let's get into new wine skins. You started that way back in 2014, like where did it come from?

Joe Webb (04:08):

Yeah, so you know, if I'd have had fresh expressions language at the time, yeah. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> that probably would've been the way I would've described it at the time. I, I was part of kind of a really loosely affiliated just group of friends from across several different denominational backgrounds who we, we were just getting really frustrated with the institutional church's inability to just have really hard, honest, vulnerable conversations, you know, to create space for people to talk about, you know, openly talk about things like human sexuality and racism and, and all of that kind of stuff. And so we kept, you know, we, we thought, you know, do we just go off and plant a new church? This was all, this was before I was ordained. I'm an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church now, but this was all sort of when I was in the

Ryan Dunn (04:59):

Deacons.

Joe Webb (04:59):

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I was kind of in the candidacy process, I think at the time. I, I was in seminary at the time and hadn't, church planting was not really on my radar nor was it on the radar of any of us who were in that conversation, but it seemed like we've gotta do something new, though our existing structures aren't really working. And just kind of, you know, very organically. I, I, what ha I had, I was doing freelance graphic design work at the time, and one of my clients was a brew pub. I did, you know, print work and website design and stuff for them. And they're, they were located in Marietta, Ohio, which is right across the river from right across the Ohio River from where I live. And I was sitting there, my habit was to go in there every Friday for lunch and talk to the owners and strategize about, you know, whatever projects we were working on mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

(05:48):

And so I, I was sitting there having lunch and I was texting one of the people in this sort of loosely affiliated group of friends trying to figure out what we were gonna do. And we, there was kind of, there's a, a liberal arts college in the town, and so a lot of us were thinking, well, you know, college students is a good place to connect for these con conversations. And, but we knew we couldn't get them to come to a church. And so we were just trying to think mm-hmm. <Affirmative> third, third space kind of things. And so I just kind of randomly asked one of the owners as I was having this text messaging conversation with my friend, like they, they've got like a, a banquet room off to the side of the main restaurant. I said, how often do y'all rent that out? Like, on a Sunday night? And she said, almost never. If you want up for a church thing, it's yours, <laugh>, you know? Okay. Pay attention to this moment. Yeah.

Ryan Dunn (06:34):

Police spirit, just, yeah. Yeah. Well, guess what you're doing, Joe.

Joe Webb (06:37):

And, you know, now through working with, with fresh expressions kinds of things a lot, I recognize like, that's that persons of peace sort of conversation we have in that world. Like, there's somebody who gives you entry into mm, either a physical space or a social space that you might, might not otherwise have accessed. And so that was, that was in April of 2014, the first Sunday of May, 2014. I just sent out an email to like 30 people that I thought might be interested in gathering at this thing. And about 35 people showed up <laugh>. And I just said, you know, we're just, we're j we're gonna drink beer and talk about Jesus. We're <laugh>, you know, there's no heavy agenda here. It's not gonna be a worship service, but we want to give people a safe space to have these conversations that they feel like they can't have in their traditional church settings.

(07:25):

 And a lot there were, there were some college students. I had some friends that were on staff at the college, and so they invited some students, and it was all of these people who either knew me or were with somebody who knew me, but they didn't know each other. And, and what really, what really captured my imagination from that first night was the level of vulnerability that people were willing to go to, to have these conversations, like right from the get-go to, to say things in front of a bunch of strangers just because they were so desperate to have these really meaningful, important conversations. And so that's, we, we really knew right from the start. We were onto something there. We, we weren't really sure what it was. So that's kind of how that thing got started. Yeah.

Ryan Dunn (08:06):

And did it stay in that kind of rhythm of, of meeting in the brew pub for the next six years?

Joe Webb (08:11):

Yeah, it did. It did. We you know, we went through some different sort of format changes and stuff, but essentially it was always just a facilitated conversation. Like, just pass the mic around the room you know, let people ask questions and, and just try to get some dialogue going. Occasionally I'd have guest speakers come in or or we would try to bring somebody in by video. And so, you know, just to break things up, we had musicians and artists that would share their work, and we'd have conversation around that. But essentially that's what it was for, yeah. From, from 2014 until March of 2020. Yeah, we met every other Sunday night in a brew pub and, and drank beer and shared a meal together and talked about Jesus and, and various various theological and social cultural topics and things like that.

Ryan Dunn (08:57):

Right on. Well, we don't have to talk about what happened to create change in 2020, but change happened. Was there, once you switched to a meeting online, was there more beer or less beer <laugh>?

Joe Webb (09:10):

I think there was a lapse, honestly, like, that kind of surprised me at first. I, I realized really quickly that I couldn't drink beer and facilitate a Zoom call with 30 people on it. Like, I just,

Ryan Dunn (09:20):

Yeah. <Laugh> too much going on, right?

Joe Webb (09:23):

Yeah, yeah, yeah. <Laugh>. But but really Zoom was like a really natural move for us. And it took, you know, there was a learning curve associated with it, obviously, but mm-hmm. <Affirmative> because it was already that kind of format where it was just facilitated dialogue. Zoom became kind of the digital version of passing the microphone around the room. And so I kind of, we kind of figured out a way to kind of recognize when people wanted to speak without it getting chaotic and you know, just kind of figured out how, what that was gonna look like, that that didn't take very long, like just a couple of months. So it was a pretty a, as those kinds of things go, it was a pretty seamless transition to, to digital

Ryan Dunn (10:05):

In those first couple months. Did you anticipate that this was just gonna be a temporary thing? Oh, yeah. And you were gonna go back to the

Joe Webb (10:11):

Brew pub? We did. Yeah. Early on it was, you know, everybody thought, well, this is gonna be over in, you know, 60 to 90 days and we'll go back. And so that was, that was always kind of the original thought. I think that was a thought for everybody. You know, we're just, this is a stop gap to get us through this little short blip on the radar, and then we'll, you know, get on with our lives. And then not very long in, like, probably I'd seen, probably early by June, maybe of 2020 a lot of our fo I was starting to hear, like privately from a lot of folks saying, you know, we, we actually really liked this, doing it online. Do you think we could keep doing it? I'm, I'm open to anything I, I always said with new wineskins that I was gonna, I was just gonna let it be what it was gonna be.

(10:58):

 And if it quit making sense, then we would stop doing it, you know? So I never really tried to force my own kind of agenda on it or anything, and so I was always open to that. And I think that was about the time that we went from every other week to every other week. So when we moved online, I kind of realized that in order to have some consistency, we probably needed to do it weekly instead of every other week, which is what we had been doing at the Brew Pub. And so we started doing that, and I really quickly got like overwhelmed with trying to come up with new topics every single week. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. So I started to invite some people that I knew. I just had this realization like, <laugh>, oh wait, we're not bound by proximity anymore. And I've got friends all over the country that have really interesting things to say that I couldn't bring in, you know, to Mariet Ohio to do a night, but I can, I can get 'em on a Zoom call.

(11:49):

And so I did the month of June of 2020, I had a guest speaker every week just to give myself kind of a break and to experiment with the format. And that was when our folks started realizing, oh, this has opening up whole new opportunities for us that we didn't have when we were, you know, in person together. And the oth the other thing that happened with that about the same time was several of the folks that I invited in as guest speakers got connected to the community and stuck around mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. So and they didn't live here, you know, so and so we, you, we kind of, we were faced with the decision, if we go back in person, we're gonna shut out. You know, at that point it was probably half a dozen people that weren't, that didn't live in this area here where I live.

(12:35):

 And, and so in order to keep going, we had to, we were we tried to think for a little while about is there a way we could do kind of a both and where we could include these folks that aren't here, but still be in person? And it just, like, none, none of those ideas ever really got any legs. And so we just decided, you know what? Let's just, let's lean into it. Let's, let's commit to making this an online community and making it, you know, a really robust community. And so yeah, that, that's sort of how we landed on, on kind of permanently living in the digital space. Well,

Ryan Dunn (13:11):

Here on the precipice of 2023, as we're recording this, what does the rhythm of the new wineskins community life look like?

Joe Webb (13:20):

That's an interesting question cuz we've been through some different rhythms as communities kind of grow and evolve. And I've always, again, I've, I've always had a, a strong commitment to letting it be as organic as possible. What what has kind of evolved, and it's kind of surprised me in some ways, is that we have we, we've adopted, we've evolved into a theology of worship that's rooted in this kind of very authentic, very vulnerable conversation. We begin to see these conversations that we have as holy and, and the, the conversations themselves are an act of worship. So yeah, we don't have, you know, two hymns and a responsive reading and a lot of the liturgical things you might commonly think about. But if you ask anyone at the end of one of our, you know, Sunday night gatherings if they've had church and if they've been to church, they'd say, absolutely.

(14:14):

You know, we, we definitely had church here tonight. So the, the rhythm has really kind of been rooted in that. And also a real intentional focus on our, our individual and our collective spiritual practices and how those inform the way we occupy the spaces in the worlds that we live in. Right. and so to think about not just, you know, how do I use prayer or meditation or scripture reading as a personal devotional practice, but how do I do that in the context of a community? How do we do those things both alone and together, together but not just for what they do for our internal spiritual life, but what they do to transform the world around us. And as folks have bought into that, and again, that's over time, not overnight, right? That mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, it takes a while for folks to kind of get on board and really kind of grasp what that means, be able to articulate it in their own way. But it's, it's, I think it's starting to bear some fruit as I see the way relationships are. My, my favorite thing, I was telling one of the folks in our conference offices not very long ago. My favorite thing is when I see people that I see on new wineskins talking to each other online with no, it's not about what we're doing on Sunday night,

Ryan Dunn (15:33):

You know?

Joe Webb (15:33):

Yeah. But they're, they're starting to make these real friendships, and that's what, that's always my answer. What people say is digital community, real community. And I can, I witness it every day. It's absolutely real community, real friendships are being formed. And, and yes, some of these people still have not seen each other's face except maybe on this Sunday night Zoom gathering. But they're, they're in conversation with each other daily and they're doing good things in the world daily. And, and I don't have to get involved in that. Like, I just try to create a space where that can, can naturally happen.

Ryan Dunn (16:06):

Yeah. Well, that excites me because that is a particular challenge for some of the work that I do in trying to foster nonfacilitated conversations. Yeah. Yeah. So I'm curious, Joe, how have you helped impel that a little, or comp compelled that a little bit?

Joe Webb (16:24):

I think a lot of it comes from the way our, our format is organized week to week. Because because we are in dialogue with each other, we are in conversation with each other. People are getting to know each other just in that space because they're not, they're not sitting back in a pew just kind of downloading a message, you know kind of consumer especially. They're, everybody is participating in the thing that we're doing, and so they're getting to know each other's hearts and souls right then and there. And so it's a kind of a natural extension for people, you know, they discover common interests. We have one member who is a woodworker and he, he makes these beautiful like bowls and spoons and stuff like that. And another member who lives in West Virginia, but 50 miles away happened to have some trees on her property that needed to come down.

(17:18):

Right. And so they, with noth with no intervention from me whatsoever, realized they had this, hell, here's something in common. And so the, the guy that makes the bowls that lives across town from me, you know, drives an hour to, to this other person's place as they're cutting down these trees and takes some of the wood, goes back and, you know, makes some of his things, bowls, whatever, and and then gifts them back to the <laugh> to the person that owned the property. And then, and then we used we did some fundraisers with some of that stuff to, to help the, the, the guy that's the woodworker had been previously involved through some mission work with a family in Nicaragua that the husband died of Covid. And so we kind of collectively came together to rally around them and, and do some aids. So we used, you know, he sold some of his work as fundraiser, but it was just these really organic connections that started to happen. I've got two or three members who have just gone off and started a prayer group on their own. And it's not a new wineskins prayer group, it's just a woman from Parkersburg, West Virginia, and a woman from Wise County, Virginia just decided we really like each other. We've got a lot in common, you know, let's, let's get together and start this thing. So, yeah. Wow.

Ryan Dunn (18:34):

Yeah. That kind of exponential. Yeah. growth.

Joe Webb (18:37):

Yeah. Well,

Ryan Dunn (18:39):

And speaking of conversation is, we get into Zoom, you mentioned being able to foster conversations in that space. And for a lot of us, we fall into this trap of there being Joe, the presenter, right? And Ryan, the resident know-it-all, and a couple other people, and then a lot of other flies on the wall. So how do you foster some conversation that moves past just those folks who tend to dominate <laugh>?

Joe Webb (19:06):

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. That's that's, that's always kind of I'm trying to think what's the right word for that. It's, it's not easy. Like you're, you're kind of walking a tight route because you want to get people to participate, and there always are those voices that are just willing and ready to talk anytime mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. but I, I think just because we've fostered an environment where people really, genuinely love and respect each other I think that's what it starts with. And so even the folks who might have a tendency to be a dominant voice in the room have kind of learned, again, over time, not overnight, but they've kind of learned, oh, if I'm talking all the time, then that means that she doesn't get a chance, right? And, and so sometimes we get those awkward pauses while you're waiting for someone to speak, and that, that's where I step in and say, you know, I youth used to be a youth minister.

(19:55):

I can wait longer than you can back <laugh>. But yeah, so it's so that, I mean, it's, it takes, sometimes it takes a little bit of intervention on my part. Sometimes I might have to interrupt somebody and say, oh, I noticed that so-and-so wants to say something that, can I interrupt you for a minute and give them a chance? But that happens less and less, you know, as we spend more time together there are always a few folks who just almost never speak up. But what, what we've learned is when they do speak up, we better be paying attention because they've got something really important to say, you know? So. Yeah.

Ryan Dunn (20:31):

And you mentioned the conversation becomes worship for you in those Zoom meetings. Is there a form of order or even liturgy or litany to you, your conversations, you

Joe Webb (20:42):

Know, there? Yeah. I mean, liturgy is just the work of the people, right? Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. So what, what is the work of the people in this particular context? It's, it has surprised me because our community has really made up, I, I, I use the term spiritual exiles a lot to describe the folks in our community. It's a lot of people who have had issues with the institutional church for whatever reasons. There's real harm and trauma in some places. There's other folks who just are bored with it and want something new and different. So there's a lot of reasons that people come to a space like like new wineskins to have these conversations. But it is, you do develop routines, you know, you just, you can't help it. And so if I was to say what is, you know, somebody was to ask me, what does your liturgy look like?

(21:27):

What does the work of the people look like in New wineskins? Generally it starts with the presentation of a topic, either by me or through a video or something, or a guest speaker. And then like, a lot of times I'll be armed with like a list of questions just to start a conversation. I very rarely have to use those, cuz most time people, you know, will have a reaction to whatever's been presented and, and kick off the conversation. And then my job just becomes really to try to be a facilitator you know, to, so we're, our, our particular habit is if you want to say something, you unmute yourself, you mute when you're not speaking, and if you want to talk, you unmute yourself. And then I literally keep a handwritten list on a yellow legal path beside me of the order that I see people on mute.

(22:11):

And then I just call on people to talk. Oh, really? Okay. now, every now and then, we break that habit and allow some spontaneous dialogue. Zoom just isn't very well constructed for that, though. You know, when two people are talking at the same time, you don't hear either of them. And, and people have kind learned that, so, so it does require a little bit of management. But that's kind of what, that's sort of what our, our habit, our rhythm, you know, on those Sunday nights looks like. And then a lot of times I use the work of the people website a lot for video resources. Sure. And they have some really beautiful, like, really short, like 60 to 92nd just little benediction pieces that's a piece of poetry or a piece of scripture with music. And a lot of times we'll close with something like that, just just to kind of give people a chance to settle their brains down and transition back into their, their, their offline life, I guess, <laugh>.

Ryan Dunn (23:09):

Yeah. Well, if the Zoom piece is kind of the central practice of the new Wineskins community, are there other practices that you're looking to invite people into throughout the week?

Joe Webb (23:19):

Yeah, so so Zoom would be the synchronous part of our community. Yeah. and then we have, you mentioned the accidental Tomatoes. We've got a, a website there with a podcast and a blog. And so we alternate weeks podcast, one week blog the following week. And I've got a team of writers some colleagues here from the West Virginia Conference that write content. And but that's, so that's the asynchronous part. That's the primary asynchronous part is we create and curate content for folks to, to engage with. And then the, the piece that pulls all that together is really, right now it's mostly our Facebook groups. You know, so we've got Facebook pages for both new wineskins and accidental tomatoes, but then we've got an Accidental Tomatoes Conversations group, and we've got a new wines, or we call it wineskins workshops mm-hmm. <Affirmative>

(24:10):

Is the, is the group page for new wineskins. And that's where that, the asynchronous dialogue between Sunday nights happens. And so, you know, I'll post, you know, a new podcast episode and try to get some conversation going about that, or other people will listen and post something. The wineskins workshop page is, is really right now the more active of those two. That's one of my goals for 2023 is gonna be to increase the activity on the accidental tomatoes conversation group page. But that the new white wineskins workshop, a lot of folks are starting to, you know, without any prompting from me starting to post articles and memes and stuff like that to, to get some conversation going. So and so, you know, it's, it's, it's hard to define exactly who our community is because there's sort of all of these moving parts.

(24:57):

There are, you know, the 30 to 40 folks who are somewhat regular attendees on our Sunday Night Zoom gatherings. And then there, there are the folks who connect with the content that may never show up on a Sunday night, but they're still, I I still consider them to be part of our community. Right. Because they are people who who are engaging with, with what we're putting out into the world. And so, I may never see some of these people on a Sunday night, but I'll have a regular dialogue with them online. Yeah. So, yeah.

Ryan Dunn (25:31):

Hmm. And how does this work in with your own personal flow of life? Is new wineskins your prime, like main gig for ministry? Yeah,

Joe Webb (25:43):

It kind of, it's, it's, it's a long story, so I won't tell all of it. But I, I was working on conference staff here in West Virginia in 2018 and 2019, and in late 2019 I went to my bishop and I said, you know, I've got this idea for online ministry, and this was before pandemic was even on our radar. Yeah. but I'd watched my daughters, so I've got a 30 and a 24 year old daughter, so a millennial and a Gen Z kid. And, but I would watch how, how they were parts of these really robust online communities, and I kept thinking, there's, there's a space for faith and spirituality here. There's a space for the church here. And it, I knew it was already happening in some places. But I didn't see anything like what I, when I saw them experiencing, you know, where they were, you know, making genuine friendships with people that they were, they had never met in per in person.

(26:39):

 But they were carrying on conversations with not like texting each other all the time and Yeah. Yeah. All of that. So I went to, I went to my bishop, I said, I've got, it's kind of a crazy idea. I'm not sure exactly what shape it's gonna take, but I feel like this is a, a place for, and especially for a deacon, you know to be able to kind of be entrepreneurial like that mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. and so the, the podcast, I was already doing New wineskins, but that was never really, that was always just sort of a side hustle that I didn't get paid for. It was just, you know, it's a passion project. Yeah. It was. It was. And so that was, and that's kind of what, in, in hindsight, that's kind of what makes it not a fresh expression, because it was never rooted in a legacy church.

(27:20):

It was just a project that me and some friends went off and did on the side mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. and so I kind of had an idea that we might be able to pull those things together, but I wasn't sure how. And so the Bishop appointed me to this new sort of digital ministry space as a church planter, because that's the only <laugh> language we have for doing anything like that within the discipline. And and then also like a halftime gig working with our congregational vitality office here in the West Virginia conference to help other people start to imagine what new communities might look like and like, because we just knew we had to start doing that work. And so in, in some ways it was the pandemic that sort of brought all of these streams together. I kept seeing new wineskins and the Accidental Tomatoes podcasts and stuff as these like separate but parallel tracks and the pandemic brought them all together in a way. I don't know that I could ever contrived that on my own. And maybe, maybe part of that is just being willing to, you know, to be curious and, and think creatively and think innovatively about, okay, here, here are the circumstances we're in now, what are we gonna do with it? So that's, that's sort of how that all came together. And yeah, so, so that is, it's at least half of my full-time gig is to do this kind of weird <laugh> off the wall sort of ministries.

Ryan Dunn (28:43):

Well, in terms of future thinking, what is one goal that you have for the new year to see happen in New Wineskins?

Joe Webb (28:52):

Well, again, to, you know, just to continue to build that asynchronous community development. You know, I mentioned that we've got some folks who have been sort of very organically going off and starting some new kind of generative things, which that to me, that's the, the ideal situation when I don't have to manage that as a pastor or a leader. But I try to create a space where folks feel free and inspired, you know, to do that kind of work. I've, one of our members is a member of the disabled community up in upstate New York, and he and I have been having a lot of conversations about what would sort of a new wineskin spinoff look like for disabled folks specifically with him as a leader. So that's been, we've been kind of, we don't really have any firm plans about that yet, but that's certainly a dream that, that he and I both hold, that there might be that, that might be sort of the next, like more formal sort of generative ministry that grows outta new wineskins.

(29:52):

But really, I mean just continuing to to help folks find a safe space where, where they can have these conversations where they can explore spirituality without somebody beating their own theology over their heads, <laugh>, you know? Yeah. and, and really, you know, one of the things that we've, again, very organically grown into is this focus on liberation is sort of our central core value. I would've said, if you'd asked me this a year ago, I would've said we were a justice oriented community. I think we've now, because I see an evolution from justice deliberation, I think it's the natural path. And, and I'd say we are, we are making that evolution. So what can we to really continue to grow and what can we do as a community of people both synchronously online on Sunday nights and asynchronously through this other content how can we inspire people to to take the liberation message of Jesus really seriously and and live that out in our lives?

Ryan Dunn (30:58):

Hmm. Yeah. That's one of the challenges of the digital space, as I see it moving forward and taking the things that we learn. It's a great forum for, for learning and development. But for some reason there's this sort of cognitive block when we try to think about, yeah, how do we, how do we take this online stuff and put it into action in the real world? Are are there ways that you're kind of envisioning that happening in new wineskins? I

Joe Webb (31:24):

Mean, we, we regularly challenge each other, I think, to, to ask that que like, okay, how can we take this theory that we're, because it's fun to talk about theological theories, right? It's mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, it's all well and good.

Ryan Dunn (31:36):

Well, for some of us Yeah. <Laugh>. Yeah. Well,

Joe Webb (31:37):

Yeah, yeah. For, for nerds like us. Yeah, yeah. But, but to really challenge each other to say, okay, how do we, how do we take this conversation we've been having tonight about racism, say, you know in a very predominantly white, you know, community made up of people who come from predominantly white areas and communities. How do we take a conversation about racism and and put that into practice in some ways in our life outside of the digital world, you know, in the physical world in ways that bring about justice and liberation for oppressed and marginalized people to the point now where like, we've echoed that so many times that it's really become kind of part of our dna mm-hmm. <Affirmative> part of our ethos as a community to, to, to no longer be satisfied with with just having conversations, which honestly, in 20 14, 20 15, we were perfectly satisfied to just have the conversations mm-hmm. <Affirmative>.

(32:37):

 but as you evolve, you start to think, well, if I'm not doing anything with all the, if all I'm doing is just downloading information that makes me feel good about myself that really doesn't change the world. I, our, you know, our our mission statement, you know, has, has that to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world statement in it for, for us United Methodists. And I, I've, I've always taken that transformation of the world piece of that very seriously. How, how do we make a difference in people's lives? How do we make people's lives, you know, actually better as a result of what we do, not just make us feel better but, but make the world around us a better place to live.

Ryan Dunn (33:18):

Mm. That's deacon talk right there. Yeah. It

Joe Webb (33:20):

Really is. Yeah. It really <laugh>. Can you, can you tell, I'm filling out my annual deacon paperwork at this

Ryan Dunn (33:26):

One <laugh> there, its <laugh>. I'm glad that we could provide a lab for you to work some of Yes.

Joe Webb (33:31):

Yes, indeed. Yes indeed.

Ryan Dunn (33:33):

<Laugh> <laugh>. It's great. Well, well, Joe, this has been a pleasure. I, I appreciate you sharing the story with us and yeah. Sharing this time with us as well. Oh,

Joe Webb (33:44):

It's my, it's my favorite thing to talk about, really. It's just the people that I've got to meet and and be in community with that have changed my life, you know and have given me, you know, new ways of focusing on, especially on these issues of justice and liberation. So anytime I get to tell, I don't think of it as telling my story, I think of it as telling their story, you know?

Ryan Dunn (34:05):

Yeah. I'm glad you brought that up. Before we close this thing out, who are some of the people who you've met through New wineskins? Are they they kind of recovering church folk, or?

Joe Webb (34:13):

Yeah, most of them are surprisingly, a lot of clergy attend I would say on any given Sunday night, 20 to 30% of the people in the Zoom call are clergy of various denominations. Mostly e either mostly mainline folks, Methodist, ucc, Presbyterian folks. But so that, again, that's kind of a very deaconing sort of ministry too, to to say, you know, how, how, how are we helping our folks who are, you know, assigned to our legacy churches and our traditional churches how do we connect them with this world of, of folks who are feeling exiled from the institution. And so that, that's been really cool. And then just some of the folks that I've had as guest speaker a guy named Drew Willard from Florida, who's a, a retired U c C pastor I, who I met at the Wild Goose Festival in 2019 originally.

(35:13):

 And he's one of those folks that I asked him in as a, a guest speaker, and he's become, you know, a fixture in the community. Really interesting guy. Chris Wiley is the guy in New York that I mentioned that's part of the disabled community up there. He's, he is a, a, a hardcore activist for, for his people. Very involved in Poor People's Campaign and which has led to meeting people like Liz o' Harris that's part of The Poor People's Campaign. And Shane Clayborn, somebody I met through the podcast so not necessarily a new Wineskins connection but also met him at, at Wild Goose and managed to get him on the podcast. So Tom or was one of our most recent guests on Accidental Tomatoes. He also did a guest appearance at New Wineskins who's been doing a lot of this work in open and relational theology, which I just find fascinating, you know, as a, as a theology nerd, trying to unpack what's, what's this stream of thought, you know? So, yeah, just, it's, it's really opened some doors to meet some really cool folks and people like you, Ryan, and, and other people in the digital art friend, Nathan Webb and mm-hmm. <Affirmative> folks like that who are, who are doing this work and who, you know, we can kind of bounce ideas off of and which helps us all grow, I think. So. Yeah.

Ryan Dunn (36:25):

Absolutely. Yeah. Oh, I know what <laugh>, here we go. What, this is what I wanted to ask. For those of us who are looking to take kind of the user view of the ministry that you're up to, where's a good first contact point?

Joe Webb (36:44):

Probably the best places to go just to our website, new wineskins network.org. It, I'm in the process of rebuilding that website, so at times it, it looks a little clunky, but we're, we're working on something there, but that, you know, all of the contact information is there. And then our Facebook page and our, again, the Wineskins Workshops group are really good places to just start engaging in the conversations. And then, you know, a associated with that, the Accidental Tomatoes site, and tho all those sites are all linked to each other. But, so if, if you come in through the content side, the accidental Tomatoes side is the place to get connected. And if you come into the kind of the community side, the synchronous community side the new wineskins network.org page.

Ryan Dunn (37:31):

Awesome. Well, Joe, thanks so much. Thanks,

Joe Webb (37:34):

Ryan. I appreciate it. I appreciate it. Always good to, to have these conversations and hope, I always hope that these things inspire somebody else to have like the next great big idea, you know? Yeah, right. That the rest of us can learn from, right?

Ryan Dunn (37:45):

Absolutely. Yeah.

Joe Webb (37:46):

Yeah.

Ryan Dunn (37:48):

A couple websites worth checking out accidental tomatoes with an e on tomatoes.com, and of course, new wineskins network.org. If you want to check out more episodes of pastoring in the digital parish, that would be so awesome. My theory of podcast expansion is much like youth group grow. More people show up because people show up. So listening to another episode is a way of showing up here. A good follow up to this episode might be building an app-based ministry and online community with Pastor Abigail Browka. Again, I'm Ryan Dunn. I'd like to thank resourceumc.org, the online destination for leaders throughout the United Methodist Church. They make this podcast possible, and of course, they host our website, pastoring in the digital parish.com, where you can find more online resources for ministry. If you want to connect, check out our Pastoring in the Digital Parish group on Facebook, and you can also send me questions and ideas for future sessions at [email protected] Another session comes out next week. In the meantime, peace.

 

 

 

On this episode

Brad Hill of Gloo

Rev. Joe Webb is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church and hosts Accidental Tomatoes, as well as coordinates the New Wineskins network. As a writer, interviewer, and public theologian, Joe seeks out the holy in the midst of the mundane. Joe’s work is centered in living life on the edge of the inside, seeking to reform and redeem the broken institutional systems that continue to colonize and oppress the imago dei inherent in us all.

Ryan Dunn, co-host and producer of the Compass Podcast

Our proctor/host is the Rev. Ryan Dunn, a Minister of Online Engagement for United Methodist Communications. Ryan manages the digital brand presence of Rethink Church, co-hosts and produces the Compass Podcast, manages his personal brand, and obsesses with finding ways to offer new expression of grace.