Have you ever read Humans of New York aka HONY? HONY began as a photography project in 2010 aspiring to take 10,000 photos of New Yorkers. It evolved when founder, Brandon Stanton, also began sharing quotes and stories from the people he photographed. The project caught on and now has 20 million followers on social media, two coffee table books, and a lot of imitators. More on that in a moment.
Some of you know that I received my Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising from the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving through the Lily School of Philanthropy at IUPUI. I might add, I highly recommend the program.
One of the benefits of being an ECRF graduate is “Summer Office Hours.” Once a week, we’d gather on Zoom to learn from each other. A few weeks ago, the topic was “Using Social Media in Stewardship.” As usual, there were people from all over the country representing various religious and denominational backgrounds. Such wisdom and knowledge!
Back to HONY: Rev. Emilie Boggis, one of two clergy at Beacon Unitarian Universalist in Summit, NJ shared her church’s social media story. She told us about Beacon’s take on HONY. Theirs is aptly named: Humans of Beacon.
I asked Rev. Boggis if she’d share the genesis of and more details about Humans of Beacon. Here’s what she had to say:
Have you ever listened to a eulogy at a memorial service and been awe-struck by the stories you heard about your friend, your neighbor, even your parent? These are stories you wish you’d heard when they were alive! Humans of Beacon seeks to uncover those stories while we're in the land of the living.
The idea for Humans of Beacon began during the early days of the pandemic. We were isolated and, in our congregation, people were longing to be with one another to make meaning of this life-altering time. One of our young adults, Emily, had been sent home from university because of COVID. She wrote to us asking: "What can I do to help?" We asked Emily to lead our social media effort. Luckily, we had a tiny amount of money in our budget to pay her.
Emily brought to us “Humans of Beacon.” We asked Beacon members to share a story of the impact of Beacon's mission in their lives (you can view that page here). People also shared stories about the monthly theme (e.g., “On Risk,” “On Generosity,” on “Saying ‘Yes’ and ‘No’”) explaining how the theme intersected with their lives (you can view that page here).
We then asked our lay leaders to listen for stories on their endless Zoom calls and invite those people to share their story with the larger community. Emily showed us a photo of a Beacon member with a compelling direct quote that invited people to read more. One click, and you'd be able to hear the full story, no matter what your platform.
Humans of Beacon was born!
When Emily returned to college, a new retiree jumped into the work. She and a growing team continue to collect stories. Our volunteer social media team schedule them on Instagram and our administrator uploads them to the website. Humans of Beacon can be viewed in multiple forms – showcasing the photos on Instagram, reading the story on our website, or hearing the person share it via video during our offering (for an example, start viewing at the 7:45 mark).
Again and again, it helps our very real humans here at Beacon feel connected to one another and our stories.
I might add that it also helps people who are interested in exploring your congregation get a feel for what it stands for and the variety of people who attend.
Something like Humans of Beacon is a fabulous way:
1. For people to get to know each other
2. To realize the impact of the congregation (and the importance of supporting it)
3. To reach people beyond the church (i.e., evangelism).
Stories matter. They speak of what is important in our lives and what touches our hearts. Thanks to Humans of Beacon…you now have a new avenue to consider as you share your stories in a fresh way. Thanks be to God.