Conference launches @umcna.org email addresses for clergy to help strengthen the connection

6/12/2013

Working in cooperation with the North Alabama Conference Board of Ordained Ministry (BOOM), the Conference Information Technology department is now providing an email address for each North Alabama Conference clergy person. This action has long been discussed and dreamed about by the extended cabinet and the leadership of BOOM. This year it has become a reality.

Each North Alabama clergy person now has a professional email address using their name and the domain @umcna.org. These new email addresses are intended for ministry/professional use throughout a clergy person’s ministry and retirement.

Rev. Don Neal, Executive Director of the Board of Ordained Ministry, says, “A major benefit from the standpoint of the annual conference is that this uniform email system for all conference clergy and leaders allows us to send important conference information and notices to all the clergy and leaders with a high degree of assurance that it will be received. We will not be dealing with a multitude of different internet service providers who each have their own protocols and requirements that delay or prevent our email from reaching the intended recipients”

He adds, “From the standpoint of conference clergy and leaders this new email means never having to update your email address in or with the conference no matter where you move or how many times you move. The conference email address is good the day you move. It will be one less thing to worry about getting set up after a change of appointments for both the clergy person or leader as well as for all of the conference offices who need to communicate with clergy and leaders.”

After careful research, the conference chose Google for Nonprofits to power these new email accounts.

Director of Information Technology Pete Banish explains,”Google For Nonprofits allows us to bring our conference together connectionally in a new way. More importantly, we are able to do this by persistent, cost efficient means. Google’s ecosystem isn’t constrained by operating systems or devices which allows deployment success with the greatest flexibility. With Google’s global redundancy, our email reliability will have 99.9% uptime and not subject to physical catastrophes from inclement weather to hardware failures.”

A benefit of all clergy using the same email system is it will allow each person to have the same technological capabilities – no more questioning if someone can receive attachments or html formatted emails. Plus, it no longer will matter what size church a clergy is serving, he or she will have the same email capabilities as all other North Alabama clergy at no cost to that clergy person or the congregation.

Although some clergy have questioned the need for an “additional email account,” the @umcna.org email accounts have been set up to follow clergy throughout their ministry and retirement. So long term, @umcna.org emails reduce the need for clergy to set up new email accounts with each new appointment. Plus, the conference Google For Nonprofits account actually provides a whole suite of applications which will provide opportunities for greater connection and community among conference clergy and leaders.

Banish says, “Today’s email clients and mobile devices are designed to handle more than one email account.  In fact, during Annual Conference, I discovered many were already dealing with multiple email accounts; but, wanted to either consolidate to a single account or segregate their ministry from their personal accounts. Our hope is this initiative will provide one permanent email account for all their ministry use simplifying daily email management.”

Another benefit of clergy using the same email system is it will increase deliverability of important correspondences among clergy and their districts and the conference.

Rev. Neal notes, “In an emergency situation such as the storms we have experienced in recent years, the conference should be able to more quickly and thoroughly relay accurate information as well as to let folks throughout the conference know how they can best respond as soon as possible.”

Email is a main source of communication within the North Alabama Conference. Each week clergy get important information from their District, the Bishop and other conference leaders. If a clergy person does not receive emails he or she misses vital information. As email use has grown so has “SPAM” and junk email. In response, many email providers are constantly changing their filters and often categorize valid emails as SPAM or block them all together. This has caused a breakdown in necessary communication for some North Alabama clergy.

“Our Conference departments and District offices struggle constantly with email deliverability issues,” Banish says. “While I ensure our email is CAN-SPAM law compliant, many internet providers still incorrectly identify our messages. This makes 100% deliverability impossible. By unifying our clergy to one provider, we can ensure that vital communications are not dropped or deleted. Keeping our emails intradomain, we will save the Conference time, money and effort that can now be directed toward ministry.”

The @umcna.org emails became active this month. However, the Conference is actually launching much more technological capabilities than simply email.

“Ministry relies on great communication,” Banish says. “Creating a lifetime Methodist identity and using the many avenues of communication available from Google, be it chat, hangouts, emails or Google+, we can now serve by the broadest means to the widest community.”

Here’s a brief overview of some of the applications that are available.

  • Google Docs is a suite of programs accessible through the internet to create word-processed documents, spreadsheets, presentations, online forms and more. Users can share files with others for cooperative ministry. Such information and document sharing will open new ways of working together for district and conference teams.
     
  • Google Drive is online storage space for files and pictures. Users can access their Google drive from any computer or mobile device that has internet access. This can provide not only an easy way to move files when clergy itinerate, but also helps clergy’s  day to day ministry which often requires a clergy person to be in multiple places but have the same information at their fingertips.
     
  • Google+ is a social media product. As it has developed, one of the strengths of Google+ is how easily it allows users to group connections in “circles” and share specific information only with specific groups. Many corporations are now using this forum for work teams to collaborate and share information. The same possibilities can be used for ministry teams, committees, District clusters, ICE groups, preaching accountability groups, seminary friends, prayer partners, etc.
     
  • Google Hangouts is the video conferencing part of Google+. It allows users to have online video conversations with up to 10 others. Conference ministry teams have already used this tool when one or two members couldn’t be physically present at a meeting. With the conference account larger Hangouts can be held from time to time in order to hold larger meetings while saving participants travel time and money.


Banish says, “Harnessing the power of Google Apps, our conference, as a whole, will benefit from the cutting edge of technology.”

He adds, “North Alabama joins a host of other Annual Conferences offering these benefits to clergy. The interconnectivity possibilities provided by Google Apps will allow North Alabama Conference clergy to be in community with each other, and also others throughout our denomination.”


Clergy, if you have more questions or concerns about the new @umcna.org emails please contact Rev. Don Neal in the Office of Ordained Ministry. If you have technical issues or need help to set up your @umcna.org email account visit the IT Help Desk at http://it.umcna.org/help or contact Pete Banish at pbanish@umcna.org.

 


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