One of the most exciting and re-energizing organizations I’ve come across is The Imagine Sisters Movement—inspiring and supporting vocations to Catholic women’s religious life. When it comes to the New Evangelization, they’re simply doing it right. Their content speaks to all generations, their web presence is outstanding, and their graphic design and videography is clean and beautiful. I was lucky enough to connect online with Amanda Houska, their Assistant Director and Religious Communities Coordinator, and I’m pleased to share the following interview with CatholicTechTalk:
Q: Can you tell us a little about The Imagine Sisters Movement, what its mission is, and what your role at the organization is?
I am overjoyed to be able to share with you about the Imagine Sisters Movement! Launched on Pentecost Sunday 2012, the Imagine Sisters Movement is a social media resource that works to promote vocations to the consecrated religious life for women… and more than just working to promote vocations, we are also trying to change the culture to effectively view the vocation of sisters as valid, exciting, and downright awesome! If you have you ever met a religious sister, they tend to be the happiest women on Earth. They pray, they sacrifice their lives in love and service to those in need, they live in community—and in many ways they’re just like you and I! Imagine Sisters passionately proposes the possibility of becoming a sister in the world today. Our hope is to help the world meet sisters on fire for their faith and through online resources and media, Imagine Sisters works to ignite the conversation of vocational discernment.
When the Movement began, we were responding to a need within the Church for support of young women in discernment of their vocation. Now that is has been one full year since the start of the Movement, we have recognized that the need is even greater than we could have ever imagined! We have heard not only from countless young women who have begun to open their hearts to a possibility of a religious vocation, but also from their parents, from DREs and Youth Ministers, as well as many Priests and Religious! What have we heard from our vast audience? We have received many words of gratitude and encouragement and also we have been asked to provide a great number of resources in addition to what we have already developed. While the Movement currently serves as a social media resource for young women discerning and those who want to foster and support that discernment, we hope that in the coming months we will also be able to provide events on campuses, as well as printed resources for young women, and resources for discernment groups.
Currently, I serve as the Assistant Director and Religious Communities Coordinator for the Movement. It has been a tremendous blessing for me to work closely with our director, Dan Rogers and the rest of the team on the continued development and growth of the Movement. It’s amazing what the Lord has accomplished through humble volunteers like ourselves in just one year’s time. The vision for the Movement is great and so we continue to work together and pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all that we do for the sake of vocations! What many people do not know is that the entire Movement up through this point has been and continues to be run by volunteers from different parts of the United States. We have a seminarian, two students and one individual who is very seriously discerning her vocation while working full time at another job. It is our sincere hope to soon develop into a small staff, so that we might better respond to the great response we have received since the start of the Movement.
While I work with the team on the continued development of the movement and the oversight of our daily happenings, I am also very blessed in my role as Religious Communities Coordinator to communicate with and to work directly with countless religious communities (currently about 45 with the number steadily rising). I work not only with those communities who are involved in the Movement currently but also those who are hoping to become involved with the Movement. For any religious community who may be interested in becoming involved in the Movement, they are welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: How has Imagine Sisters been using social media (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc.) to spread awareness of the joy of sisterhood and vocations to the consecrated life?
Currently Imagine Sisters is using seven different social media platforms to inspire young women to consider a vocation to the religious life as well as to spread the joy and beauty sisters/nuns! The various networks where you will find what we like to call “nunspiration” are Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest and new to Imagine Sisters… Vine! Alongside of our social media platforms we have a website imaginesisters.org where you can also find the Imagine Sisters blog! Each day the Imagine Sisters Team works to provide content that is fresh and fun for our over 13,000 followers! Some content we share is put out on all of our social platforms, while other content is only released on one or two networks! For this reason, we encourage everyone to follow us on all of our networks if they don’t want to miss out on all of the awesome “nunspiration!”
So what types of content do we put out and why? We use visual media, such as graphics and videos as well as high quality photos to truly captivate our audience. However, beyond visual media we also seek to put out rich content that will educate and nourish the mind such as quotes from the saints, links to other resources, and writings from our Holy Father and Church Documents. I think that Sister Helena Burns, FSP says it best when she speaks about the Movement, “How will a young woman consider a religious vocation if she does not ‘see’ Nuns/Sisters? In today’s visual, media culture, a picture truly is worth ‘a thousand words.’ Imagine Sisters is all about making Nuns/Sisters easily VISIBLE everywhere! Sometimes that’s all it takes to spark a new direction in life: a word, an image… And anyone who wants to help promote vocations can participate, by doing something as simple as hitting a ‘share’ button to pass along an image, a thought or an invitation to a congregation’s vocation retreat.” In a world that is visually overstimulated and seeking after beauty, Imagine Sisters works to put out content that will visually captivate and intellectually challenge those individuals who encounter the Movement.
Q: So I see that Imagine Sisters are making a film! What is Light of Love and how did this project develop? Are donations still needed to make this production happen?
You are correct! We are making a film and we are totally excited about it! Light of Love is a film about the beauty of the consecrated life, plain and simple. We’re going to make a film that allows sisters to do the talking, explaining their stories in a way that hopefully brings hope to our viewers… and ultimately inspiration to live a life as a sister to those who God is calling! We’re so excited, and yes, we are still accepting tax-deductible donations through our producer, Lighthouse Catholic Media. As of today we are still about $8,000 short! For those who are interested in learning more about the film, they can visit lightoflovefilm.com, and if anyone is interested in supporting the project financially they can go directly to lightoflovefilm.com/donate.
Q: I think it’s wonderful that sisters all around the world are embracing the internet to increase vocation awareness. Because of this amplified web presence, have you noticed any increase in young women who are interested in becoming sisters, or who have general questions about the lifestyle?
Certainly! There is a culture of discernment within the social media networks, and religious communities would be wise to engage through social media to those women who truly are seeking the Lord’s will. Of course, many communities due to their daily schedules and charisms are unable, and that is where the Imagine Sisters Movement steps in. We work directly with those communities who have social media, but we also work with the many communities who do not feel particularly called to be on social media. We like to think that we are a sort of middle ground between the sisters and the world. The work of the Movement enables the Sisters to continue praying for and serving the world, without them being drawn away to meet the world on the web.
Due to the presence of Imagine Sisters on the web, we have heard from countless women not only here in the United States, but throughout the world who are really opening up their hearts to the possibility of a religious vocation. Many of the young women we hear from share with us that they have been inspired by one form of media or another that we have shared on one of our networks; others share that we have helped them to have the courage necessary to listen to the tug on their hearts; still others come to us with countless questions about discernment and the way of life. Beyond those women who have made contact with us by email, we have also just been able to see and engage with the discernment community that has formed through the various social platforms we are using. Many young women are using social media to support one another in their discernment. They ask each other questions, share photos from discernment events, and offer encouraging messages to their sisters in Christ. It really is beautiful to see these young women encouraging one another to “Be not afraid.”
Q: Sometimes we hear that parishes are leery of a presence on social media because of privacy issues, or they’re afraid that people will leave negative comments. Have you experienced any negativity or found it difficult to monitor multiple social media platforms? Or, have you found that the people interacting with you online are positive and interested in your ministry?
In our experience as a Movement, the bigger our ministry gets, the more mindful we have to be in regard to comments that are made on the content we share. The more people you encounter, the more opinions you will encounter! We have experienced negativity, yes. However, we, as a team have specific guidelines we follow in handling situations that are negative or uncharitable. Also, the amount of positive response we receive completely outweighs and small amount of negative interaction we may have. We know that individuals are encountering Christ through the beauty of the Sisters and through the Movement at large, and this would be true of any parish or ministry that enters into the digital world.
We encourage parishes and other ministries to “Be not afraid” and to “set sail on the digital seas” (as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said), for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ and the salvation of souls. Of course, we also encourage them to speak with other ministries and parishes, and to have a plan for how they might handle negativity. Fear is not of the Lord, and so we must not be afraid to engage even those who may have negative responses to our posts. Those individuals find our networks because they are seeking after something, and while their comments might be negative, we will never know what work the Lord might be doing in their hearts by their encounter with what has been posted. Imagine Sisters is grateful for any negative post we might receive, because we then know how to intercede and pray for our brothers and sisters.
Many thanks to Amanda for taking the time to share the Imagine Sisters’ story with CatholicTechTalk. As we continue to pray for vocations to the religious and consecrated life, we wish you all the best as you spread the Gospel in the digital world!