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HOST: "It's better than Microsoft's, Sony's, and AT&T's. It beat out Coca-Cola and the White House. And it's Canadian, British Columbian in fact.
HOST: "I'm talking about Anglicans Online!, a world wide web site devoted to the goings on of the Anglican Church in Canada and around the world. And editors who review the web site consistently give it high ratings for quality. It's number seven in the world right now. Vancouverite Tod Maffin is the webmaster of Anglicans Online! and he's with me here in the studio. Hi Tod!"
HOST: "Congratulations! Am I right? Number seven these days?"
TOD: "Tied for seventh, yeah."
HOST: "In all the world, in all the websites that are out there. That must make you feel pretty good!"
TOD: "It's a bit frightening more than anything, but yeah it does!"
How it started
HOST: "How did this happen for you?"
TOD: "Well, I don't really know. It sort of started as more a hobby than anything else. About a year and a half ago I was looking on the Internet for some Anglican-related sites on the Internet and only found three or four.A few friends asked me to put a simply page on the net listing what I had found, which I did, and every couple of weeks I'd update it. And then someone in one of the Christian discussion groups on the Internet posted a message saying this thing is available and -- Kaboom! -- it just sort of exploded from there and took on a life of its own."
HOST: "Like thousands of hits a day, as they call it, right?"
HOST: "People were dialing up your site and clicking onto the daily prayer or what? What were they doing when they came on?"
TOD: "Clicking onto the daily prayer, going to ... I mean, at first it was just parish listings but it has since expanded. Now, it lists everything from the ability to ask anonymous questions of theologians in Britain to recipies of how to make bread for the communion service..."
TOD: "... I mean it's limitless and these links are from all over the world."
HOST: "And it is a little irreverant, isn't it? I noticed something when I was in there for a couple of minutes today about the Patron Saint of All Things Squishy. What or who is that?"
TOD: (Laughter.) "Thats the product of too much coffee."
HOST: (Laughter.) "That's you at three in the morning!"
TOD: "Just about, yeah."
HOST: "And feeling holy today? You can track down your patron Saint, is that right?"
TOD: "Yes, if you click on a particular area of the page it will tell you what the Saint of the Day is; it's a list of all the holy days of the Anglican calendar."
What "The Church" thinks
HOST: "What does the Anglican Church think of this?"
TOD: "Well, I haven't had any real official response, but I'm on some of the national committees of the church and there is sort of an unofficial support of it. I think they're happy that it doesn't come out of their budget, frankly..."
TOD: "...that it's put on by a volunteer. But there is certainly value for it when we're seeing thousand visits a day to the site; there must be people out there that are looking for that information, so there's support for it, but I think the church is sort of slow to get going on things like that."
Who visits the site?
HOST: "What strikes you about the thousand or so people who click on every day? What sort of people are they?"
TOD: "I don't know. The nice thing about the Internet is that it's anonymous so I can't tell who they are, but generally from the e-mail I get, sometimes it's priests in rural locations that don't have access to the resources which priests in urban centres might."
HOST: "Like what, what sort of resources?"
TOD: "Bible study resources, confirmation class curriculums, things which might be difficult to get in rural areas..."
HOST: "More practical things?"
TOD: "Absolutely. The other spectrum are Gen-Xers -- my generation -- and the people behind me, the 12- and 13-year olds. There's a website in Manitoba run by a 12-year-old called the Anglican Kids Association and so some of that younger generation that perhaps are exploring their faith, and are using this medium which they're already comfortable with to do that, instead of the traditional way which has been 'Well, go to church and take your chances.'"
HOST: "I noticed that you're also maybe tapping into the agnostics of the world, people who drifted away from church 40 years ago perhaps. And you say something to the effect that it's changed a lot since people were dragged to church 40 years ago. What do you want to say about that?"
TOD: "Well, it has. It's interesting... some of the comments I get start off by saying 'Anglican.. Anglican.. are you sure this is Anglican? I thought Anglicans were old and British and stodgy and have lots of starch in their collars.' In fact, probably about a fifth of the messages I get will address me as 'Reverend Maffin' -- I guess they aren't aware I'm not a priest, I'm just some 25-year-old Schmo. But church has changed, and this is one way I think to show that."
HOST: "And are people tossing around ideas about spirituality as well? Do you have much exchange about information?"
TOD: "Not on the web site itself, but it does have a link to an excellent 'Mailing List', which is essentially a discussion group by electronic mail. It has lots of traffic, perhaps about 30 or 40 messages per day go back and forth and they're discussing everything from homosexual rights in the church to the Bishop Righter heresy trial in the U.S."
HOST: "Any non-believers come into the site and try to flame you?"
TOD: (Laughter.) "Oh yeah."
HOST: "To nuke the site?"
TOD: "Yup, that's happened twice now -- I've had Satanists, or people posing to be Satanists, have mailbombed the site."
HOST: "Really? How do they pull that off?"
TOD: "Well, I don't want to tell people how to do it again..." (Laughter.) "But they sent a small file which, when expanded, it ate up my hard disk. Oh well."
HOST: "That was another cup of coffee to fix that."
HOST: "What sort of information do people want from you? I mean, they can ask you questions, can't they?"
TOD: "Sure, yeah, my e-mail address is posted right on the page, so I get more than 100 messages each week. It's everything from 'I'm in a suburb of Nome Alaska and please help me find the closest Episcopal Church....' A strange one I got last week was someone wanting to know if I had the patterns to make Anglican vestments -- like cassocks and albs -- for New Zealand Mauri worship liturgies."
HOST: (Laughter.) "Of course you would!"
TOD: (Laughter.) "Well of course I would!"
HOST: "Did you research that one, or send them in the right direction?"
TOD: "I pointed them in the direction of where I thought would be best; there are a number of good resources. But I wish I had the time to follow up individually with each question."
HOST: "How has the whole idea of religion online evolved on the net?"
TOD: "Well, slowly. I think there's some hesitation with it, and I'm still not sure why. I sometimes feel like I'm pushing the church along in a way it doesn't always want to go, but there seems to be a natural tie-in between the two -- perhaps because part of the fun of the net is exploring a new medium, so perhaps there's a tie-in with exploration of faith in an anonymous way, I don't know. You don't have to make an appointment to meet a priest face-to-face now if you just have some simply questions."
HOST: "Is it true there's actually an online confessional?"
TOD: "Yeah, that's true." (Laughter.)
HOST: "Strange concept. Catholics behind that one are they?"
TOD: "I don't know... I'm not sure where it is. But you punch in your confession and it will dish out a random pennance."
HOST: "A random one. 15 Hail Mary's" (Laughter.) "Thanks Tod, good to meet you, and good luck with the site."