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Self-starter nets fans of General Synod

by Susan Becker Davidson

Reproduced with permission of the
Ottawa Crosstalk diocesan newspaper

A 25-year-old self-starter from the Diocese of New Westminster netted an electronic readership of thousands for his news and views of General Synod in Ottawa in June.

Even he was surprised.

Tod Maffin's computer initiative began when a few friends from his Anglican youth group wanted to hear about General Synod, where he was bound as a youth delegate. For his part, Tod wanted to show the Church the benefits of computer networking. His network service provider donated the entire use of its system, so he was set.

Tod didn't expect a wide readership when he set up his General Synod report on electronic mail. But after he was at synod only a few days, 2000 subscribers were reading his observations and news reports, lightened by local colour and a few jokes about how many Anglicans it takes to change a light bulb.

As well, Tod said that potentially thousands more could follow each day, since his notes were picked up by the Anglinet systems, CompuServe, America Online and Ecunet -- all broad computer networks able to take his material to readers in the U.S., Canada, and beyond. His stuff was selected by the networks as a key resource, he said, "which is a very big thing in nerd world."

Tod's reports tended to be enthusiastic and upbeat, with a chatty charm.

"I have a steno pad with me to jot down notes throughout the day, and I'm packing a laptop in my backpack wherever I go," he told his readers. "Each evening I prepare the newsletter. Then it's a quick call to my Internet provider in B.C. where it's blasted out."

He certainly gave a lift to readers from the Diocese of Ottawa, host to this General Synod, praising the wonderful diocesan volunteers for doing "a superb job," right from meeting delegates at the airport to carrying bags to their rooms.

He wrote of the Synod meeting room at Carleton as surprisingly small, packing in 350 synod members, staff and a complete TV production facility. "All told, it's an exciting, vibrant space, very much a dynamic, living entity unto itself."

One of the reasons Tod's writing is so readable is that he's had about four years of experience with campus papers, including one as bureau chief for all the university and college papers in B.C. He's also done some work in radio and for a community newspaper.

Now he works for a public relations firm in Vancouver, specializing in media relations and writing. This was his second time at General Synod.

Tod made it clear to his online readers that his reports were not the official views of the Church. But he said in an interview that he got informal support from some people at the national level.

"I feel the Church is happy that this is happening and that they don't have to pay for it," he said. "This synod is like a city and to have people participate half way around the world is pretty exciting."

Tod sees reaching out by computer as "almost a form of evangelism." He [has been] involved in youth ministry, and he notes that there are a lot of young people "on the net."

"I know young people are searching for spirituality of some kind and I think the Church could look to Internet," he said. As well, he said, the fastest growing group on Internet is the "over-50" crowd.

At the close of the interview Tod generously agreed to set up an Internet "home page" for Crosstalk, the newspaper of the Diocese of Ottawa, posting two or three of our stories each issue. We thank him for whisking a small byte of our diocese into cyberspace. Now if all of you out there will just hop on line...

Read the newsletters yourself

In addition to the above daily NEWSlink reports, Tod also distributed a daily "Extra" report, which covered particular issues in more detail.