edited by Tod Maffin, June 1995
More than one hundred Anglicans from around Canada (and a few scattered elsewhere in the world) responded to a call for comments on "how the church could use new technologies to reach people outside the church or to help us inside the church communicate better."
This document is not intended to draw conclusions -- it is only a digest of the comments received.
To that end, people responding to this call for comments all agreed that a decentralized model would help the church better address its responsibility to offer effective ministry, while being responsible stewards of our financial resources.
Most agreed that this meant the church must be willing to do more than simply accept "grass-roots participation" in the life and work of the church, but to embrace and support it.
One of the suggestions for how to improve communication within the church was a call for the establishment of an Internet mail list server for each diocese, to distribute news, clergy information, upcoming events, council/committee minutes, etc.
One parish in the Maritimes is already using such a model:
Some suggested such an automated e-mail distribution system might make for an effective way of fostering Bible study groups -- the national office could distribute the lectionary readings for each month to subscribers so they could study the readings before church.
Many people said they already participate in prayer circles distributed by electronic mail. They commented that, especially in the case of urgent prayer requests, this medium would suit a prayer group well.
At the national level, a majority of respondants said they enjoyed receiving daily updates from General Synod and believe there is an even wider audience for such immediate reports from national committees and consultations. A few even suggested this would be a good way to distribute occasional messages from the Primate on special occasions.
The Anglican Journal was cited as a valuable resource within the church. Nearly all who commented about the Journal affirmed its role as a positive influence in the church, and suggested that it could serve as the catalyst for two-way communication on the issues it covers. Some people said they would appreciate the opportunity to correspond with Journal writers (and noted that the Journal's address on Ecunet either does not work or goes unanswered).
Some felt frustrated at having to wait more than a month for coverage of significant events in the life of the church, and suggested the Journal could run short "snippets" of its upcoming stories and distribute them either by e-mail or publish them on the World Wide Web. One diocesan newspaper (Ottawa) has already begun such a venture.
A few respondants mentioned they appreciated the "official" reports from the church. Two comments, which were similar to the others:
Many positive comments were received about the Anglican Video coverage of General Synod on Vision, though many had not heard about the daily shows.
It was noted that after people have been assembled in an online "community," such as Anglinet, Ecunet, or an Internet mailing list, many people thought that group could make an excellent pool from which to gauge wide opinion.
They suggested it might give the national committees access to immediate feedback about proposed plans or models.
Finally, some respondants from northern parishes noted that they are often great distances from their diocesan synod office and that electronic communication could open up a new sense of being "connected" to Synod office staff and other parishes around the diocese.
And a lot of people are in cyberspace.
Respondants to this call for comments said their experience with online services led them to believe a lot of people are there to talk with people, perhaps they're lonely, and many are young adults. Two particularly memorable comments:
Many expressed the opinion that part of being young includes a search for indentity through spirituality, and that the Anglican Church is missing a unique opportunity to offer young people a sense of what we have to offer.
An overriding feeling among respondants was that if the Christian community doesn't "wake up and smell the coffee," young people will indeed find some form of spirituality anyway:
Many people thought the church should be proactive in delivering information about ourselves.
To that end, a number of suggestions came from respondants:
A lot of people mentioned the value in the Internet's anonymity. They suggested that some people may feel safer discussing issues of faith with a priest they know they'll never have to meet face to face. A number of clergy said they would enjoy this kind of ministry (one priest already receives encrypted confessions over the Internet).
Among the comments received was a suggestion that electronic communication would make a cost-effective link between dioceses, companion dioceses, and partners in mission. Some suggested it could be a valuable resource for "instant communications" in response to disasters and subsequent PWRDF response.
One person made the point that while church attendance is declining in Canada, studies continually show that a majority of people in society say they "have a strong spiritual sense." He suggested this could be due, in part, to society's faster pace, leaving us all with less time, different working schedules, and more reasons than ever to not be able to attend every 10am Sunday.
Electronic communication could provide that link to the church, for those unable to attend Sunday mornings. Some suggestions included a national weekly Bible study online (distributed by e-mail) and other such regular contacts with people.
Some parish ministry, of course, could never be replaced by the human touch. But many respondants said they believe the church could offer resources to assist in that "personal touch" ministry. For instance, information could be made available for people in bereavement, to help them understand what to expect at a funeral, what a priest will ask at the first meeting, and perhaps offer pointers to other online resources to help people grieving.
One person thought there was often unnecessary duplication of efforts:
As well, national committee work could continue in between meetings, with members sharing reports and papers immediately, without having to wait for Canada Post or burn up fax paper and long distance phone charges. Some people even suggested electronic networking could, some day, replace some face-to-face meetings, though they stated all members would have to be online for such an arrangement to work.
Beyond the issue of saving money, some people suggested that the church could use networking technology to actually raise money. Some ideas:
One person said they felt that rural and northern parishes may not be able to afford computers and modems and may be left "out of the loop." She offered this suggested remedy:
Secondly, some respondands expressed a desire to see some direction from the national church or Primate on the ethics of such communication:
Finally, a number of people commented that it may be difficult to measure the effectiveness of the church's reach into electronic networking.
1. "Whatever we do, we need to do it now."
There was a sense of urgency among the comments. Many people said they believed the Preparing the Way plan's success rests on the ability of the church to share existing resources better. They said that now that the leadership structure is in place with national committees, the church should begin building that network of shared resources.
Many people believed the first step was for the national office to have a useful presence online.
Several people cited the looming release of Windows 95, the long-awaited upgrade to Microsoft Windows, already installed on more than 100 million computers around the world. The new Windows 95 will offer immediate one-click access to the Internet and we can expect a massive influx of people to jump online.
A number of respondants suggested that the financial resources the church could save in implementing such a network would easily pay for a "director of electronic resources", whose job would be to begin the process of using electronic networking to effect the church's call to be better stewards of our existing resources.
2. "We should make distinct the roles of sharing of resources and communicating among one another."
There was a sense that one of the models that should be explored more deeply was that of a two-part system:
If you have any ideas as to how the church should priorize its work in this medium, please send them to me with the subject header "next step".
The final words go to this contributor: