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Hallo again to all.

In a parish that we know, the vicar, the lay leaders, and longtime parishioners are squabbling incessantly about something that various others don't think matters very much. No, this isn't your parish, nor is it ours: it's every parish, we think.

Whether you use the modern term Parochial Church Council (PCC) or the Eliabethan-era term Vestry, the laity who volunteer their time and talents to manage the finances, buildings, grounds, and other important matters are usually dedicated and selfless. And so, usually, is the vicar. But, inevitably, people disagree and bicker. They don't always like each other, they don't always have enough time to devote to being calm, and they bring different points of view. Years ago in a surly moment we imagined a video arcade game entitled 'Bicker with the Vicar', but we couldn't figure out how to tell who had won and who had lost, so it never left the marketplace of our imagination. It would never have been popular.

A cuneiform tabletBut back to the subject of the dispute in that nearby imaginary parish: how best to communicate with parish members. Like most parishes 'round the world, this one has a service leaflet and a parish magazine, and like a growing number of parishes, it has a website. The website isn't kept up to date quite as much as it ought to be, but it normally has new material every few weeks (rather like most parish websites, save those not updated since 2002).

  • One person suggested that the parish could save money for printing and postage by collecting email addresses of parishioners and emailing a PDF file of the monthly newsletter. That was tried once, and the 300-KB attachment didn't make it to very many members' screens.

  • Another person suggested putting it all on the website and encouraging people to look at it there.

  • A third said he'd read that podcasts were quite the rage now, and that perhaps the parish should look into podcasting the monthly newsletter. When pressed, he revealed that he didn't exactly know what a podcast was, and had certainly never read one, and had no idea how to go about making one.

  • The wife of one of the churchwardens, a retired businesswoman facile with word processing software, volunteered to produce the parish magazine in the style she had learned at her former job, complete with multiple colours, double-sided printing with odd/even margins, footnotes, and numerous sidebars.

The dispute that caught our attention was over how to take this document and include it an email so that the parish magazine could be transmitted online. The vicar didn't want people to have to click on a link in the email message and was quite insistent that the entire parish magazine had to fit into the email. No two people seemed to agree on anything.

Skywritten messageMeanwhile the people who actually knew how to do this kind of communication — the professional communicators and graphic artists and copywriters and magazine publishers — were kept too busy at their high-powered jobs to be able to volunteer their time to help their parish through this knothole. Or maybe they didn't want to have to argue with a warden who insisted that it was perfectly acceptable to email a 1.5-megabyte Word file to everyone on the parish email list.

We'd love to see an Anglican world in which everyone paid more attention to the workflow of other parishes' magazines and usability of their websites than to the private lives of their clergy and bishops. Perhaps if you're involved in your parish's communications, you might take time to pick a dozen parishes at random out of our extensive listings, to see how they handle their parish magazine and service leaflet. Perhaps those randomly-chosen parishes are in the same quandary we described above, but perhaps they aren't — and you'll learn something.

We join AO columnist Bishop Pierre Whalon in mourning the passing of his mother, Marthe, this week. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 30 April 2006

(Click for an update on Cynthia's cancer.)

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