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Hallo again to all.

The New ParsonNearly all of us in pews this Sunday morning can remember a world before parish and diocesan websites. It was not so long ago, but it is a world utterly gone today. We still consult friends for recommendations of churches in which to worship when we travel, but our first point of reference is usually the world wide web. A glorious company of webmakers has come into being, particularly in the last decade, and their work tells us much about life on the Anglican ground week in and week out.

One of the newest developments in the online Anglican world has taken place in a jolting way over the last three and four years. The proliferation of sites about episcopal elections has been fascinating for what it tells us about each American diocese that has chosen to use an online forum to set forth its sense of mission, its ideals for episcopal ministry—and in a likely unintended way, its priorities for communication within the church. (We are not aware of any non-Episcopal Church USA bishop search websites to date.) Bishop search websites generally include timelines, a series of questions about how candidates view their potential episcopal ministry, biographies of candidates, and balloting results—occasionally in real-time—when all is over. They offer a transparency and openness that may have been lacking before. But these sites can look and feel more than a little like political campaign websites, and it would be nigh impossible for a modern-day Ambrose to be elected in this situation. Nolo episcopari is not much to be heard.

I Like GrantlySomething we find striking about bishop search websites is their vigorous focus on one small but important part of the local church's life. Some are updated many times a day, and they must consume vast hours of programmers' and coordinators' days during the course of an episcopal search process. They are filled with a sense of the urgency about the task at hand, and each tends to convey this in a locally-inflected voice: our new bishop is out there, somewhere, prepared by God to lead us and to live with us in this diocese. This website is a beacon lighting the way for a new mitre-wearer, ordainer and confirmer. Now smile bigger! Can dedicated rector search websites be too far off in the future?

I Like ProudieWe wonder how the standard of Anglican communications would change if the same energies expended on episcopal search process websites were turned to diocesan websites. A diocese always lives 'the trivial round, the common task', though it may elect a new bishop but once in a decade. But some diocesan sites have contact information that is years out of date, and they turn out to be more harmful than helpful in trying to reach someone with a specific inquiry. Others have sadly incomplete parish listings, dead hyperlinks galore, little or no sense of being linked to the wider online Anglican world, and a weird, splendid isolation in their quirky messages to an in crowd with inspeak. We are grateful for the great work of many diocesan webmasters. But it seems symptomatic of various present woes in our communion just now that the abundance of energy is spent on finding, vetting, promoting, electing and rejecting the smallest class of church leaders while the largest classes are left less well-equipped than they could be in terms of online resources for daily life.

For guidance in creating such resources, we can imagine hardly anything better than the excellent communications report of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, released in 2004 for what appears to be a vibrant and healthy national church with pastoral and historical emphases not unlike our own. It is forward-looking, knowledge-rooted, carefully-crafted, and well worth the time required to read, mark, learn and digest. (Its Bothnian outlook is charming besides, and it tempts us to take a holiday when we can find the time.) The report's key descriptions of effective religious communication are intended to help the church at all levels to fulfil its apostolic mission to 'go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature':

The dignity of every human being is respected.
People listen and ask.
Interaction is encouraged.
Diversity is appreciated.
Fellowship is built up.
People communicate with consideration for the other party.
People communicate their convictions clearly and intelligibly.
People are bold in expressing their opinions.
People are prepared to change.
People take the initiative and react.
Information is provided openly and in advance.
People encounter the church in the media they use.

Take, read, do! See you next week.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 21 January 2007

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