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Hallo again to all.

In recent weeks, we've had two experiences that reinforced for us the importance of accurate information on parish websites, and increased immeasurably our estimation of Starbucks.*

We chanced in Advent and Christmastide, as many people do, to be traveling in places where we were unfamiliar with the normal hours of divine service in local churches. We had recourse, as many people do, to parish websites where we made sure to check well ahead to find out when we might attend a quiet service to celebrate the Lord's Day.

At one church, we arrived right on time and found the service nearly done. 'Oh, we haven't started the service then for a year' said one of the kind people we asked about the discrepancy afterward.An image of breakfast food and a cup of coffee

At another church, we arrived five minutes before the posted service time to find every door locked. We knocked and knocked with mittened hands. We checked the rectory and parish house, and searched in vain for any sign of life. We looked again at the service times as posted on the church's name-board. We double-checked our iPhone to see if we had misread the parish website. We found out afterward that the normal Sunday services were canceled that day because of a civil holiday (New Year's Day), but only through word of mouth and not from any information on the parish's website or its signboard.

On both occasions, we were near to a Starbucks coffeeshop when we found ourselves bereft of places to worship. We were also on foot in weather hovering well below Zero Celsius. We made our way quickly inside, and ordered coffee and bagels to nourish our bodies as we warmed up and pondered our frustrating inability to find an open church for worship.

On both of these days when we found churches closed or with incorrect service times posted, Starbucks was open. Homeless men and women warmed themselves without interference, and ate a meal or drank a cup of coffee. People of every age and shape gathered to share the same space, and to be served in the same friendly, capable, efficient, and sincere way by a polite barista with glitter in her hair. We found warmth and nourishment, an opportunity to linger as long as we wanted, and a chance to indulge in the modern secular sacraments of latté, internet access and newspapers.

We also found Jesus when we couldn't find him in church: in the caring, glittery barista, and in the bodies of our neighbours around the common table. The Church will leak members with disastrous results for as long as it is easier to go to any Starbucks than it is to find an open Anglican or Episcopal church to attend on a Sunday morning.

The Three Kings didn't need a website to find the Holy Child, but they were guided by a star. In the absence of such a star, and because we really do prefer the Holy Eucharist to Starbucks, we do need accurate information on parish websites to help us find out where and when to worship. Our recent experiences taught us that inaccurate information is even worse than no information at all, especially in a cold climate.

One of our earnest hopes for this young year is that every parish will see anew the importance of communicating the necessary details of its life as clearly as possible in the ways that make the most sense for its community. In our part of the Anglican world, this means posting up-to-date service times and addresses online. In some other places, it may mean a newspaper notice, or an accurate set of information on a church noticeboard.

For our part, we will do our best to keep our parish website listings accurate. But our listings are useless unless the information to which they point is useful, and that is where you come in. Please let us know if we do not list your parish website. And if you maintain that site, or know someone who does, or can encourage someone who does, please see that your site is up-to-date at least in the bare-bones particulars of daily and weekly worship. The tip-jar at Starbucks won't thank you, but we will.

See you next week. We're open every Sunday.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

8 January 2012

* We try to patronise any establishment other than Starbucks whenever we can, because we value the local ownership of smaller shops. But the wide reach and uniform approach of Starbucks were critical for us on two very cold recent days, as you will see.

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