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Hallo again to all.

We're in the great Fifty Days of Easter. All should be an unending (more or less) string of celebratory days, joyous meals, bubbly conversation, sunshine, and overall gaiety. Of course, all that must be be fitted in with job, laundry, errands, child minding, bill paying: in short, 'the empty calories of daily existence' as someone once wrote. But in Eastertide you can  — with Anglican restraint, of course — delight in macarons and mousse and let go the remembrance of lentils in Lent.

All should be well in Eastertide, we mused, as we enjoyed a late lunch a few days ago.

And then the phone rang.

Now most of us have been tiresomely interrupted by telemarketers and political adverts from time to time, and those calls often come at the dinner hour. The middle of the day is less likely. The phone number on the Caller ID was that of our parish, so we didn't hesitate to take the call.

And then we were gobsmacked.

It was the recorded voice of the parish vicar, startling enough in itself. If we'd not recognized the strangely synthesized voice, we'd have been perplexed. The speaker didn't identify himself or the church. The point of the message was to remind us to make forthwith an appointment to be photographed for the parish directory. Yes, those quaint paper items are still being churned out by the thousands, for thousands of churches across the northern hemisphere. (We suspect the church-directory firm has moved on to the other continents and islands, but we're not sure they have a presence yet on Tristan de Cunha.*)

The robovoice urged us to stop indulging in one of the seven deadly sins (sloth) and Make an Appointment! And then — presumably with permission — the robo-rector gave out the personal phone number of the parish representative for the directory. (Words like 'commission' and 'kick back' floated in a most unChristian way through our head.) The robocall ended with the promise of a free 8x10 inch photo if we would 'act now'.

Well, Toto, we're not in Barchester anymore.

Now we don't expect handwritten notes reminding us of some parish event or other. We'd not mind an email reminder of this or that. Even a personal phone call from a parishioner urgent for the right (the creation of the directory) would be understandable. Announcements from the pulpit? Okay. A few lines in the service leaflet? Classic. But . . . a robocall?

It smacks of everything a parish oughtn't to be. Impersonal. Artificial. Commercial. Awful.

It might have been moderately more tolerable if there had been a recognition of the unpleasant medium. 'Hi, this is Simon Winterbottom, rector of St Swithin's. I'm terribly sorry to be using this means of letting you know . . .' Some implied understanding of the 'ick' factor of robocalls would have been, well, human.

A robocall does nothing to foster a sense of belonging and community in a parish. If one can conceivably argue that a parish photo directory — with its plastic-looking photos and homogenous backgrounds — advances the kingdom of heaven, wouldn't being robotically herded into taking part undo whatever connections and community the directory was suppose to foster? And then there's the question of money. Is the undertaking (the directory and the robocalls) an expenditure that builds up connection, love, and energy to advance God's work in the world? It's hard for us to make that case.

So are you thinking, 'Whew! Over-reaction!'? We'll allow that, but suspect a majority of Anglicans would find robocalls near the top of their not-in-my-parish-you-don't list. Tell us what you think. Or if you've found some other marketing practice used in your parish to your dismay, let us know.

See you next week.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

7 April 2013

*For more about TdC, go here. Yes, we realise it's the Daily Mail. But it is about the parish on that tiny island.


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