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Hallo again to all.

We are confident that we have looked at and and read through more parish websites than anyone else in the world. An alarming number of them fail to reveal the service time, the location of the church, or the diocese to which the parish belongs. We remember arriving an hour late to a worship service once because we hadn't been able to find any mention of the schedule on that church's website. We thought it would be a service to the parish to let their webmaster know of the difficulty we'd had finding the information. To our suprise, he argued with us, insisting that it was there. We found a computer in the parish office on which he could demonstrate. And sure enough, centered under the picture of the church, in tiny letters, in the spot where one would normally put a caption for the picture, were the words 'Service time 9:00am.'

Just now we revisited that parish's website, perhaps out of nostalgia, and saw that the website now sports, in giant italic boldface Verdana, the message 'Holy Eucharist Every Sunday Morning at 9 am' at the top of the front page. Ah, progress. We found a parish website that does a good job of announcing its service times but absolutely refuses to say what diocese it is part of or who its bishop might be. This leads us to suspect that it's a breakaway parish that is not part of any recognized diocese. We sifted through a dozen or so websites for parish churches in countries where having a telephone is the norm, but were not able to find a telephone number for the parish office or for clergy.

But a huge number of websites have good publicity for the parish picnic. Never mind that it's often a still-standing advertisement for a parish picnic from years past. We started clicking pretty much at random on parish websites from our global collection of tens of thousands of them. Canada. Nigeria. Australia. USA. England. Everywhere we look, Anglican churches have (or had) church picnics. Often there are photo galleries of a recent church picnic, in which it's not always easy for us to discern the subject of the proudly-posted photographs. 'Woman third from the left, we know who you are, so we see no point in naming you in a caption'.

In Africa we found numerous mentions of diocesan picnics but scarcely a one for a parish. Here and there we found specialized picnics at the diocesan level: a Diocesan Girls’ Guild picnic or a Diocesan Youth Picnic instead of a diocesan picnic.

If you measure the importance of an event by the amount of space it is given on a parish's website, then the parish picnic is the most important activity at a typical parish. Easter Sunday services and events might get half a page; the parish picnic gets 2 pages of announcements and 6 pages of pictures. (Though many African diocesan picnics seem to be held in Eastertide.)

Try typing the search string 'anglican church picnic 2011' into your favourite search engine. We found that at least half of the hits on the first few pages took us to parish websites having no 2012 or 2013 picnic mentioned, and in many cases the 2011 picnic is the last event noted in the church's online 'Events' calendar.

We found more than a few parishes that normally hold their picnics indoors. One that really made us smile was a parish in a holiday town on the seacoast in Western Australia. They hold their annual picnic in April, after all of the summer people have returned home and the town is back to its year-round population of 2000. But April in that part of the world is not a very picnic-friendly month, so this parish always plans to have its picnics indoors. This blurs the distinction between a picnic and a potluck (covered dish supper), not that anyone actually cares.

The conclusion from all of this frivolous and informal research is that communal meals really matter to people, and modern life has so few opportunities for spontaneous communal meals. A church picnic or potluck, suitably publicized and richly attended, is certainly an occasion 'where two or three gather in my name', whereupon 'there am I with them.' There is always more than enough food, and the Person who is there with us when two or three gather isn't going to eat much.

Now, about this problem of terrible parish websites. Does anybody have any ideas how to fix it? If you do, let us know.

See you next week. We can eat leftovers.

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1 September 2013

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