Just as our church doors closed in 2020, some new doors opened as the parishes throughout the diocese explored other ways to reach out to the community. Fortunately, our diocese had already laid a solid communications foundation before the pandemic hit. A substantial investment in technology throughout the diocese allowed parishes of all sizes to be well positioned to reach out the parishioners during COVID-19.
In the last five years, the diocese has spent more than $53,000 to raise the tech bar, aided by grants from the Vision Fund. Starting in 2016, the diocese developed a new integrated website framework and paid the set-up fee for all parishes to have new websites of their own with similar branding and design. Recognizing that churches need ongoing operational support, the diocese has been offsetting website hosting and domain registration costs for the last two years and plans to do the same in the 2021 budget.
This initiative allows parishes to share events at the click of a button and collaborate in ways that were previously impossible. “These past few months we have discovered new and possibly in some ways more effective communication than ever imagined,” said Brian Evans, archdeacon and interim incumbent at St. John the Baptist, Duncan.
Over the summer, the parish had several coffee gatherings in the parking lot as well as drive-by blessings at Pentecost and drive-by milestone birthday celebrations. But the real outreach was the pre-recorded 20-minute prayer service each week (modified morning prayer) inclusive of a homily that has been well received. “With the use of Vimeo, Facebook and the parish website, this service has reached far beyond our own boundaries. I would never have thought there would be people in England interested in “my words” on a weekly basis,” he said.
Most recently, in 2020, the diocese spent close to $5,000 for Zoom licenses for all parishes and a Vimeo license with live streaming available for use by all parishes. In 2019/2020 the diocese also provided $500 computer grants to upgrade parish office computers. We may sometimes be fatigued by the frequent screen time, but for many, online platforms are the only way to visit with others or participate in worship services.
Due to the tech improvements, rural and urban churches can both connect easily. “It’s about ensuring that our parishes have what they need to communicate effectively in a technology-driven world,” said Catherine Pate, communications director for the diocese. “We were beginning to fall behind, and there is an inequity amongst parishes in being able to afford to upgrade equipment and have a strong presence online. Now we are all on a more even playing field.”
The situation is still hampered by poor internet coverage in remote areas. Pate urges church leaders to pressure government for action on this issue. “We now need to work together around fair access to the internet in remote communities,” she said. “The church needs to be involved in speaking out about this as a justice issue and push government and industry to provide this essential service throughout the country.”