From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Anglican Niagara website targets online seekers

Date 14 Feb 2001 12:56:52

Niagara website targets online seekers --
"You may not reach people in the pews, but you can reach them on their screen"

Leanne Larmondin
Web Manager
Anglican Church of Canada

If the medium is the message, what message does a diocese deliver with a
website that never changes - as opposed to one that is always current with
events and news?

The Diocese of Niagara has created a task force to examine how it
communicates with people inside and outside the church.

One of the group's first tasks is to review the contents of the diocesan
website and of the newspaper, the Niagara Anglican.

The newspaper, published since 1955, consistently brings home awards from
the Anglican Editors' Association. (Long-time editor Larry Perks, a veteran
professional journalist, has recently retired, passing on the editor's
mantle to his daughter, Megan Strohschein.)

But it is the diocesan website which has shown the most dramatic changes in
recent years. Begun on a shoestring budget in April, 1998, the diocesan
site at first was like many others, serving as a basic brochure, with
address, contact information and some diocesan canons or laws.

Now, it is current, with news, messages from church leadership, a virtual
bulletin board for parish and diocesan events and even classified ads.
There are even plans to provide and host a website for every parish that
wants one.

"When we first got our website, it was done through our program department,
and all we could say at the time was that we had a website," said Judy
Dodman. "Nobody knew what was there. Things were put up on the site and
then they were forgotten."

Then, later that first year, when responsibility for the site went from the
program department to Canon Dodman, secretary of synod and the diocesan
synod council, fate stepped in in the form of the Dunham Group, a local
website design group. It approached Ms. Dodman about redesigning the
website about the same time she took it over. The professionals recommended
a complete overhaul. Having little familiarity with the workings of
computers and websites, but known for "having a finger on the pulse of
synod", Ms. Dodman accepted.

"The secret with the site is maintaining it, keeping it updated," said Ms.
Dodman. "It doesn't sit still for long."

Chris Grabiec, partner with the Dunham Group, is a former Roman Catholic
priest with a background in liturgy. He says that declining church
membership means that the church must find new ways of speaking with people.

"I feel the church can own this medium," said Mr. Grabiec, who also serves
on the diocesan task force and volunteers much of his expertise outside the
website's paid work, "you may not reach people in the pews, but you can
reach them on their (computer) screen. So, it's up to us to be a prophetic

Becoming that prophetic voice, he said, means making sure the church's
viewpoint is available on the website any time the church makes the news,
positively or negatively.

"The church has the opportunity to put its own legitimate spin on issues,
like cases of sexual abuse, or reduced numbers in the pews," or the
church's financial problems, said Mr. Grabiec. "We can put across the
message that where there's death, there's life." For example, he said,
before the secular newspapers get a story out, the diocese should make
available its own view on it. Of course, he added, the church's message
must be the truth.

That immediacy of the site has meant increased traffic. Initially, the
site could go a day or two without any visitors; today, it sees up to 150
visitors a day.

Still, some question the spending on what is still a new technology. When
the question of the website's expense -- $5,000 per year out of the $3
million diocesan budget for 2001 -- came up recently, at a regional council
meeting, Ms. Dodman got the affirmation she needed.

"Someone said 'Do we really need $5,000 for a website.' The answer was a
resounding 'yes'."

It is no secret that the diocese of Niagara has seen financial woes in
recent years. Its failure to meet its assessment obligation to the national
church last year led in part to last summer's General Synod staff layoffs.
The diocese was also forced to scale back its 125th anniversary
celebrations, cancel regional grants and examine its own staffing.

The cost of the website is worth every penny, said Ms. Dodman, who notes
that the diocese receives a significant discount for the services of the
Dunham Group. The designers have volunteered much of their time and have
even offered to do a one-time website design for any parish for $100. Two
parishes have taken up the offer and the cathedral, which maintains its own
site, is hosted on the diocesan site.

"We know that the way we're going to reach the seekers," she said. "I think
people are seeking meaning in their spiritual life and they're not all
seeking it in church buildings."
- 30 -

Background information and links:

Diocese of Niagara

"Niagara confronts cash woes"
-- April, 2000 Anglican Journal story on Niagara's financial troubles

"'New' bishop puts his stamp on Niagara:
Diocese launches campaign for education, training"
-- Anglican Journal profile of the Diocese of Niagara

For more information, contact

Leanne Larmondin
Web Manager
Anglican Church of Canada
600 Jarvis St.
Toronto ON  L5E 2G1
(416) 924 9199 ext. 307

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