The Reverend Priestly Brook, an Anglican priest, retired in August 2012 from the Colne and Villages Team Ministry in East Lancashire. His Bishop has granted him a licence with ‘Permission to Officiate’. He is married to Christine, with six grown up children. For many years he’s been a well known preacher and communicator in the North of England.
Until a few years ago I thought a tablet was what my GP prescribed and iPad a patch over an injured eye and a mouse something that eats cheese! Today whilst still an infant in information technology yet more savvy, I suspect our children and more so our grandchildren think I am a dinosaur when it comes to electronic gadgets.
I will always remember in 2001 when I bought my first personal computer, on retirement as an investment broker. I decided that since I had always had a secretary and had never typed a document, or touched a keyboard in my life, I would buy a PC incorporating voice recognition software.
I even paid for a tutor. Before we started he had to show me how to switch it on! Then once set up under his tuition I alone pronounced around 500 words from a list which if repeated was to be
recognised by the software. In truth five hundred words are still far too many for me to clearly pronounce in one go. I suspect as I went along my ability to give a clear pronunciation faltered.
Having achieved that task I was ready to compose my first Word document. The only trouble was the software could not recognise my spoken word and then translate it accurately to screen script, because I suspect I had used a different inflection on recording to production. The resultant script was highly corrupted to say the least! Because my office and preaching voice did not match my more normal Yorkshire accent, the more I tried the worse the results, until I became anxious and finally totally frustrated.
So after numerous attempts I abandoned it once and for all and had to start using a one finger approach on the keyboard, not as easy as it sounds when the keys are not in alphabetical order! Seriously, today with a little brain power and one finger, with persistence I can do most things with the few programmes I have adopted including Word, Excel, emails and the Web. But it’s been hard graft for a man brought up with pen and ink and who continued to use that means of corresponding for over fifty years before his PC days!
I also remember the first time I did a Power Point presentation: I found it was nigh on impossible for me to align my verbal presentation with the screen bullet points. Once again I have had to develop the skills and to understand it is all about preparation and discipline to be effective. But I have some way still to go!
As with my PC, my mobile phone is a few years old and limited to calls and texts. This means creating text by selecting one letter of the alphabet from the three or four letters on each key, which to say the least is frustrating. Soon I will have to get up to date with a smart phone and a laptop but I am still not sure I am happy to participate with Facebook or Twitter. Maybe tomorrow!
Today our children and grandchildren have iPads as tablets, iPods and mp3 players and in particular smart phones, and while I am concerned the time they spend on these gadgets I know it’s the
way of the world today. We live in an electronic communications age. For email, the Web, Facebook and Twitter and Skype, alongside downloads and conferencing, are now an every day part of life.
So how has the church adapted? It is true to say that most priests have iPhones and laptops so they can communicate with their parishioners, but have you access to their mobile or email address, so you can contact them easily? Sadly some priests still wish to keep these contact details confidential! Not too long ago most of us would have waited to speak to our priest after Sunday service or if more urgent called him or her via landline when we thought he or she may be in the vicarage. But be honest, regardless of how urgent, have we now been influenced by modern electronic gadgets to anticipate an immediate response? Sadly we and the world just cannot wait!
Would you telephone your minister to arrange your wedding or baptise your children? Well the younger generation will probably choose a church, not necessarily in their parish and having searched for the church’s website, then, by text from their laptop or their iPhone or by the web reply make contact. Most will not attend church regularly or know the name of the priest, so this means of access is their norm. The church cannot ignore this trend any more than Canute could turn back the tide!
Talking of communication skills I am humorously reminded of the couple from Lancashire who decided to go to the Azores to thaw out during a cold northern winter. They planned to stay at the same hotel where they spent their honeymoon 20 years earlier. But because of hectic schedules it was difficult to coordinate their travel arrangements.
So the husband left Lancashire and flew to the Azores one Thursday, with the intention of his wife flying the following day. The husband checked into the hotel. There was a computer in his room, so he decided to send an email to his wife. However, he accidentally left out one letter in her email address, and without realising his error, sent the email.
Meanwhile in Yorkshire, a widow had just returned home from her husband’s funeral. The widow decided to check her e-mail expecting messages of sympathy from relatives and friends. After reading the first message, she screamed and fainted. The widow’s son rushed into the room, found his mother on the floor, and then saw the computer screen which read:
To My Loving Wife – Subject: I Have Arrived. ‘I know you’re surprised to hear from me. They have computers here now and you are allowed to send emails to your loved ones. I’ve just arrived and
have been checked in. I’ve seen that everything has been prepared for your arrival tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you then! Hope your journey is as uneventful as mine was. Love you eternally. PS. It sure is hot down here’.
Seriously, since I have retired from parish ministry Christine and I worship at many different churches in the diocese and I always look for their website to find the time of service for that Sunday. One church site failed for us because while it told the time of the regular Sunday service, the week we chose to join the congregation we arrived to a locked church. We discovered later it was the Sunday for their quarterly joint service held at another church! No way did the website indicate this.
So I decided on a little market research. Christine chose 12 churches at random from the Blackburn diocese handbook. I searched Google for a website for each of those churches chosen and discovered: Of the 12 eight had active websites, two were down, two untraceable, of those active, five were welcoming, six gave email response access, four could be said to be easy to trawl through and only three gave an actual calendar of dates and times of services and other activities for the coming week or month. I believe my research report should say, for some ‘Well done’ but for the majority ‘Improvement needed’!
Have you checked to see how welcoming your local church website is? Why not use the premise that you are considering coming to church for the first time or looking for what is on at church? Take a look and if you are not happy give the minister or church official aring. Maybe your intervention will encourage the site to be made ‘consumer friendly’ and helpful to those who enquire. After all it’s in the interest of you, the existing and potential members and possibly church growth.
In truth, all of us and this includes our churches need to embrace I.T. and while not discussed here, the use of information technology in the presentation of worship and meetings are paramount, for it is elsewhere today a significant part of our modern world of communicating.
And while the message of our Bible including the Gospels and Christ’s teaching is unchanging, its presentation needs to cater for this modern age and how we communicate is a critical part of that story using electronic means alongside face to face encounters.
Think on this, while not a reality: If Jesus had been born 30 years ago and was about to set out on his mission to evangelise the world, would he not today have used both his I.T. skills and personal and group encounters to communicate his life changing message? As his followers should we too?