Through such features as a weekly bulletin, photo gallery, and highlights of church groups and ministries, the first-year Web site for St. Mary’s Southside Parish in Elmira has a strong local flavor.
Yet it doesn’t forget men and women of the parish who are many miles away — often in much more turbulent settings.
The Armed Forces Dedication Page features six service people with ties to St. Mary’s. Set against the backdrop of United States flags, it lists their military information and biographical details, along with messages and prayers from loved ones.
The parish Web site (www.stmaryssouthside.org) was created and is maintained by St. Mary’s parishioners Anne and Burt Beebe. Its military link was added this past fall, not long after the site began in conjunction with the commemoration of St. Mary’s church renovation in September 2005.
“People’s children were overseas, or here in the country but not with their families. Others should know about these wonderful young people, that we were very proud of them,” Anne Beebe said.
She noted that some of the featured service people have had the chance to view the Web site, thus achieving its stated goal of providing them with “a warm feeling, knowing their families are just a click away.”
“Knowing that people care and the parish cares — everybody needs a little encouragement, especially more so those who are overseas,” Anne Beebe said.
Father Rick Farrell, pastor of St. Mary’s, noted that the parish offers weekly prayers of the faithful for the military, and the Web site helps personalize that intent.
“It’s a way for the church to say we haven’t forgotten, and that we’re praying all the time,” he said.
While emphasizing that the parish prays for an end to violence in Iraq and other parts of the world, Father Farrell said it’s also important to “highlight the sacrifice people are offering for their country. We’re just grateful for these people who are willing to be in that position.”
It can be a dangerous position, as reflected in a Web update on Sgt. Jeremy Ackerson of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. He had served in Iraq with the 6th Civil Affairs Group since last September and is shown on the Web page helping facilitate an Iraqi voting site. On Feb. 15 he was injured during combat, forcing his return to the United States for treatment and rendering him unable to return to action.
Two other people on the Armed Forces Dedication Page have current or past ties to Iraq: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dick Dalton arrived in Iraq in late December with the 763rd Helicopter Maintenance Squadron, and Marine Capt. Eric R. Lindgren spent most of 2003 in Iraq, where he was on the first tank unit to cross the Tigris River into Baghdad.
Anne Beebe said the link is a way to honor the military regardless of one’s stance on the Iraq war, which is noting its third anniversary on March 19.
“This was created no matter what you believe — no pro or con about the war. It’s just about the people themselves,” she said.
“It cuts through anything political,” Father Farrell agreed.
Response to the military link has been “very positive, though I think there are many people out there who haven’t sent anything,” Anne Beebe said.
Although much of the information is sent to her by e-mail, she hopes also to hear from those who aren’t computer savvy. She invites anyone interested to submit a name, branch of military, photo and any special message or prayer, either by e-mailing to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 607/562-7320.
“We do all the work. All they have to do is give us the information,” she said.
Thus far, she observed, those featured are either St. Mary’s parishioners or family members of parishioners. However, she would gladly accept submissions about service people from outside the parish.
“Personally, I think it could be anybody. It should be anybody who’s very proud and wants their son, daughter, aunt or uncle included,” she said, adding that she hopes other parishes will institute similar dedication pages on their Web sites.