Parishes tune in to technology - Catholic Courier

Parishes tune in to technology

Members of St. Mary Parish in Canandaigua now have a new way of reflecting on the weekly Scripture readings during Lent, thanks to seminarian Brian Carpenter and youth minister Dawn Burdick.

Instead of flipping through the pages of a Bible, parishioners now can turn on their computers or iPods, download the most recent installment of the podcast Your Sunday Reader, then sit back and listen to Carpenter and Burdick read and discuss the week’s Scripture selections.

Many Catholics would like to spend more time reflecting on the Scriptures during Lent but may not have time to sit down with the Bible, said Carpenter, who has completed two years at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois and is currently serving his pastoral year at St. Mary.

“We thought it would be a good way to reach some people, especially the younger people who tend not to come to a lot of events,” he added.

A podcast is an audio file — called an MP3 file — that is distributed to subscribers via the Internet, Carpenter said. Each week a new podcast will automatically be sent to the computer of anyone who subscribes to the free service through the iTunes Web site, www.apple.com/itunes. The podcasts also may be downloaded from the parish’s Web site, www.stmarycanandaigua.org. They can be listened to on a digital-music player, such as an iPod, or on a computer that plays MP3 files.

Carpenter and Burdick record the podcasts each week using Carpenter’s laptop computer and a microphone. They read each of the week’s Scriptures aloud, Carpenter said, before discussing the readings and “breaking open the word.”

He and Burdick launched the podcast during Advent 2006, but they produce Your Sunday Reader every week year-round. Digital-music players and podcasts are becoming increasingly popular, so the pair decided to use that technological medium to spread the Gospel.

“We just thought it would be good to have some kind of Catholic presence in that space, because that’s where (the people) are,” Carpenter said.

High-tech offerings

The weekly podcasts are not the only offering St. Mary has for technology-savvy parishioners. Burdick and Carpenter also coordinate You’ve Got Mail, the parish’s online catechetical program for children and parents. Families enrolled in this program receive a weekly e-mail with that weekend’s Scripture readings and several response questions.

Parents and children work on the assignments together then e-mail them back to Burdick, and the 15 or 20 families enrolled in the program also meet at the parish once a month. This flexible program takes the place of traditional faith-formation classes for participating families, and allows parents and children to grow in faith together, Carpenter said.

Many other parishes throughout the Diocese of Rochester are branching out and using the Internet, television and other technological devices and media as outreach tools. The Web pages of both St. Michael Parish in Newark (www.stmichaelsnewark.org) and St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Churchville (www.stvincentdepaulchurch.net) feature audio files of each weekend’s homilies, for example.

Father Peter Clifford, pastor of the Newark parish, said he began offering homilies online in November 2005 because many parishioners take homilies very seriously and often want to review them, especially if the priest said something particularly memorable, disturbing or provocative. He records the homilies on cassette tapes during Mass, and they are later converted into audio files and posted online by a parishioner.

Masses, weddings, funerals and events that take place at Fairport’s Church of the Assumption are broadcast live over the Internet and can be viewed from the parish’s Web site, www.assumptionfairport.org. This is done through the use of five cameras, which are mounted throughout the church, said Steve Smith, a member of the parish’s technology team.

The church features above the sacristy a small control room from which one person can control all the cameras, even zooming in and out and panning around, Smith said. The system ordinarily is not used to record Masses, but rather streams them out over the Internet so people can watch them in real time, he said.

This has allowed shut-ins and ill parishioners to follow along with Mass from their homes, and it’s made funerals and weddings accessible for family members who are ill or unable to travel to the church. It even allows Father Edward Palumbos, pastor, to watch the parish’s Masses while he’s on sabbatical in Sydney, Australia, where’s he’s now studying ways of using technology to spread the Gospel.

“Last week I watched our 6 p.m. Sunday-night LIFE TEEN Mass here in Australia,” he told the Catholic Courier via e-mail. “Of course, it was Monday morning at 10 a.m. (Australia time), but it was such a thrill to be connected with the community I love and care about while so far away.”

When the church was renovated shortly after Father Palumbos became pastor in 2001, he made sure the plans included wiring for Web cams. The Web-cam idea was welcomed by most parishioners, but even those who were at first skeptical have since come around, he added.

“Increasingly people tell me that they were unable to come to church due to illness, and the ability to watch Mass in their own parish every day was a real blessing and strength,” Father Palumbos said.

St. Cecilia Parish in Irondequoit is using another technological medium — cable-access television — to reach beyond its pews. Since July 2006 the parish has produced six half-hour episodes of “St. Cecilia Connection TV,” in which Father Kevin E. McKenna, pastor, interviews local Catholics about how their faith influences their personal and professional lives.

The episodes are recorded in Father McKenna’s office with the help of professional experience and equipment provided by parishioners Salvatore Panzarella and John-Paul Vidal, both of whom have backgrounds in the communications industry. Panzarella edits the episodes, records them to DVDs and distributes the discs to the Irondequoit and Webster cable-access channels, as well as Irondequoit’s two libraries. The presentations of guest speakers who visit the parish also are recorded and kept at the parish and in the libraries, he said.

“I think we’ve got a gold mine in our local cable-access television,” Father McKenna said. “It’s enabling us to reach a lot of people who we would not be able to reach otherwise, even within our parish boundaries, because they might not be coming to church, or they might not even be Catholic.”

At St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Ithaca, meanwhile, staff members and volunteers are collecting parishioner input for the parish’s future strategic plan via e-mail and postings on the parish’s Web site, said Sister Mary O’Brien, CSJ, pastoral associate. Our Lady of the Valley Parish in western Steuben County is devising a way for people to make their weekly donations to the parish collection via the Internet, said Father Patrick Van Durme, pastor. The diocese also has implemented electronic giving, and its Web site, www.dor.org, includes links that allow people to make online donations to the Partners in Faith campaign and the Catholic Ministries Appeal.

Future necessity

Utilizing technological tools to enhance parish-outreach efforts fits in with the church’s goal of evangelization, Father McKenna said. It provides parishes with ways of reaching out to the unchurched and Catholics who have stopped attending Mass.

“We’re preaching to the choir in our bulletins. Everyone that’s coming on Sunday knows about us and knows what we’re doing,” he said.

Becoming technologically adept is more than just beneficial for parishes; it’s imperative, Father Clifford said. Today’s society is in the midst of change, and the church needs to adapt and respond to those changes in order to remain viable and relevant, Carpenter added. Parishes can either complain about the way people’s lives revolve around cell phones, e-mail and the Internet, or they can find ways to bring their message to those media, he said.

“I think the further we go from this particular date in time, the more crucial it will be to somehow be aware of and embrace technology,” Father Clifford said, noting that today’s children have grown up with technology and will expect it to be integrated in all aspects of their lives. “If they come for the worship experience and it simply is this flat presentation, we may very well begin to lose people, because they’re tuned to a very different means of presentation.”

Carpenter and Fathers Clifford, McKenna and Palumbos agreed that while many parishes and dioceses are beginning to experiment with new technology, the church as a whole has not moved to embrace it quickly enough. Even the parishes that are currently on the cutting edge of technology can not afford to let their efforts lag, Father Palumbos said.

“We have to stay with this technology. It is the language that our people speak today,” he said. “The Gospel is too important to not use every means that is at our disposal to proclaim it.”

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