Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Sacred space on the web

Today’s photograph in The Irish Times shows Westminster Abbey’s online editor Imogen Levy preparing for the Commonwealth Observance in March, the first time such a website was used to cover a royal event.

Patrick Comerford

In The Irish Times today (27 May 2009), Alannah Gallagher writes about the way religious leaders are using websites to reach out to their followers, particularly those who can’t make it to church services.

Her feature gives favourable mention to Ian Poulton’s blog and my Facebook page.

In her feature, she writes:

“As our lives get busier and busier, there is less and less time for quiet spiritual contemplation. The idea of nine-to-five working is a thing of the past, and many of us no longer have time to drop into the local church for a moment of prayer, something which provided generations with their daily spiritual bread.

“This, coupled with the fact that few churches open late these days, means more people are turning to the web for their spiritual fix. It’s private, open 24/7 and offers a range of services to suit every creed. You can attend baptisms, weddings and funerals. Even Cardinal Cahal Daly recognises its potential, recently urging social networkers to start sending daily prayers by text, Twitter or e-mail.

“The Catholic Church is embracing the web with gusto. The Vatican has its own YouTube channel. In Britain, Westminster Abbey uses Twitter and podcasts to spread the word.

“In Ireland, the website Catholicireland.net lists every Mass time and service in every Catholic Church in the country. Diocesan and parish sites have almost doubled their number of users since last December. Figures are up from 36,271 in December 2008 to 70,892 in April 2009.

“Sacredspace.ie, the Jesuit prayer site, was set up 10 years ago by Fr Alan McGuckian. It asks you to find ‘sacred space’, 10 minutes for prayer, in your day. This avenue to the soul has users responding with delight, as a recent American post reads: ‘What a wonderful, inspirational site. To be able to break off from work and reflect is such a gift.’ Its success lies in the fact that you don’t have to move physically to engage spiritually.”

And she continues:

“The Church of Ireland also has a significant online presence. Nothing replaces human contact but the internet offers another dimension to church ministry, explains Ian Poulton, rector of Ballybrack. His blog, forthefainthearted.com, attracts 1,000 unique visitors per month. The web is both the medium and the message, says the rector. ‘In times gone by clergy used to write huge diaries. This is simply keeping up with the times.’”

Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation at the Church of Ireland Theological Institution [sic]. He trains people for ordination and is also Canon at Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin.

“‘Everyone in ministry should have a blog or be on Facebook,’ he believes. ‘It’s about availability in ministry and communicating in a number of ways.”