Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 8, 2010
Parish websites link with the faithful
'Handy gadget' provides details of parish activities, enables registration for the sacraments
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Via the Internet, spreading the word about Mass schedules, contact information, church programs and even the pope's message is easier than ever.
Several parishes throughout the Edmonton Archdiocese have set up their own websites to provide information to their computer-savvy parishioners.
Designed by a former youth minister, the website at Good Shepherd Parish is updated on a regular basis by Sandra Brown, the parish's business administrator. Admittedly not a whiz with computers, Brown said updating is dead simple, following an easy, copy-and-paste formatting system.
"Technically, the only reason we wanted to do this is so we could get the bulletin and the contact names of our ministry people up for the public to see, but mostly for our parishioners," said Brown.
Websites are not crucial to parish life by any means, she said. The website serves as a "handy little gadget to have," but no parish would collapse without one.
"I have had some people tell me that it's useful to go online and get the times of meetings because they're maybe at their office and don't have the church bulletin with them.
"They can register for the parish now too, and a couple of people have said that's very useful that they can just register on the website to be parishioners. It has its benefits," she said.
While the staff at St. Charles Parish in northwest Edmonton do not receive a lot of feedback about their website, parish secretary Pat Palichuk said the site is certainly useful. Visitors can find information about events and activities, groups and ministries, and community resources. Parents especially value the site for their children's sacramental preparation.
"It's cut down on the calls to the office about when's Mass times and when's Confession, stuff like that," said Palichuk.
Some sites are more professional and visually appealing than others. While professionals designed a handful of parish websites, most are the result of the time and effort of volunteers, some with minimal knowledge of website design.
Two parishioners designed the website six years ago for St. Albert Parish. It was based on a model supplied by a website designer.
The website garnered positive feedback initially, but then some parishioners complained that information was stale.
The parish council chairman called a meeting to discuss the situation. Parishioner Ray Schmidt took up the challenge and has now maintained the site for almost five years.
"I found that it did not take long to learn the ins and outs of website management. If I can do it, then anyone can," said Schmidt.
His mandate is to update the site at least once a week, which entails posting French and English bulletins, and changing schedules sent to him from the various parish ministries.
"Communication is important, and we want to use every medium available to ensure all parishioners and visitors have the news and information pertaining to our parish at their fingertips to keep everyone informed of current and upcoming events, that is, verbal, print and electronic," said Schmidt.
He receives positive feedback, and visitors to St. Albert have commented how easy it is to find the church and the Mass times because of the website. There have been at least 14,600 hits to the site since Nov. 18, 2007. Some parishioners have suggested graphic improvements such as more photos and videos, so Schmidt continues experimenting with the design.
"The benefits would have to be that almost all information about our parish is available anywhere in the world. Parishioners who have moved away or are snowbirds still visit our site for news. Even a former priest still checks in from time to time, from places such as Afghanistan or Virginia, USA, and he appreciates the fact that the site is well maintained with info he is interested in."
The costs involved are about $140 annually. The software comes with yearly updates, costing around $60.
Every parish should have a website, said Schmidt, because it is an effective way to share information with other parishes.
"In this day and age, I do not see why a parish would not have a website. It is an easy and low cost means to keep everyone informed, and it has gotten much easier to set up over the years," he said.
The website for Holy Family Parish in St. Albert is a handy way for shut-ins and parishioners away on holidays to stay current on church happenings through the church bulletin.
"People who want to change their weekly or monthly donations can click on the PDFs and print them out, and submit them," said Fred Holtslag, who designed and continues updating the site.
He has been doing website design for 13 years as a second career. Although the parish has 2,000 registered families, Holtslag stated that he does not get much feedback about the website. The few comments he does receive are favourable, however.
Holtslag also maintains the Brother Anthony Knights of Columbus website.
Although a double-edged sword, the pope called for priests and bishops to reach out using modern technology. Overall, the Church has been slow in taking up the ball, said Holtslag.
"Finding a link to send the parish staff an email allows people to get on with their lives. For example, if they're contemplating getting married at the parish, it allows people to access information."
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