Churches have responded to the pandemic with exciting worship innovation and adaptation. They have found new ways to maintain contact with congregants, to socialize and to seek financial support. The parish website is an important gateway and tool for successful parishes. Indeed, an updated, easy to use website is a necessity.
Parish websites provide seekers and congregants with a window into the goings-on and peculiarities of church life. Most sites are effective at identifying the who’s who of any church community, plus when service times are available, what sort of ministry takes place, how members contribute to the world around them through outreach and how they experience fellowship.
With the advent of COVID-19, websites have become more than just an information portal: they are the way we conduct worship and are Church. For many, the website is now the first point of contact for virtual worship, online giving and personal contact.
I take a particular interest in websites – especially those run by churches. As a stewardship wonk, I frequently draw on the resources provided by parishes as indicators of leading practices, what they are doing to keep information fresh, how they are innovating, and what they might be doing to set themselves apart from others. The level of creativity embraced by parishes in our own diocese is remarkable, and I want to share some of these examples with you. All of the following church websites can be easily found by searching for them on Google.
From a stewardship perspective, most parishes have done a pretty good job of promoting online giving, though Christ Church, Brampton and St. Paul, Bloor Street have taken things a notch beyond. Both sites go to great lengths to explain stewardship, provide examples of how to give and invite giving through a variety of vehicles. The former offers personal testimonies that affirm the benefits of giving and invite support for parish ministry.
There is more to discipleship than giving and Little Trinity (Trinity East) in Toronto and Christ Church, Oshawa place special emphasis on small group ministry. Other parishes that have taken this ministry online include the Parish of Craighurst and Midhurst, the Church of the Resurrection in Toronto and St. Mary and St. Martha, also in Toronto.
Prayer resources abound as well. If you are looking for quiet inspiration and contemplation, check out the websites for St. John the Evangelist, Peterborough and Trinity, Bradford. I am particularly partial to St. Bartholomew, Toronto and also St. Olave, Swansea as they provide daily livestreaming of morning and evening prayer.
Outreach to migrant workers is a priority at St. Paul, Beaverton and St. Saviour, Orono. The Rev. Canon Ted McCollum and the Rev. Augusto Nunez, along with a host of volunteers, provide outreach, worship, and personal support to farm workers in the Durham Region.
Are you looking to start a blog on your parish website and need inspiration? I’ve come across three that might be helpful: St. James the Apostle, Brampton, All Saints, King City and Church of the Ascension, Port Perry. When he was a curate at Ascension, the Rev. Phil Gearing kept a daily blog as he walked 10 km a day for 100 days to raise funds for FaithWorks over the summer in 2020.
Sometimes you come across things you just don’t expect on a website, like rebranding at St. John the Baptist, Oak Ridges, whimsical theatrical performances by professionally trained actor the Rev. Ken McClure at the Parish of Haliburton and the third annual Ping Pong Relay for FaithWorks, held by St. Christopher, Richmond Hill. The latter raised over $21,000, contributing to a very successful overall FaithWorks campaign.
I know that other parishes are engaging their neighbours and parishioners creatively. For the foreseeable future, parish websites will continue to be the first point of contact for those seeking worship and faith-filled engagement with their community. Many will continue to provide virtual worship long after the pandemic is over. We may not prefer online worship, especially for those of us accustomed to a more solemn experience, but there is no doubt that more and more people are being attracted to church via a virtual experience.
Given this reality, perhaps we should make the best of the opportunity at hand. Beyond worship, we have the capacity to use our websites to promote prayer, study, discipleship, generosity, outreach, fellowship and fun. It is all within our grasp. Reach grants from the diocese, and both volunteer and staff support, are available to parishes to help get you started or move to the next level. I invite you to make the most of it.