Rediscovering the church’s place in the local community

Author: The Revd Canon Andrew Beane

Published on: 8 October 2015

How WiFi access in Alysham Parish Church is enabling engagement with new audiences

The Revd Canon Andrew Beane writes:

On visiting a cathedral in the north of England (no names mentioned but it began with a D) this summer I was told in no uncertain terms by a steward that I was not allowed to take photos in the cathedral.

There was no reason given other than it was a place for worship, fairly obvious to anyone I would have thought! What a great pity they were so short sighted not to see and embrace the technology that our world is now so reliant on.

You could, of course, argue that using a smart-phone or a camera to take a photo is unnecessary and an intrusion, but we would not say the same about someone sitting with a note pad and pencil.

I doubt the steward at the northern cathedral would approve of my new ‘Tweet Us’ notices! They are all part of us embracing the endless possibilities that our WiSpire internet connection has made possible. At Aylsham Parish Church we are encouraging visitors and congregations to take photos and make comments using social media.

Our free internet portal (access point) has been running for a few months now and has already proved to have been a talking point of many visitors. “Can we really check our emails here?”, “A church with WiFi, that’s cool” are just two of the remarks.

There are many different reasons for having WiSpire connect your church into their ever growing network. It may be to offer to your community a faster broadband connection in a rural part of Norfolk; it may be to protect your church roof from lead theft by installing a CCTV camera. For us in Aylsham it was more by accident as our location enables other more rural churches to connect into the wider network. However, I thought if we have this facility why not explore its wider potential.

So here are, just a few ways that we’ve started to explore what the future might hold.

We’ve an interactive Church Trail using QR Code (those odd square boxes that look a bit like bar codes). You can read about different aspects of the Church, but if you scan the QR code you are taken online. For example at the Font you are taken to a video of a baptism taking place.

We installed a camera so we can stream services live over the web. We’ve run an internet cafe and tablet workshop for older people who want to learn how to get the most out of new technology. The WiFi also allowed us to stream Pop, Corn & Grace, a community radio project that we ran at the beginning of the summer over the internet, as well as broadcasting to the local area on 87.7FM.

We’ve plans for a church app – not sure what it might be used for yet but in a way that’s part of the journey of exploration as technology moves so quickly. We want to invite our local high school to help design the app and allow young people to drive the project forward in a way that gets them involved in heritage, culture and technology.

There are costs involved but this is pioneering ministry; this is about using a different kind of ‘net’ to fish with. We are called to proclaim the Gospel afresh to each generation. It’s our calling as a church to reach out and connect with our community: both the physical close by and the virtual.

For me it’s all about rediscovering the church’s place in community; not just a place of worship but a place of hospitality, welcome, support, commerce, and entertainment. Church is not just somewhere you go on a Sunday, but a living place reaching out to the wider community.

Editor: WiSpire are growing their team so they can enable more churches to have WiFi access. Please contact them on 01603 904040 to find out more.

The author...

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The Revd Canon Andrew Beane

Licensed clergy – Incumbent: Priest in Charge, Aylsham (Benefice)

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