EARLY IN FEBRUARY, after almost two years of planning, designing, programming, writing, editing and linking, the newly-designed web site of the Episcopal Church was launched for the world to see.
Dan England, director of communication, told members of the Executive Council in Tampa, Fla., on Feb 10 why so much time, money and effort had been expended on the project. "It is the centerpiece of our communication strategy," he said. "Almost everything else revolves around it."
Even the occasional visitor cannot miss fundamental changes in the expanded site that now offers about 30,000 pages of information for Episcopalians and Anglicans around the world, as well as content that is invitational to seekers and non-church goers.
The site uses a new content management system.Called the RedDot Content Management Server, it enables any number of contributors with training to add, change and remove content on the web site without depending upon assistance from the site's technical staff.
"It's been a monumental effort," the site's designer Ed Cimafonte said to Episcopal Church Center staff just hours before the change over from the previous, and original, site that had served for a decade.
Cimafonte warned days before the Feb. 2 launch that much more work remained. "The design needs a clean up and we still need to make changes on the site a couple of key areas," he said. His prediction was accurate and in the days that followed, he spent hours consulting with department heads and others who wanted formerly interactive sites restored, new links created and more editorial changes made. Alterations will continue for several weeks, he said.
A welcoming look
Gone is the old home page with its lists of governing bodies, national committees and departments, with choices that could lead a visitor to any one of two dozen ministries, programs andprojects. In its place is a striking icon by Episcopal artist Kathryn Carrington, who created two icons that hang in the chapel at theEpiscopal Church Center.
"The biggest change we have from the old site is in the presentation of material," said Cimafonte. "Little thought was given to who was coming to the site. We were just pushing our stuff out. We didn't want to overload people with possibilities so that they were turned off by the multiplicity of choices."
An approach he described as "visitor-centered" was created, and the home page now offers just four choices of information, including Seekers and Visitors, Life and Work of the Church and Leadership Resources.The fourth is a "church finder" that links visitors to congregations with web sites, and with an interactive "Parish Finder," designed by the Church Pension Group, that offers a selection of Episcopal parishes, cathedrals, seminaries or schools closest to any ZIP code area.
A Seeker's Center
The pages for "Seekers and Visitors" are aimed at people looking for a new church home, or wanting to know more about the church's beliefs and doctrine.
In the Seeker's Center, one can find answers to such questions as: "What is a Trinitarian God?", "What did Jesus do?" and "What do Christians believe?" Here, too, information about the Episcopal Church, its governance and a glossary of terms isoffered. There's also an 800-word essay describing what visitors can expect if they worship with Episcopalians.
The "Life and Work of the Church" section will interest the core constituency, or "people in the pews, "the web site's designers say. These pages have information and material that will have an impact on the lives of Episcopalians.
A click on "Leadership Resources" brings ordained and lay leaders to pages that provide tools and resources to better fulfill their calling, support their congregations, and help them to grow as individuals. Itis aimed at leaders and educators, as well as individuals interested in pursuing a calling towards greater involvement in the church.
"We can't be all things to all people, but we want to ‘hit on the money' for as many people as possible,"said Cimafonte.
Finding a content management solution that was web-based was a key factor. Any number of contributors can now edit, add or delete content themselves – giving them more control over their work and freeing up the technical staff to focus on infrastructure and other related initiatives, said Cimafonte.
Yet, control is maintained at all levels as new content is moved through a workflow engine to get management approval before it is published to the live site. The new system can support nine international languages.
Young people's site shines
One of the most developed sections of the site is for Ministries with Young People. It offers the latest resources, such as Voices along the Journey , a Lenten meditation guide, and events such as Interactive Learning, a conference in late May in which skilled practitioners will share and test approaches to ministry with young adults through an interactive experience.
Music tracks offer songs from the last Episcopal Youth Event. "In an age of electronica, instant popstars, and MP3s, it seemed appropriate to include the tried and true, and yet remain committed to bringing new sounds into the church; to keep contemporary Christian music truly contemporary," said Thom Chu, director of Ministries with Young People.
"The musicians come from many different backgrounds, in terms of both musical experience and training, as well as race, culture, theology, geography,and life experience." The site offers tracks to download and a musical songbook.
Chu says another valuable resource on the site offers lesson plans for small congregations. A cooperative venture with the Episcopal Council for Christian Education, the lessons follow the Revised Common Lectionary for young children, older children and adults.
Other links lead visitors to publishing houses, craft suppliers, drama, puppetry and mime, seminaries,camp and conference centers and summer job postings.
An opportunity for evangelism
Can the new site lead people into the church? The Rev. Titus Presler, dean of the Episcopal Seminary ofthe Southwest in Austin, Texas, and a member of Executive Council, told of an incident recently in which a couple recounted to him how they discovered the Episcopal Church's statement of faith on the website. It led them into theological inquiry and, ultimately, membership in the church.
Another council member, Louie Crew of the Dioceseof Newark, said the new site had resulted in a proliferationof new material. "It has helped to change theculture of 815 [the Episcopal Church Center] to one of abundance," he said. "If it is not abundant, people will stop going to the well."
With much energy now focussed on church development, the Office of Congregational Development offers on its site pages of research and statistic information about rural and small churches, stewship and a list of training events.
A section on new church development supports growing commitment of dioceses to plant new churches and redevelop existing congregations inresponse to the 20/20 initiative adopted by the General Convention.
"The resources and links will help direct theto a diocese with experience in new church develment," said the Rev. Charles N. Fulton, III, director of congregational development. Stories from diocese offer advice about what works and what doesn't, conferences and events that support new church development are also posted.
Focus on resettlement ministry
Another well-developed, well-planned site highlights the work of Episcopal Migration Ministries which offers assistance in resettling refugees inparticipating dioceses. Among its pages are a thcal premise for its ministry, resettlement facts, ods for recruiting volunteers, resources and even newsroom and a photo gallery of recently arrived immigrants.
News from the church worldwide is frequent onsite. Letters from chaplains in Iraq and Kuwait with the armed forces can be found on the Office Suffragan of Chaplaincies pages. News about commpanion relationships with overseas dioceses is on t Anglican and Global Relations pages. Pages postthe Convocation of American Churches in Europe contain the latest information and web sites from parishes, missions and youth in Europe.
Will the new web site prosper with its new abdance of information?
"We've taken a risk. It was calculated and planed but a risk never the less," says Dan England. "We decided to build a new system, a very sophisticated one, which can accommodate growth. Now, we need the help and cooperation of people to build it content."