A virtual congregation

Trinity Church website offers experience of Sunday worship at home
February 28, 2005

New York’s famous church on Wall Street has launched a bold evangelism initiative, offering live webcasts of its main service.

On any given Sunday, an individual seeking to participate in live worship with members of Trinity Episcopal Church at its 11:15 a.m. service can do so virtually, by logging on to the parish’s website, http://www.trinitywallstreet.org/. The Sunday services also are archived so that people are able to view them at any time -- from anywhere around the world.

A recent Pew Internet and Family Life report showed that 28 million Americans, or 64 percent of people with Internet access, have used it for spiritual or religious purposes or to connect with others about faith issues.

That’s a point not lost on the Rev. James H. Cooper, Trinity’s new rector who arrived last May, and who has been a persistent force behind the project.

“The webcasts may open up another access point to the church and the messages of the Anglican tradition,” he said. “This serves ... those within the church and helps those outside the church understand more about what we do.”

He’s mindful that any of several reasons, such as illness, disability or an emergency, may prevent a parishioner from entering the church doors on any particular Sunday. The webcasts, however, are not meant to encourage people to sit at home in front of their computer screen, he said.

“The webcasts are used primarily by those who want to, but cannot, attend church,” said Cooper. “Some viewers are homebound; others want to know more about the Episcopal Church, but prefer to learn from a distance, and there are some others who live far away from a church in which they feel comfortable.

Nathan Brockman, manager of Trinity’s web site and parish publications, said about 240 viewers see an average Sunday service. That numbered doubled one January weekend when a blizzard kept many people indoors.

Cameras unobtrusive

Trinity officials sought to make transmitting the services as unobtrusive as possible to those worshiping at the church. Four cameras, perched discreetly in strategic locations throughout the church, are controlled and operated by three staff members from an office building behind the church. Members of the congregation are not really aware of what’s happening, they said.

Some have become avid viewers. One person from Wisconsin wrote in an e-mail: “I just want to thank you all at Trinity for the wonderful webcasts of your worship services and concerts. We have watched the Sunday service and other events almost weekly since last fall and look forward to it later in the week, even though we attend an Episcopal church Sunday mornings here.”

Another, unable to attend services regularly, wrote: “The webcasts of your Sunday services are a joy for me. I look forward to watching, either live or rebroadcast. The services are always rich in meaning in the music and liturgy … I feel like I am part of the Trinity family.”

A member of Cooper’s former parish in the Diocese of Florida expressed gratitude for the site. “I love the music and of course, when he preaches, we get to hear again from our former rector.”

Offers easy access

Trinity's website offers other resources, including weekday concerts, Sunday afternoon concerts with spiritual music, the service of lessons and carols, sermons, services at Good Friday and Eastertide, said Bert Medley, Trinity’s director of television and new media. The site recently added service bulletins available in PDF format and hymns that can be downloaded.

“We are about making it easier for people to access or supplement their spiritual or religious experience,” said Medley.

What also has been easy for seekers is ways to find Trinity’s website. The webcasts are advertised on beliefnet.com and faithandvalues.com. “If you are a seeker on the Internet, you will find these resources available to you that you may want,” said Medley. Trinity also offers streaming videos for msn.com, which include sound bytes and content restored from archives, such as reflections from religious leaders. “We are reaching out in nontraditional ways to nontraditional communities and connecting them with a church,” Medley said.

Cooper, recognizing that the technology is new and continues to grow, said the webcasting project was long-term, best evaluated over a number of years. “In the future, we will continue to feature regular webcasts of services and evaluate their usefulness while looking for new ways to use the medium for outreach and to encourage dialogue.”

To learn more about spiritual life online, visit http://www.pewinternet.org/

Grace Cathedral is San Francisco also offers live broadcasting and recordings of its programming “to ensure that people from around the world can participate in our mission of encouraging spiritual growth, fostering understanding of spiritual diversity and supporting civic conversation on social and spiritual issues,” according to a

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