Online missionary outpost?

Church questionFor whatever reason, we’ve been encountering lots of seekers lately at the parish I serve. Often these folks are completely unchurched. Sometimes our seekers have some church experience, but almost never in the Episcopal Church. My first real conversations with people is usually by email. Maybe they write to us first, before they visit our church, to find out if it’s the kind of place they’d like to check out. Or perhaps the blinking cursor of an email message seems safer than the scary conversation in the after-church handshake line.

I love encounters with those who are seeking God. I love people who have been moved by life’s vagaries to seek out a faith community. I love the open questions and the fresh desire of seekers. But there’s a challenge for me. It’s hard to give someone a sense of what the Episcopal Church is all about by email. If they want to meet with me over a cup of coffee or stop by the office for a chat, it’s pretty easy. I wish I could point folks to a fantastic website where they could get a sense of the Episcopal Church. It does not seem to exist. Alas.

Yesterday, on Facebook, I asked the question of my friends. Several hundred friends, and no one had the answer. I pre-empted people by saying I would not entertain as a candidate. It’s lousy for seekers. For church geek insiders, it’s fantastic. For people who want to know who is the Acting Deputy Program Officer of some random 815 office, it’s good. For those who want to find out where the Presiding Bishop or the President of the House of Deputies have appeared lately, you’re in luck. To get to know the Episcopal Church, you have to look elsewhere.

This is what my Facebook friends suggested:

  1. Wikipedia. Well, yes, if you want a clinical description of our polity, history, and current controversies, it will do just fine. But I’ve not yet met a seeker who said, “Tell me more about your bicameral legislative assembly and its history.” More likely they’ll say, “Tell me more about Jesus in your church.” You won’t find that in Wikipedia.
  2. Parish websites. As one person suggested, just visit the website of the nearest parish. Of course, the problem is that parish websites stink about 90% of the time. A couple of weekends ago, when I was visiting another city, I looked at several websites to figure out where I wanted to go to church. In a shocking number of cases, I couldn’t figure out where the church was or when the services were, let alone who the people were or why I might want to go there. Almost never does a parish website give one a sense of Episcopal Church or the Anglican tradition in Christianity, as distinct from other places. And please do NOT point me to your parish website with the crufty prose about how we sit, stand, and kneel at various times. That copy was great in 1950, but it’s just not reality any more.
  3. Fr. Matthew’s videos. Now here is a suggestion of merit. He’s got some great stuff, and the tone of it is about right for seekers. The problem is that we need a good wrapper to lead a seeker through the videos in some kind of order, and we’d need some surrounding text. When someone wants to know the deal on Henry VIII, it’s good to have that on hand.
  4. Seven whole days. I’m flattered, but this site is good for missional/cranky Anglicans. If you don’t have a modicum of interior church geek or a set of leftist political/cultural/values, you probably won’t enjoy it around here too much. Oh, and you’d better have an irreverent sense of humor. 7WD is cheeky, but that’s about it’s only attractive quality from the standpoint of seekers.
  5. Peek through the Window ( is the right idea, but it’s a bit under resourced and a little dated. If you have a look at the comments in that Facebook conversation, you’ll see that the webmaster is willing to share in the work of running that site and open to updates. Maybe that’s a good idea.

We need to fix this. We do NOT need to commission a five-year study that runs through CCABs, Executive Council, and the Anglican Consultative Council. Our church needs a website much in the spirit of this great video. Now see, if I send someone a video about Episco-ninjas, then they begin to grasp who we are. But we also need text that is descriptive and engaging. I’ll be vulnerable here and offer some of the text we use on the Christ Church website as an example. Feel free to offer your editorial comments here, but I hope you’ll see that we’re trying to give a sense of who we are to a diverse audience.

I will personally pay for a domain and for hosting, if we can get a team of people together to work on this — to create a great website for seekers. There’s lots of great content around. There are loads of Jesus-loving Episco-bloggers who could do this in a few weeks, with enough brains and hands on the task. I’m astounded this isn’t already done, but I think we can do it. Quickly.

What say you, dear readers? Did I miss a great website for seekers who are considering joining Anglicans on the pilgrimage? Is someone already working on this? Can we do it? What do you think seekers want to see on the web?

The field is ripe for harvest, and much of that field is online. We can’t afford wait much longer. We need a missionary outpost on the web.

Photo by Flickr user Dom Dada.

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23 Responses

  1. Peter Carey says:

    Good post, what about this video:

    Betty Butterfileld always gets me cracking up!

    Peter Carey

  2. Scott Gunn says:

    Peter, that is FANTASTIC. But it only works if you have a generous sense of humor.

  3. Stefani Schatz says:

    Hi Scott,
    have you read anything by Chris Yaw (I was ordained with him in LA) he’s written “Jesus was an Episcopalian…” he’s got a group on FB called “People who are rather fond of the Episcopal church” and I don’t see you as one of his 2600 friends. He’s an excellent writer – also has a blog @ / – which you might like. He MIGHT be able to write new content and/or give you permission for some chapters to a website. Shall I introduce you 2?

  4. Scott Gunn says:


    Thanks — that’s a great book, and I love wearing my “Jesus was an Episcopalian” button too. I’ve now joined the FB group.

    All that is great, and his content would be fabulous. If this website doesn’t exist, then it would be great to have some of that content as part of the site.

    I’m holding out hope that I’m wrong. In this case, I’d love to discover I’m in error, and that there’s some hidden gem of a site that was unknown to lots of us.

    Introduction? Sure. I always like to meet new friends.

  5. Bob Chapman says:

    Fr. Scott, I would offer my technical communications skills to this effort. In particular, editing and maybe SysAdmin skills.

    With today’s platforms, it is not hard to create an environment where pages can be examined, discussed, and edited before going live for all the world to see.

    There is always WordPress as a default platform. Quite frankly, it is a better than some of the “real” content management systems.

    That being said, MODx as a CMS works great. I chose it to use for part of my personal website because of how simple it is to create page templates and manage pages. (WordPress powers my blog.) I host everything on GoDaddy.

    As a technical communicator, I feel obliged to start asking questions:

    1. Who is the audience?
    2. What type of content for this website?
    3. Who may submit information?
    4. Who or how are editorial judgments made?
    5. What type of content?
    6. Advertisements?

    If you give me a little while more, I’m sure I can add to these questions.

    Your humble and occasionally obedient servant,
    Bob Chapman

  6. Bob Chapman says:

    One more thing.

    You don’t want a lot of content. Instead, you want to keep it simple.

    The reason is that we all have day jobs.

  7. Eleanor Braun says:

    I find Explore Faith to be a great place to explore questions that seekers typically have.

  8. Chris Yaw is working on a web movie that takes his book “online” in a graphic way to meet exactly the need you’ve identified. Do talk with him and feel free to contact me ( and let’s talk about how we might use his writings. I think they are very accessible to seekers — and we’re always looking for ways to make the Episcopal Church more accessible. So let me know how we can help.

    • Scott Gunn says:

      Linda, thanks — now I”m in touch with Chris! Great stuff, and I’m glad to be talking with the man behind my “Jesus was an Episcopalian” button from General Convention (which I treasure greatly).

      Eleanor, Explore Faith is good on content, but I’m hoping for something that’s Anglican and which has a bit more zazz.

      Bob, I’m with you: keep it simple. On the tech front, my vote is to let content drive the solution, and I’m still talking with people about content. Thanks to this blog post, I’ve begun having some interesting conversations.

      More info to come! Keep the comments flowing.


  9. Stefani says:

    Eleanor, I had not been to that site – it’s cool!! and lots and lots of info … they do answer some of people’s questions, but it’s not quite the “ninja”-effect Scott’s talking about yet.

  10. Scott: Excellent post and excellent idea. We, too, have a lot of seekers coming on Sundays and throughout the week. In conversations with some of them, it becomes clear that they have done their web research and have often learned only about the conflicts over sexuality or have landed on what are decidedly not “seeker-friendly” sites. While many of these newcomers are young adults, there are also many who are middle-aged or older; even some retirees who only now have time and energy to renew the spiritual quest they abandoned thirty or forty years ago.

    • Scott Gunn says:

      Jonathan, it’s interesting to chat with seekers who show up and learn what’s happened before they even get to the door. I don’t know if this is typical or unusual, but in our case, almost every one of them (regardless of age) has had a look at our website first. A fair number contact us by facebook or email before they actually show up. My particular interest in a seeker-friendly website is for those folks — people with whom I can’t yet have an in-person conversation.

      Peace, Scott+

  11. I have tried over the last few years to find some people interested in helping to enlarge Peek Through The Window of the The Episcopal Church – but I have never found anyone who was willing and able to help. I’m totally serious about what I said on Facebook about being contacted by anyone wiling to help.

    I’m a lay person. I haven’t been to seminary. I have a list of subjects I’d like to deal with on PTTW that I just don’t have the knowledge to be able to write on. I’m in college (at an non-traditional age) finishing my undergrad. I’m active in my small parish and community. I just don’t have the time to spend on PTTW that I would like, in addition to the subjects that I need stuff written about that I just do not have the time to try and teach myself about. Also, I’m single and childless, so I have to do my own housework too!

    So please, don’t go out and reinvent the wheel, but please contact me using the Google Docs Form at and help me improve the existing wheel at

  12. I had a comment. It was here. Now it is gone.


    @Bob – I can’t stand GoDaddy – bad experience with them, very bad and don’t get me started about their Super Bowl commercials and the objectification of women

    For hosting I recommend Episcopal Church Web Hosting @

    • Scott Gunn says:

      Hi Jan,

      I’m not sure why you might have had a comment appear and disappear. On my end, I didn’t do anything that I know of. Comment moderation has been taking longer than usual because my notification emails don’t seem to be working right. But that should just cause a delay.

      Anyway, thanks for your comments — and for running!


      UPDATE: I found a comment of yours in the blog’s “spam” folder, and I’ve “unspammed” it. Maybe that was the issue. Sorry about that.

      To respond to that comment, I’m not sure I’m suggesting that anyone reinvent the wheel. Maybe the wheel stays there and now there’s also a…widget sitting next it. I dunno. Still working this out…

  13. Also, if anyone wants to help with – and yes it does take a small village of people to run a decent seeker friendly website (and this village could really use some citizens with some advance theological education) – please visit

    Current population of the PTTW Village – two busy people in two different non-adjacent time zones

  14. Bob Chapman says:

    “On the tech front, my vote is to let content drive the solution, and I’m still talking with people about content.”

    I have been around those discussions before.

    My experience is that, if allowed to totally dream absolutely out-of-the-box, the proposed solution becomes technically challenging. After that happens, the pendulum swings too far back the other way because you have to ship something.

    The more successful discussions tend to start with a limit of what technology _could_ be in the solution (not _will_ be in the solution). After that, you discuss what you want to do within those boundaries. When done this way, I’ve even seen people give up technology that was in the list because they realize they didn’t need it to reach the goal.

    Just saying….and it is your website.

    (On Ship of Fools, I referred to myself as a curmudgeon in training. I think I have finally graduated past the training part.)

  15. Jenifer says:

    I would suggest that you talk with the board of NAECED, which is the network of educators in the Episcopal Church. The president of the board is Debbi Rodahaffer ( (Disclaimer: I’m the VP).

    These are the people who are doing the work on the group and will will have a broad range of resources from a number of publishers as well as their own work to put together such a website.

    A personal plug is the book “Your Faith, Your Life: A Newcomer’s Guide to the Episcopal Church” (with a basic website that accompanies the book) It is written in a conversational style and covers a number of topics within a spiritual framework that invites readers to ministry. It’s published by Church Publishing.

  16. Carol says:

    I suggest the Anglican Curmudgeon at It is a very honest look at the way Episcopal Church really is.

  17. Thomas the Doubter says:

    Speaking as a “seeker”, and one who has “sought” starting with the Episcopal Church, permit me to make a rather contrarian observation.

    Get your seekers to come and see you and/or the church in person. Keep them as far away from the internet as you can. Under no circumstances set up yet another web-based resource, and distance yourself from those that exist.

    I assure you that I am no Luddite. I was on the internet in the 80s when it was email and USENET (anyone remember gopher?). I’ve written XHTML, SQL and PHP (not much of the latter) and helped run a web site that got written up in a national (non-computer, print) publication. I’m not an “expert”, but I’ve been around.

    A key thing about the internet is the “inter” part. The “web” part. The six-degrees-of-separation links from everything to everything else.

    If you give them a “web resource”, the smart ones will start looking around for other resources, and they’ll discover the Anglican Civil War. You know what I’m talking about. And unless they slot neatly into one of the sides, they’ll start fretting about which side to take, and which side you belong to, and how much time they have to spend Hating The Enemy, and … well, you know.

    Online Episcopal/Anglican Web Resources have kept me firmly out of and away from church. (Well, I did go to an enquirer’s class at one place, but it was even worse than what I saw online).

    In summary, if your church is offering something other than an enlistment in the Anglican Civil War, have them come and see it. Emphasize that you and yours are NOT what they will see online. Unless you are a recruiting office, that is.

    (You do need a parish website of course … use that to explain anything they need to know before they show up.)

    Others’ mileage may vary. I sincerely hope that it does.

    Thomas the Doubter

  18. Stefani Schatz says:

    TO Thomas the Doubter — hi, great post … I appreciate it; can you say a little about your experience once you walked into the Episcopal Church? What might have helped or what hindered making it a place to which you wanted to return – or what gave you the “answers” that weren’t on any website?
    thanks in advance ! I’d love to hear your thoughts since they’re so articulate and it’s been years since I first walked into the Episcopal Church. peace,

  19. Thomas the Doubter says:

    Rev. Schatz:

    You are far too kind. The particular church into which I walked, I walked out of … or at least, out of the inquirer’s class (as courteously as I could; I didn’t storm out or anything, just let the priest know I wouldn’t be coming back). I remain unbaptized and unchurched.

    It came down to two things, really. First, there were clearly factions within the church (I suppose some of that is unavoidable, but an inquirer shouldn’t be able to tell right away, IMHO), and the church itself had taken a very clear side in the War. That may have been unavoidable also, I don’t know, but it did not seem at all appealing — particularly since it seemed to mirror, in a lesser way, some of the outright nastiness I’d seen (from all sides) on the .net .

    Now, I do realize the people are seldom at their best when online and not among friends. Still from the outside one does have some expectations of a church that one would not normally have of, say, Freemasonry or a political club. Outsiders may tend to idealize Christians to some degree, but if you’re all just the same as the rest of us outside, why _not_ the Freemasons (or whatever else) instead?

    The second thing was the priest’s telling of the story of Jesus curing the centurion’s servant (Lk 7:1-10, Mt 8:5-13), and getting it entirely backwards. Perhaps a simple lapse such as we all may have, but not confidence-building.

    I am not pathologically shy or anything, but I don’t normally like to just walk into a room full of complete strangers. The web being the resource that it is, I did a lot or reading (online and off) before I actually walked through the red door. Unfortunately that reading primed me to believe two things: one, that I found the Anglican tradition to be logical and congenial to my way of thinking and doing things, and two, what I’ve called the Anglican Civil War, with attendant bad behavior on all sides. Please excuse me if I am not more specific about that behavior or my views on the several sides, but I doubt that such comments would be edifying to anyone.

    Suffice it to say that while I am not looking for comfortable cheap grace, neither do I care to jump into the middle of a slugfest with people whom I should consider my brothers and sisters.

    Back to the original post, it is my experience (which of course not all will share) that too much browsing the .net predisposes at least some people against _any_ of the sides involved. If an individual parish is able to stay above the fray, or offer something not connected to it, IMVHO that can best be demonstrated in person. I don’t mean to rant, but talk _is_ cheap, especially on the .net.

    I hope that’s helpful. I did not mean to simply rant or stir the pot.

    Thomas the Doubter

  20. Stefani Schatz says:

    Thomas, again, thank you for your honesty … I hope you do eventually find a place without cheap grace but also without the slugfest that you did find. IF you’re ever in Reno NV, I think you’d find our congregation does just that! And I think you’ve said some very important things for the EPiscopal church(es) to hear. I’m grateful. peace,

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