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Dublin seminar discusses faith and Facebook, spirituality and social media

By Cian Molloy - 13 February, 2017

Electronic communications bring new challenges and new opportunities for the Church in the 21st century, a seminar organised by the Church Support Group heard on Wednesday.

Many of those attending the seminar were from parishes that avail of Church Services TV, a service that allows Mass and other parish events to be streamed over the Internet to those who are housebound or otherwise unable to attend the Celebration of the Eucharist or other church occasions.

Maeve Davidson of Foxrock Parish in South Dublin told those present that hundreds of people log on to view ceremonies at the church each week. Some log on for weekly Masses; others log on to be ‘virtually present’ at funerals, weddings or baptisms.

“It has gone beyond our wildest dreams,” she said of the television streaming service. “We thought it would just be local people who were at home who would be tuning in, but we get viewers from across the world.”

Foxrock’s experience of using social media also provides an example as to why parishes might consider investing time into developing a Facebook page or a Twitter account.

The parish Facebook page only had a couple of hundred followers, until suddenly it became a vital source of information, and a focus for grief and prayer, in the wake of the Berkeley Balcony disaster. Several of the six young people who were killed in that tragedy in June 2015 were from the Foxrock parish, and young people who knew the deceased turned to the parish Facebook page for information and to participate in requiem services. Indeed, the Facebook page has proven to be a way back into parish life for many young people who now physically attend Church services at Foxrock on a regular basis.

“We need to look at innovative ways to connect with people who are not coming to Church,” said Ms Davidson. “The quality of our social media is how people will connect with parishes.”

Church Support Group MD Tony Bolger gave a quick outline of the accelerating pace of change in the world of electronic media today.

He said it took 75 years before there were 50 million telephone users in the world. It took almost half that time – 38 years – before there were 50 million radio sets in circulation. Television took only 13 years to reach a worldwide audience of 50 million.

But with the Internet there were 50 million people connected to the worldwide web within the space of four years. Since then things have accelerated even further: ‘Pokemon Go’ achieved 100 million downloads in the space of one weekend.

Mr Bolger posed thought-provoking questions that didn’t have immediate answers: “What will happen to church plate collections if we start living in a cashless society?”

Outlining the services provided by the company, he pointed out that the Church Support Group placed a high value on integrity. “There have been reports of CCTV cameras being hacked into, including cameras used by some parishes to broadcast Mass services,” he said. “This has not been the case with Church Services TV, which uses secure technology.”

The company’s chief technology officer Oliver Tormey gave a workshop on producing engaging material for online consumption via parish websites or parish social media, including a demonstration of how video material can be edited and packaged easily using low cost or freely available software.

Following positive feedback from those who attended the seminar, the Church Support Group is now considering offering similar events and workshops at other locations in Ireland.

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