Church of England Seeks Web Pastor

In this week's Cybershake, we look at how the Church of England is going high-tech — and searching for a minister to manage its "virtual parish." Plus, are Web sites run by liquor companies attracting the wrong online crowd?

A Church With No Pews

Faced with declining numbers, the Church of England is turning to the Web. Its Internet church, or "i-church," is the brainchild of the Rev. Richard Thomas, who is hoping to offer an alternative to busy Christians.

"There are quite a few people who want to explore [the] Christian faith and want to make some kind of contribution to Christian discipleship, but really aren't willing or aren't able to be in church on a Sunday morning," says Thomas.

Virtual visitors and parishioners alike can gather at i-church.org to post messages, discuss viewpoints, submit prayer requests, or even read about events happening in churches throughout England. And the site welcomes every one, regardless of political and spiritual beliefs.

"One of the key purposes of i-church is to provide a community for those who do not find participant membership of a local church easy, and it will therefore reflect an inclusive attitude to Christian faith and discipleship," says the Web site.

And now, the Church of England is looking for a priest to run the virtual parish.

"We are looking for a dynamic, confident Christian (lay or ordained) who is able to build this new community, lead its core members, and be available to visitors to the site," says the posting on the Web. "You will need excellent communication skills and the ability to work creatively in a new and untested environment."

And just what does that mean? Says Thomas: "[A] combination of Bill Gates and the archangel Gabriel … somebody who can manage Internet communities, understands the Internet, understands how Web communities work, somebody who has a heart for missions, somebody who can work with people."

The church's Web site says the paid position is "half-time initially for three years, but may grow if the community flourishes."

— Linda Albin, ABCNEWS

Drawing the Wrong Crowd Online?

Web sites promoting hard liquor are facing harsh criticism.

The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University claims that such sites are easily accessible to underage youth online.

According to a study conducted with data from online traffic monitor comScore Media Metrix, nearly 700,000 hits generated at these Web sites during July to December last year were from young people under the legal drinking age.

And Jim O'Hara, executive director of CAMY, blames it mostly on the interactive content the alcohol companies are using on their sites.

"The alcohol Web sites are a cyber playground," says O'Hara. "On the Web site for Bacardi, you can download and customize your own music. [At] Bud Light, you can go up to the Web site and play an alien blaster game."

The center also blames the lack of effective online filtering and screening tools. At most sites, for instance, users are merely asked to affirm that they are over 21 years old before entering the site and participating.

Meanwhile software filtering tools, which parents often use to block their children from pornographic sites, often times miss these sites. In a test of eight leading parental control software, CAMY claims that 76 percent of the alcohol brand names eluded the filtering software half the time or more.

Both the Beer Institute and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States say their members are following the appropriate advertising guideline codes set in 1997 and 1998, respectively. DISCUS even went further, calling the CAMY study a publicity stunt aimed at fund raising.

— Larry Jacobs, ABCNEWS

Cybershake is produced for ABCNEWS Radio by Andrea J. Smith.

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