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updated 3/5/2004 12:51:43 PM ET 2004-03-05T17:51:43

The Church of England on Friday announced the creation of its first "virtual parish" and invited applicants for the position of "Web pastor."

The purpose of the Internet church, or "i-church," according to the Web site, "is to provide a Christian community for those who wish to explore Christian discipleship but who are not able, or do not wish, to join a local congregation."

The move comes at a time when the Church of England is suffering from declining attendance — down to about 2 percent of the nation on any Sunday.

In an advertisement in the Church Times, the Diocese of Oxford invites applicants for the post of "Web pastor" to build and oversee a groundbreaking Internet parish community.

The successful applicant, who will answer to the Bishop of Oxford, will need to be as familiar with the information superhighway as he or she is with the Church of England, the advertisement said.

"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," said the ad. "You will need excellent communication skills and the ability to work creatively in a new and untested environment."

One target of the virtual parish is busy believers.

"For people who travel a great deal or are unable to attend regularly, i-church can support them spiritually wherever they are in the world," the church said on its Web site.

"I-church is different from a local congregation. Although i-church is a sacramental community, there is no obligation on members to meet together."

The idea is the brainchild of the diocese's director of communication, the Rev. Richard Thomas, author of the recently published book "Counting People In."

"As the Internet is a growing part of that community, we would be failing in our mission if we didn't provide a spiritual community for people who relate with each other primarily through the Internet."

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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