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Faithful ‘log on’ to U.K. church

With a mission to increase the dwindling numbers of British church-goers and create a multicultural family of Anglicans, an English minister is using the Internet to bring God to the people.
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With a mission to increase the dwindling numbers of British church-goers and create a multicultural family of Anglicans, an English minister is using the Internet to bring God to the people.

From Japan to Uganda, virtual worshippers tuned in to see Britain’s first online church service this week.

Guitar playing, singing and an upbeat sermon were broadcast live on the Internet from St. Philip and St. James Church in Bath, 115 miles west of London, during Sunday’s sermon. From homes across the globe, viewers participated in the service, voting on the church’s interactive Web page for the choir to sing the hymn, “Amazing Grace.”

Reverend Alan Bain said he decided to use the Internet to introduce the concept of Christian worship to Britons who had never attended a service, focusing primarily on the young.

Just 7.4 percent of adults in England and Wales go to church on an average Sunday, according to the 2002-2003 U.K. Christian Handbook, produced by the Christian Research Association.

“We wanted to open the church up to a much wider congregation,” Bain said. “People in the U.K. are very secular — some people haven’t been to church for three generations.”

With the help of a film crew and broadband technology, Bain said he was able to go “straight into their living rooms and speak to them.”


InsertArt(2009466)The church more than tripled its flock with 500 live viewers from Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hong Kong, Japan, Norway, Uganda and the United States. An equal amount visited the church’s Web site after the service.

Following the webcast, an atheist in Tokyo wrote an e-mail saying the service had prompted him to reconsider his faith, the 55-year-old Bain said. An elderly and infirm couple, both members of Bain’s own congregation, joined the service via their computer at home, and E-Church, a Christian fellowship for the blind and partially sighted, said they were “thrilled that they could access (the service) online.”

St. Philip and St. James has developed friendships with churches overseas, including congregations in South African townships and in the Palestinian West Bank. The reverend said he dreams of a day when joint services can be broadcast “a bit like video conferencing” between fellowships.

“I think it will be a very fantastic church of the future, very globally and socially aware,” he said.


The Bath church was so pleased with the results from its first webcast that it intends to put another service online the Sunday before Christmas, if funds permit.

John Moorwood, a spokesman for Telewest Broadband, which installed the connection, said, “We have received lots of interest from other churches, but we don’t have the budget to do it around the country.” He added that the technology “is not exclusive to any one religion.”

Approximately two to three percent of American churches post their services online, according to Cyril Uy, President and CEO of View My Church, which encodes filmed church services. Most are Baptist churches that already have their own production companies, and some use online teases of their services to sell full length CD-ROMS and videos for a profit, according to Uy.

The average cost of video equipment in the United States is $5,000 to $15,000 and his company charges $650 to encode and post ten sermons on a church’s Web site, Uy said.

“Webcasting is the most cost effective way for them to get their message across worldwide,” he said.

Although the Bath reverend is full of enthusiasm for the future of virtual religious gatherings, he cautioned, “This is not an alternative to church — Church is a unique experience.”’s Jennifer Carlile is based in London.