In 1996, I wrote an article for The VOICE highlighting technology in the Diocese of Newark. That was 20 ago, when personal computers were just becoming popular, no one had even heard of a smart phone, and who could have predicted Facebook, Twitter and Instagram?
(You can see my full 1996 article in the gallery at the bottom of this post.)
To me, it seems like just yesterday that the Rev. John Rollins took over leadership of the Technology Committee from Louie Crew, the URL for the diocesan home page was on Rollins’ private web account as intac.com/~rollins/newark (www.dioceseofnewark.org having not yet been registered), and the committee was hosting a display of technology at diocesan convention.
Diocesan staff members were planning their move from 24 Rector Street to their current location at 31 Mulberry Street, where one of the anticipated innovations was the ability to network their computers.
Today the Technology Committee – which sometimes also calls itself “Geeks for God” – works with Nina Nicholson, Director of Communications & Technology (who joined the diocesan staff in 2009), and Randy Johnson, Administrator for Diocesan Ministries (who joined in 2010). Some of the present members include members of the original Technology Committee: the Rev. John Rollins, Steven Boston, the Rev. Deacon Ken Boccino and myself.
Over the years technology has expanded exponentially, and through all the developments, the Diocese of Newark’s Technology Committee has been one of the leaders.
Take church websites. Did your congregation get its first website after someone attended one of the workshops led by the Technology Committee, sometimes twice a year? We handed out “St. Swithin’s in the Swamp” disks, with template pages and images, 10 and 20 at a time, and spent many hours teaching church webmasters how to use Dreamweaver, supplying a licensed copy of the program for free. This was the way many congregations got their first websites up and running. Steven Boston arranged for domain names, software, and web hosting, improving everything with each new technological development.
In 2012 the Technology Committee worked with Nina and Randy to launch the Church Website Project. This program – which is still free! – assists churches that have neither the tech-savvy volunteers nor the financial resources to develop and maintain a website on their own, by providing a website platform hosted by Episcopal House (using Drupal, the same platform used by episcopalchurch.org and whitehouse.gov), and a customizable template site developed by the Technology Committee based on their combined years of experience. A member of the Technology Committee also volunteers to serve as the church’s personal consultant, providing training and guidance so they can develop and maintain a modern, attractive website. Currently 18 churches have sites through the Church Website Project, with more in development.
In 2011 the diocesan website itself was completely redesigned and redeveloped using Drupal, with the assistance of the Technology Committee, which Nina will tell you was invaluable. (It was three months later that The Episcopal Church launched its Drupal website.)
At diocesan Convention, big screens, slide shows and videos – including Mission Minutes – are all standard electronic features.
From a single email listserv, the diocese now uses dozens of listservs to facilitate communication within the diocese as a whole as well as its committees and groups – upgrading the technology along the way.
The VOICE has evolved from a print publication coming out a few times a year, to an e-newsletter published twice a month. A second e-newsletter, Leadership News, is now published monthly with news specific to clergy and church leaders.
Bishop Beckwith now writes a popular blog, Signs of God’s Grace, and in 2014 the Technology Committee started its own blog, Geeks for God: Evangelism in the Electronic Era. Both blogs periodically have posts reprinted by the Episcopal Church Foundation’s Vestry Papers, and earlier this year the Geeks for God blog received the Polly Bond Award of Merit – i.e. second place – in the category “General Excellence: Blogs” by Episcopal Communicators.
Where do we go from here? We’re going out into the world to see what God is up to, and continuing to help the Diocese of Newark and its congregations in sharing the good news!