Author: Gerry Kirk

It’s about relationships

The following is a posting I made on the DeoWeb discussion group, which reflects my thoughts on where online communications in the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie needs to shift (and DeoWeb‘s focus as a communications solution).

Have you been enjoying the discuss taking place? Have you been pleased to meet new people through this group, other people of faith who are interested in the same topic as you?

For myself, I give an enthusiastic “Yes!” to both of those questions.

You’ve now had a (small) taste, perhaps for the first time, of how online communications can help to draw people together, either to form new relationships or to strengthen existing ones.

We are so busy and so isolated nowadays that we don’t know who our neighbours are or the people next to us in the pew. Yet, we also have a need for meaningful and fun relationships.

Because of DeoWeb, I was able to find two people to help my busy wife with our two newborn twins and toddler. I did not know these people, and they did not know me. In a parish of 1100 parishioners, with 3 masses, the odds of us finding each other at church are slim at best. For Rowena and I, they are now a special part of our parish family.

Paul Falcioni, we really need to share the story of how DeoWeb is helping to revitalize your parish by re-connecting with schools. Perhaps I can get someone to write a story for you. I’ll get back to you.

This is just the tip of the ice berg. There are many more opportunities to build community using online tools.

Fact: More than 50% of time spent on the Internet is for social reasons, and not for research or buying another book at Amazon. My pastor spends more time counseling youth using instant messaging than in person. He has a profile on

Hence the proliferation of social networking sites like,,,

Getting volunteers to input content for their ministry work has largely failed, and I am more convinced now that this won’t change, unless there is internal motivation to do so.

I think people are much more motivated to share about their personal lives, their hopes, questions and interests. Facilitating that kind of dialogue will bear much more fruit than say trying to get every CWL parish group to maintain a workspace. In fact, sharing the *personal* may spur the desire to promote the *pastoral*. When a lady shares what the CWL means to her personally, spiritually, others will connect with that and want to know more about the CWL.

I envision a revamped DeoWeb, where the focus is more on connecting people, where the information published is more personal and from the grassroots, and less from the established Church (parish and diocesan offices). A system that connects people who want to know each other, that builds meaningful relationships.

Paul Labelle, I hear your concerns about the people out there with extremist views that tear down rather than build community. There are very effective ways to avoid and mitigate a lot of that. We’ve just never invested much time on the people side of content… yet.

I also see a system that makes it easy to find quality faith-based content on the web, to nourish people on their spiritual journey. Some of this is being done already, but on a small scale. This would require the help of volunteers, to find those resources.

Who would like to see a Q & A section, where people could ask a hand-picked group of religious people from the Diocese questions about faith? There are already examples of this on the web.

We received last week a letter from the Ontario Catholic Bishops. What if there was a way to discuss it, and together come up with ways to live out the spirit of the letter, and then enable people to share what they are doing about it?

Jesus’ ministry was carried out through relationships, those intimate encounters that left people touched and loved. The woman at the well. The apostles in the boat. Martha and Lazarus.

If Jesus were physically present on this earth today, I think he’d be on facebook and in the chat rooms, while blogging about the challenges of following God’s path. Wait a minute. He is present now, through you and me. We’ve got work to do.

– Gerry

Get personal

Is your church looking for an effective way to draw more people? In my parish, our pastor regularly encourages people to share their personal faith story, to tell people how being a Christian makes a difference in their lives. We Christians can be a shy bunch when it comes to opening up.

The River Church in Manhattan takes that personal approach and applies it to the web through their outreach site Apparently their approach is getting a lot of people to come out to a dinner and find out more about God.

Check out the full report at BlogMinistry.

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Bye bye spam

Google AppsI am helping the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie switch to Google Apps, primarily for better a email system. The current email server, a RedHat Enterprise 3 box is getting antiquated and the SpamAssassin software isn’t stemming much of the spam flow, based on the number of not-so-happy emails and calls we receive from parishes on the topic.

Setting up Google Apps is pretty straightforward. Just register, configure the DNS for email, and upload a CSV file of the accounts you need.

Now for the hard part.

The real challenge to this migration is getting all of the parishes set up properly. The last time we tried to get all parishes set up with accounts, we sent out letters, emails and faxes. How many set up the accounts on their own? Close to none, so we spent a lot of time on the phone, walking not so technical people through the myriad of clicks and inputs – not my idea of a fun afternoon. This time around, I was determined to make this a better experience for everyone involved by making the process as simple as possible.

Almost all of the parishes use Outlook Express, so I looked for ways to automate the setup of a new account. I experimented with:

  1. Using some kind of batch installer program, but couldn’t find anything that would just run on its own that didn’t require some kind of install of its own first (and thus not adhering to the simple protocol).
  2. Emailing a registry file containing all of the account information. Outlook Express stores all of its account info in the registry, so opening a .reg file would be a simple and accurate process. The catch? OE blocks .reg files by default, so they can’t be opened. A reasonable default, but a pain in the butt for me.
  3. Emailing a link to download a registry file. This time, I got bit by IE, which ignores the file type described in the download header. Argh! When I finally got a workaround for the file type issue, I discovered the default IE blocks registry files also. Gee, what’s an honest system admin to do?
  4. The chosen solution was #2 with specific steps on how to turn off the security feature so that the file could be opened.  The email and attached files were created using a simple python script, an email template and a csv file with the account-specific data. I was a little worried that non-techie parish secretaries might still be confused, but a few test parishes worked out fine, so at last, a working solution!

Chance of email lost or disrupted close to zero

The nice part is the chances of losing any email or having any disruption in email service is close to nil. The parishes will have their old and new accounts active at the same time, even after the switch is made, so any email that arrives in the old account just before the switch will still get downloaded. This happens because Google has its own mail server name different from the Diocese’s current one, and we’re keeping the DNS records for both mail servers. The actual switch will involve changing the MX record priority, so that the new server becomes the first choice for incoming mail.

The odds are only good, of course, if parishes actually install their account in time. The actual switch is happening at the end of this week, on Friday March 30. Fortunately the Google control panel shows me which accounts have been accessed (and hence activated) so I’ll know who to *remind* in the coming days.

Check back next week to see what proverbial bits hit the fan!

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Back with babes

Well, that was quite a long break from the blog world, well the work world entirely for that matter. I was immersed in diapers, burps and cute little babies, twin boys named Graham and David.
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Some times I managed to get some “work” work done, although I had to be creative at times with my “office” space, sharing it with some young “co-workers”.
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I look forward to getting back into posting and sharing what the church can / is / should be doing to share the Gospel through modern communications. It’s a tough job, but hey, I like a challenge. Compared to raising twin newborns and a toddler, how difficult can it be?

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Take a stand

SaveDarfur is organizing a weekend of prayer and action Dec. 9-10 to demand government leaders take immediate action to stop the genocide in Darfur.
Congregations are being asked to sign up to a letter to President Bush as part of the weekend activities.
From the web site:

“Nobody knows the exact number” of those killed in the conflict, said David Rubenstein, executive director of the coalition, although he estimated 400,000 have died in the violence. “There are people dying every day, and at risk of death every day,” Rubenstein said during a Dec. 5 conference call with reporters.

Have your church join in speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves. Raise awareness. Do not be silent.

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Church averages 10,000 downloads in just a few months

Another article about how churches are adopting online communications: blogs, podcasts, chat rooms.
You never know what forms of online communication might work, but the key is to get out there, try and experiment. Given the cost of these tools are so low now, and so many people are on the web, churches can’t afford to miss out.
Just ask the Rev. Rick Chandler of New Light Methodist Church whose web site gets 10,000 downloads a month of their audio sermons. Guess who took the plunge and made it happen? His wife.
Perhaps we need a new twist on the WWJD – What Would Jesus Do? movement. WWJB – What Would Jesus Blog?
Churches spread Word on Web

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A new journey begins

It’s been a little while since my last post. I’ve got a good excuse, though. On Nov. 13, my wife gave birth to twin boys, David and Graham. Our two year-old daughter Malia and big sister is thrilled as well.

So, I do plan to continue writing to this blog, but at a slower pace. There is lots I’d like to write about, and not just about cute babies.

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Got Firefox 2.0 yet?

I just installed the latest Firefox browser, having heard that it is a lot faster than the older 1.5. I had pretty much abandoned 1.5 on my Mac because it ate up all my memory and chugged so much I saw the busy spinning wheel more often than not.
With 2.0, I have to say: wow. It’s faster than Safari and Flock (a browser based on Firefox), and the new inline spell checking is a fantastic feature. We get requests from some people using DeoWeb for a spell checker so I’ve recommended the Google toolbar up to now, but inline checking takes the cake. Now there’s no excuse for those embarrassing typos when posting online.
There is also phishing protection and a bunch of other goodies.

Haven’t tried Firefox? Get it now – it’s more secure than Internet Explorer and has tons of great extensions to plug in.

I need help

Last week my wife, who is 8 months pregnant with twins, had to go to the hospital. Seems the little ones (we don’t know if they are girls, boys or one of each, although we have an idea) were getting ready to come early. That is often the case with twins, but 4.5 weeks early is not a good thing, especially when twin babies are smaller to begin with.
Fortunately, bed rest is doing mom and the babes some good. Perhaps mom has been a little too active trying to get our house (recently moved into) ready. This means she can’t do much from now until the babies come, which hopefully won’t be for a few more weeks.
The challenge is I still have to work, and we have a two year-old daughter. Grandparents and friends are helpful, but they can’t fill in all the gaps.
Then an idea came to me – why not invite some retired folks from our church to help out? Many of them have grandkids who live far away. Spending time with Malia could help fill that gap. Seems like a natural solution, one that benefits everyone and builds relationships in our parish family.
Trying to make that connection is hard! I’ve called a few people in our parish, and so far no luck. People are either busy or in poor health. Seems like there should be an easier way to match up people with needs with those who can help.
That’s where our web site could play a bigger role. I’d like to develop a system where people could list the kinds of tasks they enjoy doing, the resources they can share, so it would be easier to find those people. A modified classifieds system. This could become another one of those social apps, even, where people post comments, have photos of themselves, rank people for their service (for credibility purposes, a tad controversial tho).
Just some of the thoughts going through my head. The web is all about connecting people. Maybe I’ll try posting something in the parish forum, and put a link to it in the bulletin and see what happens. This could go nowhere, or be the start of something cool.

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