Volume 4 Number 4
by Elizabeth Terrill
Lets say youre a well-established church in oh, lets say youre in Texas. You have four full-time pastors (all Princeton Seminary grads, of course!), a crackerjack staff, and a dedicated laity of 2,700 or so. You reach a lot of people through your three Sunday morning services, and ten to fifteen thousand more by having your 11:00 a.m. service broadcast on a local classical music radio station. Overall, youre doing fine. Still, youre hankering for a broader range because well, because the Gospel of Jesus, the Christ, lives and breathes in you, runs through your veins, and you just cant help but want to share it! What would you do?
If your congregation is Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church in Dallas, you find a way to buy time on the Internet and broadcast your worship service live. That should get the Word to a few more folks in a hurry.
And it does. According to the Reverend R. Elizabeth Boone, PTS Class of 1991, Preston Hollows website (www.phpc.org) and Internet worship service work together to bring in an ongoing flood of comments and inquiries. As associate pastor for mission and evangelism, Boone is pleased about the breadth of contact made through the Internet. The church knew the program was a success when its pastor and head of staff, the Reverend Dr. Blair R. Monie (PTS Classes of 1973 and 1979), received a message on his high-tech wristwatch as he prepared to deliver the benediction at the conclusion of the first broadcast on Palm Sunday morning 1999. The message came from Monies daughter, listening in from the East Coast, and was as eloquent as it was simple: "Slam dunk, Dad!"
When asked about the programs beginnings, Boone says, "We thought, Hey, this needs to happen. Its an incredible way to be an evangelist in a high-tech manner. I really do believe you can deepen your faith through technology." She notes the Presbyterian Church (USA)s historical position at the cutting edge of technology, integrating the needs of the mainline church with the best resources society has to offer.
Boone sees the trajectory as one begun long ago: "Jesus met people where they were. He met the Samaritan woman at the well when she was there. A lot of young people spend so much time on the Internet. If youre someone whos unchurched, this is an opportunity to see what church is all about."
Some young people know what church is all about but are unable to attend. Boone tells of a message received from a fifteen-year-old girl who wrote, "My mom died when I was eleven; Dads not a Christian. I look forward to weddings, because theyre the only time I get to go to church. Thank you for broadcasting, cause its the first time Ive been able to go to a church service since my mom died." Services are also archived at www.lightsource.com, so listeners can tune in when convenient, rather than only when the service is aired live.
Techies have been "reaching in" to the church through the Internet, but now theyre also reaching back out, bringing their skills forward to help with the web site. Boone believes this phenomenon demonstrates the priesthood of all believers in a fresh way. When people use their unique skills to help share the Gospel, it helps others realize "you dont have to be an ordained clergyperson to be a vibrant witness in the world."
A good example is a man in his mid-to-late twenties who was baptized in January of this year, having come to Preston Hollow through his fiancée and Preston Hollows web site, the address of which is listed on the churchs roadside sign. Hes now instrumental in the web sites regular maintenance. Many new members are excited about the congregations Internet activity, finding a new energy in high-tech answers to the question, How can I grow in my faith and share my faith with others?
Boone hopes the Internet service will continue to be broadcast for a long time. No one knows who funds the broadcasts, which are paid for by an "anonymous financial source" that has guaranteed three years worth of broadcasts. It is Boones desire to see the congregation pick up the financial responsibility for keeping the services going out to as many people as they can reach. Shes looking forward to the programs year-end evaluation, hoping for more fine-tuning.
But even with the high-tech boom, some things in ministry remain remarkably human-based. Boone appreciates her time at PTS for many reasons, but especially for the way the Seminary taught her to use her voice and presence. Her most beloved class? The Bible As Liberating Word, because it forced production of a sermon, a Bible lesson, and a critical paper, and "thats what you have to do in a congregation!" Most of all, Boone advises, "Have fun with what youre doing. Gods called us to have joy in our lives, and to share joy with others. Figure out how to do it!"
Preston Hollow seems to have caught the wave!
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