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Last Updated: Friday, 5 March, 2004, 01:58 GMT
Church plans parish in cyberspace
A "web-pastor" will spread the Bible's message online
The Church of England is hoping a host of worshippers in cyberspace will make its first virtual parish a success.

The Diocese of Oxford is advertising for a "web-pastor" to lead the i-church congregation in Friday's Church Times.

Once appointed, the web-pastor will be expected to build a community which will join for online prayer sessions, daily worship and religious study.

"It will provide a focus for those who want to worship without being part of a traditional parish," a spokesman said.

Service attendance

The idea is the brainchild of the diocese's director of communication, the Reverend Richard Thomas.

He said there was research which showed many more people considered themselves part of the Church of England than attended its services.

We would be failing if we didn't provide a spiritual community for people who relate with each other through the internet
The Reverend Richard Thomas
"In the last government census about 51% of the population said they were Church of England but only about 8% of the population come to services.

"Even if half only put it down as a convenience, that still leaves a large number of people who want to explore Christ but don't find traditional parochial membership attractive," he told BBC News Online.

"The Church of England is rightly proud of its commitment to the whole community.

"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."

Committed Christian

The i-church will welcome members - those people who agree to make a specific commitment to the church - and visitors who will be welcomed onto the website in the same way visitors to physical churches are welcomed.

Church bells
The Church of England hopes to ring in the changes

Mr Thomas believes that members of the virtual congregation will soon want to meet up in person.

However, before the i-church can begin, the diocese must appoint the web-pastor who will establish the framework within which its core members worship.

The applicant is expected to be a committed Christian but, in another break from tradition, the post will be open to those who have not been ordained.

"We are looking for someone to work in a new, untested environment and we are very conscious that there are lay people out there who could do this very well," Mr Thomas said.

Funding for the initiative comes from the church commissioners, who gave each diocese a sum of money for pioneering projects to support the Church.

Details of the web-pastor position are available via the basic web site which is already up and running at www.i-church.org.

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