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From Pews to Far Between
A Brampton church is keeping its congregation connected far and wide via a very popular audio broadcast of its services on the Web.

North Bramalea United Church is helping present and past members who can't attend Sunday services connect with God through cyberspace.

North Bramalea United Church

As a result, a family that moved from Brampton to Edmonton recently has continued to worship at the church, to which they belonged for ten years, through their home computer.

"We'd feel lost without it. Every Sunday we tune in to the service at 8 a.m. and it's crystal clear," said Donna Mantei, who moved west with husband Rolf and children Caroline, 14, and Jacqueline, 11, in January.

"It's quite the dynamic church. We'd been members for ten years and we don't know anyone out here. It's our way of keeping in touch as well as a spiritual uplifting."

Rev. Jamie Holtom said the church has been offering live audio of the three Sunday services, attended in person by 350 to 400 members.

The services also are recorded and portions are rebroadcast during the week on the website.

Last week, for the first time, the church broadcast a funeral service for the deceased's relatives in Northern Ireland, Holtom said.

"At first, the family said no when we offered it, but they called back later and said it would work really well," he said.

"Now we're looking for other ways to apply this wonderful tool."

Fortunately, he said, member Gary Buttrey had the technical knowledge to link the church's sound system to the computer for the broadcasts.

It costs the church about $100 a month to operate the website with audio of the services. There's no technical problem to add video, but there is a higher cost attached to getting the required bandwidth needed for it, Buttrey said.

"I'm still researching it."

He estimated about 30 people a week listen to the services on their computers, and the feedback has been positive. "For us, it has become very popular."

Holtom believes it's the wave of the future, but churches have been slow to catch on. Many have websites and are finding they help attract new members who are "shopping" for a church to attend, he said.

Broadcasting on the Net is the logical next step for them, he said.

The popularity of live webcasts of church services is spreading.

For instance, the Cathedral Church of St. James on Church St. in Toronto had a live webcast of its 11 a.m. Easter service this year.

At least one U.S. company offers audio and video streaming services for churches, with prices based on the size of the audience, from small (50 viewers or less) for $195 (U.S.) a month, to large (150 viewers) for $395 a month.

"We only have a handful of clients right now, but a lot of churches are looking into it. It's an up-and-coming thing," said Denise DeRoche of MultiMediaPros in Salem, Massachusettes.

Mike Funston is a staff reporter with the Toronto Star.

Originally published in the Toronto Star, April 17, 2006.




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