Church Websites

I was just reading a very interesting article in the Church Times entitled What's the point of a website (subscription required), which talks about the shocking state of many church websites. It says that in England last year, although two thirds of all churches had a website, the majority of them were out of date – and many lacked even basic details such as a contact phone number or service times.

I remember maintaining several different versions of the Old Saint Paul's website (June 2000, March 2005, May 2007) before the site was handed over to Lucent Web Design a few years ago to design the current version, which still think is one of the best church web sites around. Check it out at: osp.org.uk

OSP website from 2005
OSP website from 2005

The parish has had a web site of sorts for around 17 years.  Indeed, we registered our domain name back in 1998, when almost no churches had a web presence.  And over the years, along with all the crazy page designs, one thing has remained constant: an emphasis on audience and freshness.

There's nothing worse than visiting a web site that doesn't contain the information you need, or that information is out of day. And so, for a long time time, the various maintainers of the OSP website have been mindful of what information people are looking for.  In the case of Old Saint Paul's, we were serving a number of distinct audiences:

  • Regular Congregation Members – who are looking for parish news, information on upcoming services, rotas, music lists, and so on.  They want to rely upon the website giving them fresh and accurate information about what's coming up, which helps them integrate into the community of the church.
  • Visiting Worshippers – the church attracts a lot of visitors, and we want to make it easy for them to find out where we are, what to expect when they come, and what dates/times the services are on. If someone is making a special trip to visit us, we don't want them to be disappointed.
  • Curious Researchers – people who may even have no intention of visiting the church, but want to find out a little more about the architecture, history or its liturgy.

In every version of the web site, we've tried to address the needs of these different groups, and provide the information required. This requires diligence and commitment from those involved, and a buy-in from the top people in the parish – and it requires constant maintenance.

Too often other churches view the creation of a web site as a one-off project; such that it gets built and then forgotten about. In contrast they should view their web site as akin to their weekly service sheet or parish magazine – a resource that everyone in the parish wants to use, in order to get their message out.

OSP website in 2012
OSP website in 2012

Tenebrae

Inside the unassuming church of Old Saint Paul’s in the city centre of Edinburgh last night, the congregation gathered to hear the choir sing the service of Tenebrae for Maundy Thursday.

The service comprises psalms and readings sung to plainsong and faux-bourdon settings. This evocative rite with simple but dramatic ceremony helps to draw us into the darkness of the Passion. During the rite the lights are gradually extinguished until just one candle, representing Christ, remains shining in the darkness. This is a foretaste of the Resurrection; the light that banishes darkness.

When I was living in Edinburgh the Tenebrae service was always my favourite one of the year, and this is the first time in 12 years that I’ve missed it. The service is sung throughout (except for a small amount of spoken text at the end), and is performed from a booklet compiled for All Saints, Margaret Street in London (including the instruction to the choir to “exit to the south grill”).

One year I cut short a business meeting in Washington DC, to catch a flight home to Edinburgh to attend Tenebrae. And for me, it’s always been an important part of Holy Week; one that I miss very deeply now that I’m in Dublin.

New OSP web site

It was back in 1995 that Robin McMorran created the first web site for my old church in Edinburgh, Old Saint Paul’s; hosting the site on a free server somewhere in the Netherlands.

Then in 1998 I took over and design and maintenance of the site; moving it to its current domain name of osp.org.uk. Since then the Old Saint Paul’s web site (also sometime known as OSP Online) has gone through many design iterations, including this version of the site from 2005:

But just as I moved away from Edinburgh in April 2007, disaster struck. The web hosts were hacked, and all the content of the server (including all backups) were lost. I was busy moving to a new country, and didn’t really have the time to rebuild the site from scratch. So the vestry made the sensible decision of commissioning someone more local to home to build a new site.

Justin Reynolds has a long association with Old Saint Paul’s, and has produced numerous web sites for other organisations in the Scottish Episcopal Church. Plus he’s a professional web designer – and as such, was an obvious choice. I’m just glad that, amongst his other commitments, he was able to find the time to work on the OSP site.

Anyway, so the new site went live this morning, and I’m sure you’ll agree it’s pretty fantastic. Do have a look around, and let me know what you think. The address is: osp.org.uk

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