FOR some priests, simply getting the overhead projector to work is the height of their technological ambition.
But three clerics (and a lay online pastor) in north Shropshire are trying to raise the bar by filming and broadcasting a weekly TV show on YouTube.
The ten-minute episodes of the show TGI Monday have now been running for four months, and have up to a thousand viewings each week.
An assistant curate in the benefice of Cheswardine, in the diocese of Lichfield, the Revd Dan Stork Banks, thought of the idea last year when he met the diocese’s online pastor, Ros Clarke, the first person licensed in the Church of England to minister through the internet, and the Revd Hywel Snook, Priest-in-Charge of Christ Church, Little Drayton, in Lichfield, who runs the blog The Silly Vicar.
Another assistant curate in the deanery, the Revd Zoe Heming, joined in, and they began filming informal discussions, based on questions sent in by their viewers through Facebook or Twitter.
Mr Stork Banks said this week that he was delighted with the reaction to the show. “The vast majority of people have been really positive. There have been a few trolls, but you get that everywhere,” he said.
The shows, filmed and put together by Simon Jones, from the diocese of Lichfield’s communications department, feature the four chatting around a table in Christ Church.
The conversation in each episode begins with a question posed by one of their viewers; discussions have included “Is God a killjoy?”, “What makes a real Christian?”, and near-death experiences.
“I think that TGI Monday has a charming, very Anglican, easy-to-watch format,” Mr Stork Banks said. As if to prove his point, in one episode a member of the congregation at Christ Church wanders in during the filming and begins stacking boxes in the background.
Mr Snook said that although it had taken members of his parish a while to come to terms with the idea, they were now supportive: many of them quite enjoyed the idea that they were blazing a trail, he said. “We are from Shropshire — we don’t tend to make much of an impact.”
Mr Snook and Mr Stork Banks hope that TGI Monday could be the start of something bigger. “Part of the mission is to act as a flagship,” Mr Stork Banks said. “There’s a million ways to do what we do better, but we are trying to show that people are spiritually fulfilled through the internet.
“The only thing comparable to the internet is the printing press, and Martin Luther transformed Europe through the printing press. John Wesley had to gallop around the country on a horse, but we can sit in a church in rural Shropshire and get a thousand people watching.”
They are now considering how to take TGI Monday further: there are plans for a travelling roadshow, and live episodes streamed through Facebook.
“If it’s just a TV show on a Monday morning in a church maybe [it will fizzle out] but if we broaden it out with things like roadshows and books and DVDs and so on . . . I think it could grow into something really quite special,” Mr Snook said.
And their advice for other priests hoping to reach their parish through the web? Don’t just preach, collaborate.
“The key thing is the co-creating aspect of it,” Mr Snook said. “It’s that open-ness and willingness to answer people’s questions.”
Mr Stork Banks agreed. “We are co-creating the show with our viewers. We don’t think we know what people need, we are waiting for them to ask us.”