Cast A Wider Net

Father Mike Walker addresses parishoners of Shepherd of the Valley Catholic Church in Central Point next to a projection screen showing the words to the next worship song. 2/22/09 Denise Baratta

In an age when Google has an answer to every question, Rogue Valley churches big and small have gone online to make sure people seeking religion can find details about Scripture, theology and what time services start.

"More and more people use the Internet to look for answers to all of life's questions," says David Lee, pastor at Beacon Baptist Church in Central Point.

He says the church's Web site,, is an inexpensive, unobtrusive way to reach out.

"We'd be silly not to use it," Lee says.

Beacon Baptist is part of the "particular" or "peculiar" Baptist tradition, with modern roots in 17th century Britain. Lee says believers in the church's strict doctrine can have a hard time finding congregations.

"We want to inform people who we are and what we believe," he says. "We don't want to intrude on people's privacy, but if someone is looking, we want to be there."

The site has a long explanation of the church's beliefs, complete with scriptural references, as well as details about services and study groups. Local families, newcomers and travelers have all found the church online, then attended services, Lee says. Missionaries also often search for churches online to plan visits to talk about and raise money for their work.

"It's primarily an advertising tool," he says of his church's site, cautioning that people can't replace attending church with reading about it online.

"It's fundamental that people come," he says. "There are people who would substitute the Internet for church and we are not for them."

Mike Walker, priest at Shepherd of the Valley Catholic Church in Central Point, considers various Internet technologies vital to his mission.

"I have Hispanic people in my congregation so I speak Spanish," he says. "If I want younger people to relate, I use this. This is just doing what works."

Walker, 42, majored in business at Southern Oregon University and learned a lot about technology there. After completing seminary, he thought it only made sense to continue using tech tools.

When he came to Shepherd of the Valley three-and- a-half years ago, he built the parish's Web site,

"I try to do a little bit of everything on there," he says.

The site has directions to the church and information about services. It has copies of the church bulletin in Spanish and English, liturgy schedules and youth group permission forms to keep members informed and involved.

It has explanations of sacraments, Bible study notes and a buyer's guide to Bibles that has proved popular with readers from all over.

He added his own blog, where he recommends books, offers financial tips and shares unusual experiences from his last vacation.

He updated the church's sound system and now records his weekly homilies and makes the podcasts available through iTunes, as well as on the church's site.

Walker says some older parishioners initially doubted the necessity of sound-system improvements and his addition of a video projector during services.

"They said it wasn't churchy enough, but then they could hear and read along better, so they like it now," he says.

For Lent, Walker plans to e-mail daily reflections on scriptures to anyone who signs up for the service. He also gets occasional questions via e-mail from the Web site from people seeking a priest's perspective.

Walker relies on e-mail to stay connected, but thinks that social networks, such as Facebook, are fast becoming the medium for that sort of quick, casual contact.

"I'm tossing around social networking," he says. "Theoretically a parish could be connected that way. It's already more common for some young people than e-mail."

Whatever the next hot Internet application is, Walker is confident churches are online to stay — just like insurance companies, booksellers, electronics stores and more.

"Young people have just always had all this technology," he says.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail

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