NEWS

MySpace is now GodSpace

Jacqueline Koch

Rock Church's slogan "Same Message, Different Language" extends beyond the spoken word into hypertext markup language.

The Peoria church speaks to members and prospective members through MySpace.com, a popular social networking Web site.

The Rev. Chuck Tate, pastor of the church, said the interactive site helps portray the church's message in a way that’s relevant to his young, technologically savvy congregation.

"We believe the Bible is relevant," Tate said. "But to reach our culture and our generation, we want to deliver the message in a relevant way."

The church is one of many that use online technology, including Web sites and blogs, to reach out to members. MySpace is especially popular, as Catholics, evangelicals and others also have sites.

Messages via MySpace give users a direct connection to the 36-year-old Tate, who has his own MySpace page. He uses the site to keep in touch with members who have moved from the area.

"I've been able to kind of build some relationships with people that I hardly ever talk to on Sunday," he said. "I don't use it as a means to replace communicating with people. I use it just as an extra means of communication."

Tate thinks online use is second nature to his wired congregation; a majority of members are in their early 30s.

"We use a lot of multimedia," he said. "In sermons, I use video clips."

Small groups, ministries and youth group at the church also have separate MySpace pages. The pages provide information on upcoming activities such as concerts and meetings, and allow users to interact with one another between events. The page also provides two customized Rock Church backdrops that users can copy to their personal pages.

"Because so many teenagers are on MySpace pages, we decided rather than having detailed pages on our actual Web site, it'd be easier to maintain and interact with the teenagers by having a MySpace page," Tate said.

And Rock Church won't stop using new technologies to its advantage. Tate plans to implement a video podcast soon.

"There's probably some in our congregation that might not even be online," he said. "A majority of the people are."

Clergy members have also been using Facebook.com, another social networking site. Originally used solely by college students, Facebook opened its services to everyone in fall 2006.

The Rev. Thomas Holloway, assistant chaplain at Western Illinois University's Catholic Newman Center, started a Facebook profile last fall when he worked at the University of Illinois' Newman Center in Champaign. The priest used the site as a networking tool to connect with students and posted notes to keep friends updated on his life and ministry.

"It's another way to portray the different side of the priesthood to the friendships I had with so many students," Holloway said.

When he made the recent move from U of I to Western, Holloway informed friends of his progress through Facebook. He posts pictures and some insights into life.

"I got a lot of good fruit out of it," said Holloway, who has 224 registered friends on the site.

At U of I's Newman Center, he also posted MP3 audio files of his homilies and said he received a large amount of feedback.

"You can reach a lot broader audience if you're careful about making things available," he said. "I save the electronic feedback of the people it's meant a lot to."

Even the Cause of Canonization of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen has a Facebook account.

Two clergy officials in the Catholic Diocese of Peoria - the Rev. Brian Brownsey, director of vocations, and the Rev. Stanley Deptula, director of divine worship and chaplain of the Newman Foundation at Bradley University - also have Facebook.com accounts.

Riverside Community Church in Downtown Peoria uses a blog to communicate with its congregation. Creative communications coordinator Sam Daugherty updates it about once a week and informs readers of the latest happenings and upcoming events.

"We have a lot of younger people that come here, 25 and under," he said. "And they go to the Web site, they view the blogs, they watch the videos."

Daugherty said current trends favor technology-based communication.

"I think a lot of it has to do with ease of use and most people these days spend time on their computers," he said. "It's easily accessible day or night."

Isaac Downing, worship leader at Twelve Oaks Community Church in Peoria, has both a blog and a MySpace page. Downing said he initially used the blog to communicate with family and friends.

Since starting it up in April 2006, he has incorporated faith-based entries. In July, for instance, he wrote about fasting and penance.

"I just decided to start talking a little more about worship," he said. "It's inter-church tools to encourage one another."

Downing frequently reads blogs from pastors and worship leaders across the country.

"I've been able to be encouraged and it kind of starts conversations, so to speak, online between one another," he said.

Peoria (Ill.) Journal Star

Jacqueline Koch can be reached at 686-3251 or jkoch@pjstar.com.