Logging on to the Word of God

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:47

    SPARTA-During a snowstorm last month, Keith Keoppel knew he could not let Mother Nature keep him and his congregation from sharing in their faith. So Keoppel did what any 21st Century person would do to disseminate information. He logged on to the Internet and webcasted his sermon. Sunday services broadcast live over the Internet and pagers used to let people know they are not alone are just some of the ways the First Presbyterian Church of Sparta is using the latest technology to connect with the public. There are no more excuses for missing church services. The First Presbyterian Church has made attending Sunday services so easy, a parishioner doesn't even need to leave the home. Internet access is all that's needed if attending in person isn't an option. By logging onto www.fpcsparta.org a member of the congregation can watch a service, in real time. Two services per week are offered this way - a contemporary service and a more formal traditional service. However, both services deliver the same sermon. According to Keoppel, who is the director of Pastoral Care, the program is one of the many forms of outreach the church provides. "It has been very helpful for those who are traveling, those who can't get around easily or are sick, students at college, former parish members who have moved away and relatives who have visited and became interested in the church," said Keoppel. "This provides a way for them to stay connected, to see the whole service, the pastor and his message, hear the music and see the parish." Last month when the snowstorm hit Sparta on a Sunday, Pastor Tom Litteer still delivered the service, but to an empty church. At the same time, the church's Website registered more than 40 "hits." However, there was no way of telling how many people were watching. More than 500 people typically attend the four worship services each Sunday. "It was different preaching to an empty church," said Pastor Litteer. "I couldn't tell if anyone was sleeping! But the sermon was prepared and I was determined to get there because I felt called to deliver it." Even in cyberspace, Pastor Litteer is humble explaining that he wasn't the only one who braved the storm that Sunday to deliver the message. There are two men who are dedicated to the media ministry, David Pontzer and Brent DeFeo who joined him that Sunday to tape the service.  "They are the brains behind what we do here and are real specialists in computers," said Pastor Litteer. According to Keoppel, the Internet services not only help people to stay connected when they can't be there, but it has also peeked the interest of those who have never attended the services. "We've had people become interested in the church because of the services broadcasted over the internet," he said. Online church service is not the only form of technology this church uses to help people feel connected. With its Prayer Pager System, the First Presbyterian Church makes sure its members can always feel surrounded by the support of the congregation. The program loans pagers to members who are facing difficult times. The pager's number is publicized in the church bulletin, monthly newsletter and Web site. Members of the congregations take turns sending a ring to the pager to let the recipient know he or she is in their prayers. The church currently has 10 pagers. "We will loan the pager to anyone in need whether or not they belong to the church," commented Keoppel. "Often we loan them out to those with health concerns, but that doesn't have to be the case. They are loaned to anyone who will benefit from having the knowledge that they're being prayed for and receive assurance from having the beeper." Participants praise the positive effect of knowing there are people thinking of them. "I had hip replacement in late October. It was overwhelming to hear the number of buzzes per hour. You don't know where the buzzes are coming from. They are unsolicited and anonymous. It made me realize I wasn't alone. The comfort and peace the buzzes bring are almost indescribable," said Keoppel. "I have been carrying the pager for almost a year now. It has been quite uplifting to receive the beep regularly. It is a good, warm feeling to know someone is praying for me even if I don't know who it is. It's a great way to start my day and end it too," said Bruce Conrad, former Sparta resident, now residing in Long Beach Island.   In addition to Internet broadcasting and the pager system, the First Presbyterian Church also uses a drop-down screen located over the altar to provide a backdrop for video projections during Sunday services. It is used as a visual aid to support the pastor's message. "People in general, especially the young, learn better with visual support. They are multi-sensory and I feel the message comes across clearer with the drop down screen," said Litteer. The church's latest high-tech addition is the introduction of the Internet Kiosk, a computer terminal used for keeping the members of the congregation informed and facilitating communications among all the ministries. "It's like a large, Web-based bulletin board of everything that's going on in the life of the church. You can sign up to volunteer for things with an e-mail going directly to the committee chair, you can register for Blessed Beginnings Preschool, etc.," said Litteer.