By Carolyn Purden
If you want to bring younger people into your church, the Rev. Maurice Francois has a suggestion—start a blog. It’s cheap, easy and almost guaranteed to attract young adults. Mr. Francois is the priest-in-charge of St. Paul, Runnymede, and also the priest-in-charge of the Parroquia San Esteban Spanish congregation at Holy Trinity, Trinity Square, in Toronto. For the past two years, he has been writing five church blogs, one each in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese and two in English. The ethnic blogs have connected him with ethnic communities in Toronto and overseas, and also with newly arrived young immigrants and young people considering immigration to Canada.
Mr. Francois’ first blog was about his Spanish ministry, Parroquia San Esteban, at Holy Trinity. Most of the people he works with are young immigrants around 25 to 35 years old who are heavily involved in the Internet and technology. He realized that the best way to reach them was through the Internet, but could not afford to hire a webmaster to create and maintain a website. He turned to the young people for advice. “I asked them how I can have a cheap and safe tool of communication between the parish and the people,” he says. They told him to start a blog and began to train him.
The first blog went up in 2009. Once its success was established, he began one for his second parish, St. Paul’s. Although the church members are not young, they are interested in computers and the Internet and, he says, have become fascinated with his blog. The church welcomes one or two newcomers each month because of the blog, he adds.
His third blog promotes the diocese’s Italian ministry at St. Mary Magdalene, Toronto. Once it was up and running, Mr. Francois was surprised to see that many visitors to the blog live in Italy. “It seems to me we are more famous in Italy than in Toronto,” he says with a laugh. His fourth blog, developed to promote the diocese’s Portuguese ministry, has been picked up by the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil, allowing for the exchange of news and information. The fifth blog, in English, is for the diocese’s Ethnic Ministry Committee. It produces articles about ethnic initiatives and multiculturalism, and promotes the activities of the committee and of the various ethinic ministries.
Apart from being written in their respective languages, the ethnic blogs also have their own unique content. For example, the Italian blog recently posted a colour photograph of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the Pope, with a headline proclaiming the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Spanish blog headlined the parish bulletin. The blogs take little time to maintain if they are updated frequently, and updating is important, says Mr. Francois. “People want to see the blog as fresh bread, not frozen bread.”
He has found that the blogs have been a major attractor for bringing young people to church. For example, the Parroquia San Estaban congregation welcomes three to four new young people a month because of the blog, he says. In some cases, new young immigrants have found the parish through the blog even before they arrive in Canada. Because of this, Mr. Francois encourages clergy to start their own blogs. “It increases communications in a very safe way,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity to cyber-proclaim the ministry of the Gospel.” He points out that blogs can involve young people in the life of the church — just ask them to put together a parish blog.
Although he can maintain blogs on his own, he still asks his “trainers” to critique his words and images. They look for ways to improve it, he says, and they know about the small details that can make a blog attractive.
Mr. Francois is happy to help any clergy who want to start a blog. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.