SPOTLIGHT: A Spiritual Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

1/22/2014

Longmeadow Church Members Run and Participate in Church-Wide Blog

First Church of Christ in Longmeadow, UCC, is counting on its members to spread the word, or at least their words, in a new membership-driven blog, firstchurchforum.com
 
This free online meeting place enables the church community to exchange information, share links to articles or videos, and pose questions to spur discussion. The forum, which is in the form of a blog, is run entirely by members, and is intended to stimulate discussion of spiritual matters or topics related to First Church.
 
“Often people are not able to be at church due to time commitments, or for other reasons,” explained Dwight Shepard, moderator of the church.  “Sometimes people are less apt to comment or interact in a group setting.  This is a way for people to connect with each other and discuss spiritual matters in a safe and supportive environment.”
 
Although Associate Pastor Marisa Brown Ludwig often posts her sermons, the forum is filled with articles from many members as well. 
 
When First Church members Dr. Mark Pohlman and Mary Friedman joined seven others on a mission trip to Haiti, they chronicled the events while they were away and shared their thoughts and photos on the Forum.  In fact, while they were still on a different continent, Friedman posted photos of the Haitian nursing students learning how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on adults using the manikins purchased by Pohlman with funds donated by the Board of Missions. 
 
When Deacon Marieke Burt was not able to attend the memorial service for a fellow member who lost his battle to cancer, she was able to upload and share a video of the choir’s Hallelujah Chorus from his service.  And John Gerry-Karajanes, organist and choirmaster, has authored a series of articles related to praying with the Scriptures.  Throughout the forum, you will see member-written articles and supportive comments from those who have read them.
 
The forum was the idea of church members Kristin Thomas and Alex Grant and they continue to help administer it. It originated as a sermon "talk back" forum, Thomas said.  “We wanted to create a website where people could engage in thought-provoking discussion, whether or not they were able to attend church.  We were especially interested in maintaining as few restrictions as possible in order to maintain an open and vibrant dialogue,” she said.  
 
“The First Church Forum was created on an entirely volunteer basis, and was up and running within a week,” Thomas said. “As the website was created, it quickly became clear that its applications extended beyond the sermon talk back. In fact, the open forum is an essential resource that builds community in a multitude of areas, far beyond the walls of the church.”
 
In order to maintain a safe community and meaningful dialogue, Thomas and three others monitor all submitted comments.  The four administrators are notified each time someone registers, and each time a post or comment is made.  The administrators can edit or delete a post, adjust the user’s level of access, and ensure the forum is secure.
 
"In digital ministry we can expand the church's reach to where people are, especially to those who can't make it to church on Sundays, such as families with young children, people who are sick or homebound, or people working weekend or evening shifts,” said Rev. Brown Ludwig. “When I look at Jesus' example, we know he was itinerant in his preaching and teaching. He did not stay in one place long, he didn't ask them to come to him on Sunday mornings.  He moved around the countryside to bring the good news to where people were. The Internet gives us a new way to find people; the digital space becomes the countryside."  
 
“We are really grateful to Kristen Thomas and Alex Grant for taking the initiative to create the Forum,” Shepard said. “Sometimes, good church work takes a lot of time.  This is one case where an idea was created, and before anyone could blink an eye, it was up and running.”
 
People were really excited to be able to follow Pohlman’s and Friedman’s trip to Haiti, Shepard added.  “We noticed a significant uptick in ‘hits’ as people logged on to get the latest information about their trip.”
 
 
For more information, visit the Forum, First Church Website, or Facebook page, or contact the church office at(413) 567-6287 or the church administrator at mstevens@firstchurchlongmeadow.org.


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