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An Emerging Communiations Center Model (6/4/94)
This Christian Ministries Center opportunity came knocking on my door
in the past month. It all actually began for me two years ago when I attended
CAMCON (Computers and Ministry Conference) in Dayton. There I met a guy
named Larry Bourgeois who was, as it turned out, also from Cincinnati.
Since then, we have kept in touch, mainly because we both have an interest
in what the other is up to in our separate but related vocational sense
Larry had run a coffeehouse/bookstore on the West Coast, and was a graduate
of Fuller Theological Seminary. He has specialized interests and knowledge
in both books and coffee. He had come to an interest in computing much
for the same reason as librarians and other "gatherers of books":
to help "catalog, categorize, and locate particular books.
Let's for a moment go all blurry and transition back to where I was when
I cam to CAMCON:
I had been thinking about the shape of online services for the church.
I too had always been interested in resources and books for theological
challenge and edification. I had also become intrigued about the new communication
technologies that were being developed, largely via the computer platform.
I had been visualizing some online service menu structures that would
allow more ease in searching for resources. I dubbed the idea "A
Compuserve for the Church", after seeing the early version of their
Windows information manager interface.
I imagined an opening screen like the following:
- Movements and Scholars
- Help and About
Following a particualr choice such as denomination (#1), a second layer
of the menu structure would be accessed. Here, we would be presented with
- United Methodist Church
- American Baptist Church, USA
- Presbyterian Church, USA
- Episcopal Church
- United Church of Christ
- 6. Etc. (and the list goes on, probably alphabetically or by keyword)
In our example, let us choose #1 once again, and be presented with a
list once again (and these lists could well be a Windows type interface
with checkboxes, icons, or the like). Choosing item 1 will then present
us with :
- Cokesbury Bookstore
- U.M. Communications
- The Circuit Rider
Choosing #1 would get us a list of the seminaries, and so on. Within
each of these choices, there are links to the same resources that could
be gotten to through a different path, such as, "Online education"
as a choice under the menu for "United Theological Seminary",
which is a choice under "Seminaries" in the menu above. The
"Online Education" choice would then contain choices which
are maintained by other groups involved in Online education at the seminary
level. United's menu could be accessed via another menu found by following
a different route from say, The National Council of Churches chosen
as the initial route via the "Organizations" choice at the
When I first envisioned this scenario in my head, I was thinking of
this in the context of a particular online system, such as one based on
the "Compuserve model". Now, this "ecumenical" system
could actually span multiple systems, and link to an unlimited amount
of resources and sites via the Internet. There exists today a "net-wide"
menuing system called "Gopher" (because of its origination at
the University of Minnesota).
Gopher systems are linked to each other through the basic interconnecting
protocol known as "Telnetting". The base Internet commands for
moving form one Internet site to another involves typing "telnet
uc.eng.edu", or some such command that tells the Internet computer
to connect to uc.eng.edu, which is University of Cincinnati English dept.
address (I think). Gopher is itself an interface which hides these commands
from the user, so that they need only make a number choice, and the proper
information is brought to the screen (or, I should say, they are taken
to the proper place where the information resides). Across the lightning
fast communication lines connecting the Internet computers, this process
takes no longer than calling up a particular file on your own computer
(provided there is no problem).
The "infrastructure" for the kind of cross-linking of theological
education and resources I was thinking about two years ago has unfolded
before my eyes since then. In December of 1992 I picked up a book called
"The Whole Internet: User's Guide and Catalog". It was then
the definitive and authoritative book on the Internet. It was also indicative
of the fact that the Internet was not yet a user friendly place. The Unix
system on which the lion's share of the Internet ran upon was a difficult
highway to navigate.
A proliferation of books and "How to Connect" have flooded the
computer book bookshelves and made the cover of all the computer magazines.
It still remains a maze to most people, and access is in still somewhat
muddied waters. America Online has begun to offer some of the most user
friendly tools to date to their subscribers.