Broadband, Rural Ministry and Social Justice
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Photo courtesy of Project Community Computers Whether it is helping bring broadbend access to the community or inviting people to use church-owned computers, providing digital access can be a vital ministry. Summerfield United Methodist Church in Milwaukee is among churches that have adopted it.[/caption]
by Jeremy Steele
(From Interpreter- January-February 2015)
Seventeen million children in the United States do not have access to computers with broadband connections, reports Connected Nation. Broadband allows large amounts of data to be transmitted simultaneously at high speed.
Lack of access to broadband creates a problem that is far bigger than not being able to watch funny cat videos on YouTube. It represents a massive gulf in economic and educational opportunity that churches can help bridge — provided they have access. However, that is not always the case as Mark Doyal, director of communications for the Michigan Area, discovered in 2012.
Doyal was surprised to find that as many as 45 percent of the United Methodist churches in Michigan did not have broadband access. He had no idea so many churches were without what has become a basic need.
"Today, broadband is as important as running water and electricity," Doyal says.
To help the churches move into the digital age, he collaborated with Eric Frederick, vice president of community affairs for Connected Nation. The organization is in several states and focuses on resolving the lack of broadband access.
The first step, according to Frederick, is to find out if access is available. "Many people who think they do not have access might be being served by a smaller provider," he says. While Michigan has well over 100 broadband providers, most people only know about three or four because the smaller companies do not have the huge advertising budgets like those of AT&T and Comcast.
Even with the smaller providers, though, many communities still lack service. Frederick and his team help an unserved community learn how to pool demand so they can attract a nearby provider with the promise of a profitable business.
The arrival of broadband access in a community often uncovers a new form of inequality. Those who have lived on the edges of the digital age can be intimidated by all they don't know about computers and the Internet. Others simply cannot afford the service.
Addressing digital inequality can be a new kind of social justice ministry. Though many people think of things like food pantries and literacy programs, a broadband installation can make digital justice ministries like Internet safety courses and free Wi-Fi possible.
It may seem trivial, but simply offering free Wi-Fi can change the lives of children in a community. With more and more schools requiring students to do online research, participate in forums and post blog entries, students without Internet access can fall through the cracks. However, when churches open their doors — and computers — to these children in need, these students receive a hand up in their education.
It all starts with broadband access. If you want to start the process for your church or district, the best place to begin is checking the National Broadband Map, www.broadbandmap.gov, and contacting your state's version of Connected Nation. You can find a full list of those organizations at the State Broadband Initiative Organization List.
The Rev. Jeremy Steele is Next Generation minister at Christ United Methodist Church, Mobile, Ala. He is also an author, blogger and frequent contributor to MyCom, an e-newsletter published by United Methodist Communications.
Resources for Vital Congregations
Lewis Center for Church Leadership
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Books
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Serve Your Neighbor
GBHEM Leadership Resources
Living Faithfully: Human Sexuality and the United Methodist Church
Englewood Book Review
Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations
Ted Talks: The Golden Circle
Ted Talks: The Power of Vulnerability
Ted Talks: The Price of Invulnerability
Meditations on the Ministry of All Christians
Be A Disciple
A Disciple’s Path; A Guide for United Methodist
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Adult Christian Studies from the Wesley Ministry Network
Traveling Together: A Guide for Disciple Forming Congregations
Living As United Methodist Christians
Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials
Reclaiming our Wesleyan Tradition: John Wesley’s Sermons for Today
John Wesley Sermons: Anthology
Get Their Name
Evangelism & Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit
Canoeing the Mountains
Fresh Expressions: Dinner Church
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Reach New Disciples
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: 50 Ways to Reach People
Community: The Structure of Belonging
RESOURCES TO CONNECT WITH THE COMMUNITY:
Institute for Emerging Issues
Congregations 4 Children
The Royce and Jane Reynolds Ministry Fund Grants
The Duke Endowment
The Appalachian District Church Vitality Team has been prayerfully seeking ways to help support you and the ministries of your local congregation during this COVID-19 pandemic. Together they have diligently researched and connected with others throughout the conference and our denomination to identify resources and offer them to you. We hope they will be helpful to you and bless you greatly in leading your churches and communities through this unprecedented time. We are very grateful to the District Vitality Team and other contributors for their great work on this resource.
This faithful team has created three documents, two of which you are receiving today. They include:
- Family Home Worship – designed to help families establish a regular worship space within their homes as well as a time where they can worship together.
- Tech Strategies – to help guide you in selecting effective tools and resources within your budget to best communicate in the digital world.
We believe these resources will be of great benefit to you. Also know that the District Vitality Team is available to answer any questions you might have in regards to the documents attached. If you have questions, you may email Rev. Howard Fleming at email@example.com.