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Nova Scotia priest plans to bless the faithful's cellphones

Reverend Lisa Vaughn, pictured on the screen of an iPhone, blessed electronic devices at Saint Timothy's church in Hatchet Lake, N.S., on Sept. 1.

paul darrow The Globe and Mail

Halifax-area Anglican Rev. Lisa Vaughn, eager to keep her parish relevant in the face of declining church attendance nationwide, is asking users of mobile phones and other technological gadgets to bring them in this weekend for a special blessing.

"It's not just about please don't let my cellphone drop calls today," says the pastor of the Anglican parish of St. Timothy, on the road to Peggy's Cove. "It's about, you know, help me to be the best Christian, the best person I can be in my conversations, in my communication."

Ms. Vaughn doesn't claim she'll be able to exorcise the demons from your computer. But, she'd be just fine if a bunch of atheists with technical problems turned up this weekend.

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"Bring 'em on, baby," she laughs.

Attracting the attention of non-believers is a crucial mission in a church that is bleeding members. A report prepared for the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia that was published in February said the church was declining faster than any other denomination. The report also repeated a five-year-old analysis that indicated that the present rate of decline - 13,000 members per year - would leave a single Anglican in Canada by 2061.

Ms. Vaughn is keenly aware of this crisis and wants to experiment with different ways to spread the word, dismissing critics who might find her irreverent.

At her modest church, the first clue to her attitude is a poster that adapts the iconic ad for the Apple iPod, using the tag iPray. Then there's the mock Rolling Stone cover. Among its headlines is one confirming that Jesus is bigger than the Beatles. And a band of parishioners performs at the weekly "Jesus & Jeans" worship service.

The pastor matches the vibe. A youthful woman with short hair and a past career in journalism, she says her motto is "don't be boring."

"The gospel message is as relevant as it gets," Ms. Vaughn says. "How do we package it is the question. This message of Christ is the most important thing but the packaging needs to change."

Her approach fits with moves the national church has made to be more savvy about modern technology. The faithful and curious can come together on Facebook and follow Twitter updates. And while not all nonbelievers will be swayed by material such as the recent communiqué from the All Africa Bishops Conference that condemns the consecration of an openly lesbian bishop, at least the channels are open.

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Ms. Vaughn hit on the idea for this weekend's "grace for gadgets" service when reading about an ancient English tradition in which agricultural workers brought equipment to church for prayers. A modern equivalent for her bedroom community congregation, she realized, was the laptops, mobile phones and electronic readers that have become ubiquitous.

"There may be people who say this is silly, blessing a phone," she acknowledges. "But we're really blessing the person. It's reminding people that God is with them in their work, in their play. And [they]need to be mindful of that. It's not just once a week or only on Christmas."

Ms. Vaughn believes this is the first time such a service has been held in this country.

The idea was equally new to Sam Carriere, the Toronto-based director of communications for the Anglican Church of Canada.

"I have never heard of it being done," he says, adding that he couldn't be sure without contacting all 1,800 parishes in the country. "It's the first I've heard of it."

An earlier online version and the original newspaper version of this story attributed an incorrect position on female ordination to the All Africa Bishops Conference. This online version has been corrected.

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About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

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