The work of a busy parish is smoothed by Internet links between a pastor and his flock
Peter Comont's study, in an Oxford suburb, is an immediate clue to his calling. The books that line the shelves are the raw material for his work, as clergyman for an independent Evangelical church. But Mr Comont also has a computer linked to the Internet provider Pipex, which he uses more and more to supplement his research.

"I feel strongly that the clergy needs to be informed," he says. "That is time-consuming; I've found the Web very useful." He uses online newspaper archives to keep his arguments up to date, and relies more on the Internet for topical information, perhaps about euthanasia or BSE, than for Church sites.

The Internet is helpful for supporting missionaries overseas. Within his own parish, Mr Comont says it is e-mail that has changed the way he works.

Churches today, he points out, often find it hard to keep in touch with their congregations, especially younger members. E-mail reaches both working parishioners and students: most of the lay groups within the church now have one member online who can pass on messages.

In his previous job, Mr Comont used the Internet to set up an "e-pray" network, to collect prayers for the church. "I thought that my use of e-mail would more or less disappear, as I was coming to a much smaller church," he says, "but it has not. E-mail has shown itself to be valuable for contacting professional people who would otherwise be hard to catch.

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