Oh come, all e-faithful says Church of England

In a new take on Web services, the C of E is launching an online parish - and is looking for a Web Pastor to lead the virtual flock

The Church of England is launching its first online parish, under the auspices of the Diocese of Oxford. Adverts in the Church Times and online are seeking a Web Pastor to run the 'I-Church', which will "build a core community of members who will commit themselves to prayer, study and social action. It will also provide a rich information environment to help resource the spiritual journey of visitors to the site," according to the blurb.

In an interview with the BBC's Radio 4 Sunday religious affairs programme, the Reverend Richard Thomas, Oxford Diocese's Director of Communications, said that while the I-Church was designed for people who didn't want to be part of a normal parish community, it still required commitment. "In order to be a member of I-Church, you're going to have to commit to an agreed amount of prayer, a agreed amount of study and an agreed amount of social action," he said.

Applicants for the post of Web Pastor should be active Anglican Christians, but need not be ordained. The Rev. Thomas said that to resource those spiritual journeys, skills with both pulpit and PowerPoint would be required. "We're casting our net as widely as possible. We're looking for a mix between the Archangel Gabriel and Bill Gates here. Lay people may well want to apply for this," he told the BBC.

This is not the first time established churches have extended their see into cyberspace. In 1995, the Roman Catholic church established a complete virtual diocese, Partenia, equipped with real bishop Jacques Gaillot, who had been at odds with the Vatican for some time but refused to resign. Partenia, once a real community that had disappeared under the sands of the Sahara in the 5th century, was revived as a doctrinally convenient parking place for the problematic prelate -- and he continues to be active online and off with his heterodox mission.

However, Rev. Thomas denied that this would be the fate of the Oxford I-Church. "It's not designed to be something for rebels," he said. "It's designed to be a serious attempt to bring people together in community relating through the Internet." He did admit that he expected forceful discussions over issues such as homosexuality in the priesthood, an area where the Diocese of Oxford has attracted some controversy. "One of the qualities we're looking for in the Web Pastor is someone who has experience in moderating these kind of discussions," he said.